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2022 NFL Draft: Ranking the top safeties in this year’s class

Detroit’s need for a safety can be met with a number of promising prospects in this year’s draft.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions headed into the 2022 offseason with a major need at safety and made it a priority to re-sign Tracy Walker. While that certainly alleviated some of the pressure to improve the position, safety still remains one of the biggest needs for this team, and one way to solve that problem is to add some more talent through the draft.

Luckily, the Lions have plenty of picks at their disposal this year. Detroit will have a chance to draft a starter in the first couple of rounds or add some depth and potentially double dip later on in the draft to fill out the roster with some young talent.

Here is a look at some of the top safety prospects in this year’s draft and how I see them stacked up against each other:

Tier 1

Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame), 6-foot-4, 220 pounds

Hamilton has been linked to the Lions often at the No. 2 overall pick, and that’s probably where you’re going to have to get him if you want him. Many are hesitant to take a safety at this spot, or even the top-5 in general, and I get it, but I do think if you find a safety talented enough to take this high then you do it. Safety is one of the more underrated positions in the NFL, and the top safeties in the NFL have a higher impact on the game in today’s NFL than I think the average fan realizes.

So is Hamilton worth the top selection? I think so. The hype surrounding Hamilton is warranted, as you don’t see many safeties with his size and athleticism along with the ability to fit nearly any role on defense. He has elite range when lined up as a deep safety, but you can also ask him to shut down an opponent’s tight end in coverage or play him in the box/closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s simply a defensive weapon and will have a huge impact on the game.

While Hamilton may be one of the top prospects in this draft, his pro-day numbers have sparked some concerns around the draft community. After running in the low 4.7s, some believe he could slip out of the top-10. Believers will point to his 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine and his film, but you can’t help but wonder why he tested so poorly during his pro day.

Round grade: Top-5 pick

Tier 2

Daxton Hill (Michigan), 6-foot-0, 191 pounds

There is a lot of uncertainty out there regarding where Daxton Hill is best suited to play in the NFL. Some don’t even have him listed in their safety rankings and believe he will be a cornerback at the next level; others like him as a free safety or in a nickelback role. If you ask me, Hill is simply a phenomenal talent and it doesn’t matter where you put him, he’s going to succeed.

At the combine, Hill tested extremely well with his speed and agility numbers, but just “okay” during explosion drills. The latter was a bit surprising, but that doesn’t change him being an elite athlete.

For the Lions, I really like the idea of Hill in the slot or as a box safety. His speed and range also give the team the ability to switch up their safeties and give offenses some different looks. Hill is likely to go in the late-first or early-second round, so the 32nd and 34th overall pick would likely be in play here.

Round grade: 1st-2nd round

Lewis Cine (Georgia), 6-foot-2, 199 pounds

Cine has become one of my favorite safety options for the Lions. Like many of the Georgia defenders in this draft, he can fly across the field and tested extremely well at the combine. He is a versatile safety that can play all over the field, but is at his best in the box and is one of the most sure-tackling defenders in the country.

In man-coverage, Cine is still a work in progress, but he does display elite instincts, especially when he sees the play developing in front of him.

I see Cine likely going in the 20-40 range, so he might not be there by the time the Lions are picking with their second first-round pick, but if he’s still available, and they’re looking to add on defense, then there aren’t many better options out there.

Round grade: 1st-2nd round

Jaquan Brisker (Penn State), 6-foot-1, 199 pounds

Brisker, like the others in this tier, would be a fantastic option for the Lions at the end of the first or top of the second round. He played a majority of his snaps as a box safety in 2021, but is also familiar with playing the deep safety role in previous years. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the only power-5 safety with grades of 80+ in both man- and zone-coverage last season, and finished the year with a coverage grade of 89.5.

Brisker tested very well for his size and reportedly improved on his 40-yard dash time at his pro day by running a 4.4 flat.

If the Lions decide not to draft Kyle Hamilton at the top of the first round, then I think the Lions should strongly consider any of the tier 2 safeties on this list. Each one of them would slot in nicely next to Tracy Walker and could start immediately as rookies. I like Cine and Brisker as guys who can play in box-specific roles, but they also have the ability to play deep if the Lions want to interchange their safeties or if they want to play two deep. Dax Hill is someone that can also play that role, but I also really like him in the slot.

Round grade: 2nd round

Tier 3

Jalen Pitre (Baylor), 5-foot-11, 198 pounds

I’ll be honest, over the past couple of years, I sort of lost some of the passion and love that I once had for studying NFL Draft prospects and watching film. But turning on the tape of Jalen Pitre helped resurrect some of that love for the grind. He is one of the most fun players to watch in this draft.

Pitre simply has a knack for being around the ball at all times. He will likely play in the slot at the next level, but will also be asked to play near the LOS and rush the passer in blitz packages. I absolutely love his energy and can see him having a Tyrann Mathieu-type of impact for some lucky team if he reaches his ceiling.

Round grade: 2nd-3rd round

Tier 4

Kerby Joseph (Illinois), 6-foot-1, 203 pounds

Joseph has everything you want in a free safety: great length, an insane wingspan (79.5 inches), and elite ball skills (five interceptions in 2021 and a 21.1% forced incompletion rate). Over 60 percent of Joseph’s snaps came in the deep safety role during his time at Illinois, and that is probably where he will end up as a pro.

The biggest concern surrounding Joseph as a prospect is his inexperience. He had a fantastic 2021 and finished the year with a 90.4 overall grade via PFF, but only played a total of 288 snaps in his previous two seasons. Teams will have to do their due diligence as to why Joseph was not a starter until subbing in for an injury during their game against Virginia. But when he saw action, he was one of the best safeties in college football.

Round grade: 3rd round

Bryan Cook (Cincinnati), 6-foot-1, 206 pounds

Cook started his collegiate career at FCS school Howard University in 2017 before transferring to Cincinnati in 2019. Like Joseph, he didn’t get much playing time until the 2021 season when he performed extremely well in his role, ending with an 87.6 overall PFF grade.

Though he does not have the top-end speed as some of the others in this draft class, Cook is a serviceable athlete and an outstanding tackler. If you’re looking for an efficient/solid safety with a high floor in the mid-rounds of the draft, Cook is your guy. He has been labeled as a thumper and more of a box-safety, but he did start off as a cornerback in high school and has shown some flashes in coverage (not to mention an 88.8 coverage grade in 2021), so don’t underestimate his ability there.

Round grade: 3rd round

Nick Cross (Maryland), 6-foot-0, 212 pounds

After showing out at the underwear olympics (4.34 40-yard dash and a 9.9 RAS), Nick Cross had a lot of people scrambling to get their eyes on his tape if they hadn’t already.

When you watch his film, you can see why he tested well, and the potential is most certainly there. He played a lot of deep safety for Maryland and he has the length and speed to be a rangy free safety, but his understanding of route concepts and his feel for where to position himself can be very inconsistent, which is why he might be better suited for a role as a box-safety—unless he can clean up those mistakes.

Cross does have decent ball skills and can more than hold his own in man-to-man coverage at times. He’s also had some highlight plays as a blitzer, so the versatility is there. Cross is a developmental prospect that comes with risk, but if he hits, he can be a very special player.

Round grade: 3rd-4th round