Top 10 safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft

Modified 23 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

In one of our final defensive positional breakdowns of the 2021 NFL draft, we move on from tight-ends to the safety class. This draft class consists of some quality quarterbacks.

My top ten could easily go within the first two days of the draft, even though not many may be selected on the opening night. For a position like quarterback, there a lot of different skillsets these players bring to the table.

So without further ado, let's have a look at the top ten quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft.

#1 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Richie Grant (UCF)

5' 11½", 200 pounds; RS SR

Richie Grant
Richie Grant

Only a two-star recruit back in 2016, Richie Grant was a large part of the rotation as a freshman.

The 2021 NFL draft prospect put up crazy numbers in his first year as a starter (2018) - 109 total tackles and six interceptions to go with a couple of forced fumbles. In 21 games in the last two years, he recorded 150 tackles, picked off four passes and broken up 13 to go with three forced fumbles. That made him a first-team All-AAC selection in all three years as a starter; he was also a semi-finalist in the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards last season.

According to UCF coaches, the skill and athleticism of Grant are off the charts, which can be seen on the field, as he seems to always be around the football. The 2021 NFL draft prospect split time between the wide side of the field in split-safety looks and as the extra defender in the box, where he is often brought off the edge.

I love how he runs the alley and shows great pursuit from the backside. Grant may not have the mass to deliver big hits too often, but he is far from an ankle-biter, looking to attack. But the 2021 NFL draft prospect doesn’t mind sticking his face in the fan as a tackler and displays crazy hustle while chasing the ball.

His 33 run-stops in the last two seasons are the most by any draft-eligible DB, while he only missed six of 78 tackling attempts in 2020, one of the best among all college safeties.

Grant was one of the most impressive blitzers off the edge at any position, displaying excellent timing on the snap. The 2021 NFL draft prospect chases down a lot of run plays and has some wiggle to get around blockers in the passing game, while he also doesn’t mind running through the back in passing situations to take the direct path.

His all-around skillset was on display during the Senior Bowl week as well, moving out to corner a few times, making plays in run support and forcing incompletions downfield by coming over late and raking the ball out of the hands of receivers.

Grant sees plays develop at a highly advanced level and understands where his help in coverage lies, not allowing routes to draw him away from his responsibilities and tracking the eyes of the quarterback.

The 2021 NFL draft prospect had an outstanding one-handed PBU against Cincinnati last season; he redirected when Desmond Ridder tried to throw across his body off a scramble. Grant does well to pick up receivers downfield who were funneled towards him as a deep-half defender.

He has the instincts to be put in single-high duties, as he trusts what he sees and can sprint all out to where the ball goes. The 2021 NFL draft prospect had one play in the Tulsa game last season, where he was on the left hash and made an interception all the way at the right numbers.

The versatile safety does a great job of driving on routes in quarters coverage and as a robber, while showing quick burst to wrap up the pass-catcher just as the ball arrives there. Grant also has plenty of experience covering inside receivers in man, where his footwork is springy and active, enabling him to click and close quickly.

He has some beautiful coverage reps in the tape against the number three on trips, especially breaking out to the sideline, where he flips and works through the mitts of the receiver. He’s not afraid of sitting on big slot receivers and breaks up a bunch of quick in-breaking routes when he is off-alignment.

While Grant dropped a couple of interceptions in 2019, he is certainly a plus defender at the catch point, getting his hands late and ripping the ball out routinely. Overall, the 2021 NFL draft prospect held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 32.3 when targeted last season, with less than half of the targets his way getting completed for one TD and three INTs.

Nevertheless, the 2021 NFL draft prospect can get rattled by dynamic athletes, and he tends to overestimate his speed at times, considering the aggressive angles he chooses in run support.

In terms of top-end speed and fluidity, Grant is behind a few guys in this class. and he lacks elite physical traits in general. Because of that, the 2021 NFL draft prospect might not be the most dependable last line of defense and some teams that ask their free safeties to cover a ton of ground in single-high alignment may not be fully sold on him in that role. He could be a little more active with his hands as a pursuit defender, not allowing defenders to take him off track. He can get drawn in by play-action and while vacating his area.

There are more physically gifted athletes in this NFL draft class, but Richie Grant is an absolute baller and has great instincts, aggressiveness and consistency. He could legitimately play strong, free and big nickel as a versatile piece in the secondary and produce in all three areas (defend runs, cover and blitz).

He is also one of eight players in this NFL draft class with at least 500 career snaps on special teams (533). His energy could be a boost to those units right away, considering the multi-faceted defender he is.

Also check out: Complete 2021 NFL Draft Order by Round

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Published 22 Apr 2021
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