The 2021 NFL Draft sports an interesting safety class. As it stands now, there aren’t any true “blue chip” prospects who are likely to be picked in the first half of the first round, or even in the first round altogether.
That being said, there are quite a few safeties in this draft class who offer a wide range of skill sets and should provide value throughout the second and third days of the draft. As things stand now, the New York Giants are in a pretty good place with regards to the safety position. However, given as many things as the Giants ask their safeties to do, and the ever-present specter of injury depleting their depth chart, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see them select a safety at some point in the draft.
While the value may not line up with any of the Giants’ picks, Central Florida safety Richie Grant should attract plenty of attention over the draft process. Grant has enough range, athleticism, size, and physicality to play nearly any role in the modern secondary.
He should be a riser over the course of the draft process.
Prospect: Richie Grant
Games Watched: vs. Houston (2019), vs. Cincinnati (2020), vs. Memphis (2020)
Games Played: 46
Tackles For a loss: 11.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Games Played: 9
Tackles For a loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Best: Range, recognition, fluidity, coverage, competitive toughness
Worst: Angles to the ball
Projection: A starting safety in a multiple defense with scheme and positional diversity.
Central Florida safety Richie Grant possesses good height, weight, and athleticism for the safety position. Grant has impressive versatility, lining up across the Central Florida secondary, aligning at free safety, box safety, slot, and even some cornerback.
Grant primarily aligned at free safety for Central Florida and shows impressive range in zone coverage, easily able to man the deep center field in a Cover-1 shell. His range is partly due to good athleticism and long speed to cover ground efficiently. Grant also shows remarkably fluid hips and a crisp transition from his backpedal, as well as quick feet to change direction with minimal wasted movement. He also has very good awareness in zone coverage, keying on both receivers’ body language and quarterbacks’ eyes to lead him to the play. Grant shows good discipline in picking up players as they enter his coverage zone and an impressive closing burst to make plays at the catch point.
He has good length, with adequate height and long arms, which he uses to play receivers hands to disrupt the catch or to high-point the ball.
Grant is also capable in man coverage. He has experience as a slot defender, with the ability to turn and run running backs and slot receivers. Here again, Grant’s lower-body fluidity and quick feet show up, as he is able to stay in phase with receivers throughout their routes.
Grant is also a very physical and aggressive player. He shows a quick trigger to come downhill on running or screen plays and doesn’t hesitate to attack the ball carrier. He is a very willing tackler who generally attempts to wrap up and limit yards after contact as well as deliver hits. And while Grant doesn’t have much experience as a blitzer, he was used as a slot blitzer on occasion, and his burst and fluidity are assets in that regard.
But while his physicality and aggressiveness are generally assets, they can occasionally get Grant into trouble. There are occasions where he will take overly-aggressive angles to the ball carrier and take himself out of position. He is also a bit inconsistent in squaring with the ball carrier when tackling, leading to missed or broken tackles.
He can also find himself in situations where he trusts his athleticism a bit too much and can be tardy in flipping his hips to pursue. In those cases the ball carrier can be past him and he is forced to try and run them down from behind.
Overall Grade: 7.5 - Grant should be a good, reliable contributor in a number of roles early in his career and should be able to develop into a dependable starter reasonably quickly.
Richie Grant projects as a true free safety with wide-ranging scheme versatility. He has the range, awareness, and athleticism to play in a variety of coverage shells, from being a true centerfielder in a Cover-1 shell to manning the slot in nickel situations.
Grant has true sideline-to-sideline range in the deep middle part of the field, as well as the instincts and length to make plays when he gets there. He shows strong awareness while in coverage, keying on both the receiver and the quarterback to lead him in the direction, as well as to disrupt the play without drawing penalties.
Grant is also a good run defender, triggering downhill quickly as soon as he identifies a run play. He generally comes downhill hard and fast, with a willingness to both lay hits and wrap up to limit yards after contact.
That being said, coaches will need to work with Grant on taking safer angles to the play. He is a very good athlete for the position, but his aggressiveness can take him out of the play. Grant will also need to work on better anticipating opponents’ athleticism as well as more consistently squaring up when preparing to tackle the ball carrier.
He has the ability to play in a variety of defenses, and could be best used in a defense that runs a variety of coverages. Grant’s versatility and ability to play a number of different roles is an asset and his future defensive coordinator should make use of that versatility. That trait, or combination of traits, should allow him to be an asset in “multiple” defenses that ask their defensive backs in a variety of roles.
Grant should be a starter early in his career and can at least be a good nickel option right from the beginning.