We close out our positional preview of the 2022 NFL Draft with the safety position. It’s a position that has grown in value over recent years, and it just so happens to be one of the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs heading into Thursday night.
It’s a great year to need a safety, because this draft class has at least nine guys who could eventually start in this league and a top-tier talent that is getting serious top-five consideration.
So let’s close out our 2022 NFL Draft preview series by taking a closer look at the safety class. (Sorry, special teamers)
Under contract: Tracy Walker (signed through 2024), DeShon Elliott (2022), Will Harris (2022), C.J. Moore (2022), Jalen Elliott (2022), Brady Breeze (2024), JuJu Hughes (2022)
Short term need: 7/10
Long-term need: 9/10
Signing DeShon Elliott to a minimum-salary, one-year deal feels like placing a band-aid whose adhesive doesn’t work anymore on a gaping wound. For years, the Lions have failed to sport two capable safeties. Tracy Walker is a good player—and a leader on defense—but the likes of Dean Marlowe, Duron Harmon, Will Harris, and Tavon Wilson have yet to be able to complement his skills. Elliott is a capable short-term replacement, but his injury history is concerning, and despite his young age (25), he isn’t likely a long-term answer.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that only Walker and special teamer Brady Breeze are signed beyond this year. The Lions need an immediate upgrade, and they could sure use someone who could start on Day 1.
Day 1 options: Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, Michigan’s Daxton Hill, Georgia’s Lewis Cine
Hamilton is the belle of the ball. Many have called him a “unicorn,” capable of breaking the mold of safeties not typically taken in the top three picks of the draft. The reason for his “unicorn” moniker? Towering at 6-foot-4 with excellent play speed helps. Some are concerned about his below-average 40-yard time, but we know the Lions prefer GPS data, and Hamilton made Bruce Feldman’s 2021 freaks list due to his blazing 21 miles per hour GPS speed. There are no other questions about his athletic profile:
Kyle Hamilton is a FS prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.33 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 59 out of 868 FS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/MDaWTFs7cu #RAS pic.twitter.com/BNpvPsBsaE— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 26, 2022
Daxton Hill is a little different flavor than some of the other top guys, because he brings flexibility as a nickel cornerback—or a “cafety” as Dan Campbell may put it. His man-to-man coverage skills could be valuable against opposing tight ends or shifty slot receivers, and his rangy athleticism makes him capable as a deep safety, as well. He’s a bit undersized compared to the rest of the top options, which leads to him occasionally getting out-physicaled, but effort will never be a problem with Hill.
Cine has quickly risen to god-tier status among Lions fans and is one of the most coveted options with their 32nd overall pick. It’s incredibly easy to see why. Let’s start here:
Lewis Cine is a FS prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.92 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 8 out of 846 FS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/5t3Ixi8uAc #RAS pic.twitter.com/yVYf2ChfKV— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 8, 2022
Okay, so he’s got everything but height in his athletic profile. Now let’s hear from his college head coach Kirby Smart:
“When you design a safety, he’s got all the qualities. And he’s really been a student of the game. He came in as a raw talent that had played up in Boston in high school, and then in Texas. He bounced around and, you know, he never really learned a scheme where he learned how to play the position. He’s really grown at that.”
“He’s playing three positions for us. He’s playing the free, the strong, the money position. So he’s been able to do a lot of different things athletically. And he’s tough. He’s fast.”
In short, he’s a versatile piece with all the traits needed to be great, including an inquisitive mindset and aggressive tendencies on the field. He’s still growing in his technique and he doesn’t have the best ball skills in this draft, but he’s a fine prospect and someone Aaron Glenn would love.
Day 2 options: Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker, Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, Cincinnati’s Bryan Cook, Maryland’s Nick Cross, Illinois’ Kerby Joseph
Brisker and Pitre are both options at 32 or 34. Brisker is the more polished of the two, having played safety for a couple years at the JUCO level before starting another two seasons with the Nittany Lions. You can see the development in his recognition of coverages. Despite early academic concerns, he turned it around and became a leader at Penn State (captain in 2021). What he lacks in ideal athletic traits—which isn’t much—he makes up for with loads of grit and determination.
Pitre can be a little more erratic with his reads, but he, too, is crazy competitive on the field. In his past two seasons, he tallied 31 tackles for loss (!!) and four interceptions. He’s quite literally all over the field. He also has experience in the slot and is more than capable in man-to-man coverage, and with 4.46-speed, he can cover all of the back end, too.
Looking more towards picks 66 and 97, Cook is a player with some fun tape. Let me ask you, do you see this guy as a Dan Campbell guy?
Cincy SAF Bryan Cook quickly blows this screen up against UCF pic.twitter.com/2PhjttLjoe— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 19, 2022
The #Bears need another safety, and nobody in this DB class screams “Eberflus guy” to me like Cincinnati’s Bryan Cook.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) March 4, 2022
Physical safety with length who hits hard and has a high football IQ. Can see this regime loving him. pic.twitter.com/YIGJQiSsn0
I like Bryan Cook in a split Safety heavy scheme. Robbing underneath routes and triggering downhill to fit the run. Also think he's got the versatility to handle the TE in man coverage if need be..#NFLDraft #2022NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/UgPnA9gTIH— EJHolt_Draft (@EJunkie215) April 5, 2022
Yeah, I think so.
Here’s what our own Erik Schlitt had to say about Cook after taking him 66 in our Pride of Detroit Community Mock Draft.
Cook played all over the field for the Bearcats. He is reliable and sound in each role and is rarely out of position, staying square and ready to pounce. He stalks the field with an enforcer’s mentality and backs it up with aggressive play both against the run and in coverage. He is quick to process the situation unfolding in front of him, and he has instant reactions that result in big plays.
Joseph earned himself a top-30 visit in Detroit earlier this month. Though he didn’t fully test due to a hamstring injury, his tape shows all the athletic traits necessary to be a perfect fit in the Lions’ split-zone safety scheme. He’s an instinctive player whose reaction time resulted in five interceptions last year—his only year as a full-time starter. With only one year of experience, that could scare some teams off, but the Lions would be wise to jump on the opportunity to grab an athletically and instinctively gifted player.
Cross is yet another ridiculous athlete in a safety class full of them:
Nick Cross is a FS prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.87 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 12 out of 868 FS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/WrB6Aw17dY #RAS pic.twitter.com/7M4Kk4UIOl— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 26, 2022
His technique is sound in coverage, although he’s prone to being fooled by misdirection. And I hate to keep sounding like a broken record here, but Cross is yet another safety prospect that is willing and able to crash down and lay the boom in the box.
Late-round option: Oklahoma’s Delarrin Turner-Yell
An undersized safety (5-foot-10, 197 pounds), Turner-Yell made a top-30 visit to Detroit, but he may be more of a fit a nickel. He’s a potential target with Picks 177 or 181, and his attitude could be enough to draw Brad Holmes’ eye. He’s an active tackler that will need to seriously improve his coverage skills. That being said, I could see him immediately producing on special teams, and the Lions have historically rewarded players who work their butt off in that phase of the game.