The New York Giants have needs all over and at every level of their defense.
But by far, the biggest and most pressing need is at free safety. It is well within their power to retain one of the best strong safeties in the NFL in Landon Collins, but they can not go into another season with Curtis Riley at free safety. And that is big, because while the position is important for any defensive scheme, it is absolutely vital for a blitzing defense which features man coverage and deception.
So, with the Giants’ needs in mind, the safety depth chart going in to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine will focus on the players capable of playing free safety specifically. This is an underrated class, and there are both players at the top who could step in and upgrade the position immediately, but also down the draft board who are intriguing.
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Florida) - The top of the safety depth chart has been fluid throughout the draft process. If we are ranking them with respects to the Giants’ needs and preferences, then a safety who is able to play the single-high safety, have “cornerback” skills, and generally be around the ball will come in at the top spot. Right now, Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Jonson is that player. He has the range and athleticism to be a true centerfielder, while also being able to come down and defend the slot to help disguise coverages. Just as important, he is always around the ball and is a playmaker. This list will continue to be fluid, but Gardner-Jonson is currently at the top.
- Nasir Adderley (Delaware) - Adderley seemingly came out of nowhere during Senior Bowl week, and to be fair, few look to the Delaware Blue Hens for blue chip NFL prospects. But Adderley is an exciting prospect none the less. He has played cornerback, has the range and instincts to be a center fielder, his a good (and hard) tackler, and the ball skills to exploit missteps by the opposing offense. Teams will want to use the Combine to get a better look at him, and he could capitalize and be a big name through the remainder of the draft process.
- Deionte Thompson (Alabama) - Thompson was the top safety on the list for most of the regular season. He is a big, long, athletic free safety with plenty of range and athleticism and is a willing hitter. Thompson took a step backward after a lackluster finish to the season and in the College Football Playoffs. He has all the tools to be a good, maybe even great, starting safety, but needs to continue to develop the mental part of the game.
- Taylor Rapp (Washington) - Rapp is a well-rounded safety who was able to do whatever the Washington defense needed him to do. He is able to come down and play in the mud defending the run as well as be the last line of defense as a deep safety. Rapp has experience covering out of the slot and is reputed to have a very high football IQ. He doesn’t appear to be the athlete that the others are, but his versatility and experience in an excellent secondary shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Juan Thornhill (Virginia) - Thornhill is a good-sized safety who played well in a talented Virginia secondary. He might not have the athleticism to be a true free safety, but his size, ball skills, and football IQ help to make up for that. Thornhill has experience playing corner, but probably shouldn’t be relied on as a slot defender due to relatively limited athleticism .
Ugochukwu Amadi (Oregon) - Amadi might be too small for the Giants’ preferences at 5-foot-9, but he is a great mover who can help in coverage deep or shallow. He’s also a playmaker, generating six turnovers (three interceptions and three forced fumbles) in six games as a junior, as well as 3 interceptions (2 touchdowns) and 8 passes defensed as a senior. He also has upside as a punt returner, averaging 15.9 yards per return on 14 returns, with a touchdown.
Marquise Blair (Utah) - If he pans out, Blair could be a bargain priced version of Deionte Thompson. He has a similar build and athletic profile, but doesn’t have anything like Thompson’s polish. He was used all over the Utah defense, typically down near the line of scrimmage as a slot defender or psuedo-linebacker. Blair was rarely used deep or man coverage, but his ability to open up and run suggest he can do so. He will need to tone down his frenetic style of play, but the tools are there to be an effective single-high safety. Regardless of where he ends up, Blair will need to improve his tackling. He consistently looks to blow offensive players up, rather than simply bring them down. That can result in missed tackles or penalties.
Mike Edwards (Kentucky) - Yet another Kentucky defensive back worth watching. Edwards is a solid all-around safety with good range, ball skills and great awareness in coverage. He can play in zone, off, and man coverage, as well as cover in the slot. Edwards is also a capable run defender who takes solid angles and tackles reliably.