The safety position has some of the most varied set of responsibilities of any position on the football field. Safeties are tasked with stopping the run, defending the pass, and rushing the passer. Their roles can be anything from a light linebacker to an extra cornerback, to a literal last line of defense, and everything in between.
As a result, safeties can take on a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and athletic profiles. But generally speaking, the more athletic and versatile a safety, the better.
Of course, there’s also something to be said about experience, as well.
Missouri senior Joshuah Bledsoe has been a starter on his defense for the last four years, with more than 40 games played in that time. He is an established leader of this defense and was asked to do just about everything. In a year in which the NFL won’t get nearly the contact with draft prospects as it is used to, just how valuable will that experience be?
Prospect: Joshuah Bledsoe
Games Watched: vs. LSU (2020), vs. Georgia (2020), vs. Alabama (2020)
Games Played: 43 games
Tackles For a loss: 7.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 18
Games Played: 10
Tackles For a loss: 2.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 6
Best: Football IQ, competitive toughness, run defense, zone coverage
Worst: Athleticism, man coverage
Projection: A third safety in a defense which uses a “big nickel” set or a starting box safety for a defense which uses Cover 1 or Cover 3 principles.
(Bledsoe is S number 1)
Joshuah Bledsoe is an experienced safety with a good blend of size and athleticism to play the position.
Bledsoe aligned in several spots in the Missouri secondary, playing box safety, free safety, and slot defender. He is a four-year starter with the football IQ to understand his assignments at each position. Bledsoe shows good communication skills, relaying information to his teammates and helping them to get aligned in the pre-snap phase of the play. He generally has solid mental footwork, diagnosing the play quickly and seldom runs himself out of position.
Bledsoe was typically asked to play zone coverage and shows enough range and athleticism to execute most shallow zone coverages. He has quick-enough feet and a solid closing burst to close down passing windows in the short and intermediate area of the field.
He is a physical and aggressive run defender, triggering downhill quickly against run plays. Bledsoe generally has good discipline as a run defender and tracks the ball well despite misdirection. He also diagnoses play-action or screen plays quickly, allowing him to break off his rush and pursue the receiver.
Bledsoe shouldn’t be asked to play man coverage on receivers or more athletic tight ends and running backs at the NFL level. He shows significant lower-body stiffness which compromises his ability to stay with receivers in tight coverage. Likewise, it can also impact his change of direction, leading to a loss of balance if he needs to reverse course quickly.
Bledsoe also shouldn’t be asked to man the deep zone as the centerfield safety in a Cover 1 shell. While he is up to the mental aspect of the role, he lacks the range.
Overall Grade: 6.8 - This prospect has a relatively high floor and should be an important backup in most schemes, with the potential to start in the right situation.
Joshuah Bledsoe projects as a third safety for a defense which frequently uses “big nickel” packages. He has the potential to challenge for a starting job as a box safety in a defense which uses Cover 1 or Cover 3 shells.
He is generally at his best close to the line of scrimmage, where his average range and long speed can be hidden and his closing burst and football IQ can be emphasized. Bledsoe is at his best dropping into a shallow coverage zone, allowing him to see enough of the offense to read the play before firing downhill or picking up receivers passing through his zone. He doesn’t have the absolute athleticism to stay with receivers across the field in man coverage, but he can run with them through smaller zones.
Bledsoe has a relatively limited athletic upside, which could limit his draft stock. Teams who like their safeties to play deep as well as shallow will likely have a lower grade on Bledsoe because of his scheme limitations. That being said, he should be a capable, productive player as long as he is put in position to play to his strengths.