The 2023 NFL Combine is fully underway, and on Friday, the defensive backs had their on-field drills televised. As is tradition, one group began by running the 40-yard dash, then shifted into position drills, while another group completed agility drills and measured jumps.
Let’s take a close look at the safeties that stood out.
- 7 defensive tackle standouts
- 10 edge rusher standouts
- 10 linebacker standouts
- 12 cornerback standouts
There were a lot of pure safeties that helped themselves in this group, but instead of highlighting all of the pure safeties, I kept the focus on the players I felt would best fit the Lions needs, most notably those who could fill a need for Detroit in the slot.
Jartavius “Quan” Martin, Illinois, 5-foot-11, 194
4.45/1.47 (40/10-yard dash), 44-inch (vertical jump), 11-foot-1 (broad jump)
In our Safeties preview, I made sure to note that Martin was one of “my guys” because I felt like he was not getting enough attention and I was expecting him to show very well at the Combine. Sure enough, he exceeded my projections and he’s surely on a lot of radars now.
With a stout frame and tree trunks for thighs, Martin propelled that frame in all directions. His sub-4.5 40-yard dash was impressive, but his 1.47-second 10-yard split was the fastest among all the defensive players in this draft class. His jumps were even more impressive with his vertical jump also the highest among all the defensive players—fifth-highest ever recorded in Combine history—and his broad jump checked in as the fourth highest.
In on-field drills, Martin was an easy mover, showing smooth transitions, and a remarkable ability to adjust his upper body independently of his churning lower base. This skill allows him to run at full speed while also altering his upper body to the traffic around him, whether that be a player or the ball. Martin showed great ball location, high-pointed when necessary, and had soft, reliable hands.
Overall, his powerful legs moved like pistons, yet he stayed in complete control of his body at all times. The “W-drill”—my pick for the best predictor of success in the slot—was a walk in the park.
Jartavius Martin is very smooth pic.twitter.com/61I9dH2gwg— Billy M (@BillyM_91) March 3, 2023
In my opinion, the top three slot safety hybrids in this class are Brian Branch, Martin, and ...
Jammie Robinson, Florida State, 5-foot-10 1/2, 191
4.59 (40), 33.5 inch (vertical), 9-foot-8 (broad)
Robinson has a compact frame and is as quick as any defensive back in this class. His testing numbers were average, and at times during drills, he looked almost like he was focusing too much on being technically sound instead of staying loose, which led to some rigidity that likely played into those scores.
When Robinson was loose, he displayed incredibly quick feet, rapidly picking them up and down like a typewriter working its way across the page. His focus on technique did help him with efficiency in drills, but when he relaxed, his natural skills took over. One of the best examples of this was in the figure eight drills near the end of the on-field workouts, when he moved with silky acceleration, ramping up, decelerating, and ramping up again at an impressive pace.
Florida State S Jammie Robinson pic.twitter.com/Ris2YnvL9a— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 4, 2023
Sydney Brown, Illinois (5-foot-10, 211, 4.48) looks like a muscled-up running back—which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that’s what his twin brother is—and his power was evident in his movement during drills. He was both quick and fast as well, but the force he generated in his movements is notable.
Christopher Smith, Georgia (5-foot-10 1/2, 192, 4.62) is another slot safety hybrid to keep an eye on in the draft. His transitions during drills looked easy, and as the drills went on, he looked smoother and his hands improved.
Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State (5-foot-11 1/2, 203, 4.65) is known for being a ballhawk and his skills were on display in Indianapolis. His ability to track the ball in the air—even when adjusting late—is on a different level than the rest of the safeties in this class. He did drift a bit when dropping, but he had quick feet and great hands.
Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M (6-foot-2, 198, 4.52) is big and long, and his frame made a lot of the drills look easy. He was a smooth glider across the field and he swallowed up the ball when it got in his range. He did struggle with some of the quicker agility drills, but that’s not really his game, and was expected to be something that would be challenging.
Chamarri Conner, Virginia Tech (6-foot-0, 202, 4.51) improved his stock as much as anyone on my draft board coming into this Combine. While I thought he had some slot defensive back range, I was extremely impressed with what I saw and he delivered a “go back and watch the tape” performance. Smooth in his movements, easy backpedal, silky tracking ability, ball location, and soft hands were all notes I jotted down on Conner during drills.