The 2023 NFL Draft class is well regarded at several positions. However, the talent at EDGE and cornerback is overshadowing the talent at other positions. In particular, the safety position isn’t particularly well regarded. It isn’t a weak class, and was in fact impressive at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Illinois safety Sydney Brown has been in the shadow of his teammate, Devon Witherspoon. That said, he’s an impressive prospect in his own right. Not only is Brown built like an action figure at 5-foot-9, 211 pounds, but he has impressive movement skills despite his dense frame.
The New York Giants have needs at multiple positions on their defense, and safety could be one of them after losing Julian Love in free agency. Brown might have a similar level of versatility as Love, so could he be an under-the-radar target for the blitz-happy Giants?
Prospect: Sydney Brown (30)
Games Watched: vs. Wyoming (2022), vs. Chattanooga (2022), vs. Wisconsin (2022), vs. Minnesota (2022)
Games Played: 50
Tackles for a loss: 10.0
Forced fumbles: 4
Passes defensed: 16
Interceptions: 10 (2 TD)
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 3.5
Forced fumbles: 1
Passes defensed: 7
Interceptions: 6 (1 TD)
Best: Size, hip fluidity, athleticism, competitive toughness, versatility
Worst: Length, occasional over-aggression
Projection: A starting safety with scheme versatility.
(Brown is Illinois safety number 30)
Illinois safety Sydney Brown has a good combination of size, athleticism, and versatility to play the position at the NFL level.
Brown is a compact, but not undersized, safety at 5-foot 9 ¾ inches, 211 pounds. Despite his dense frame, he has surprisingly quick feet and fluid hips. His blend of athleticism, fluidity, and play strength allow him to play a wide variety of roles in the Illinois defense. He primarily lined up as a box safety, but has also played the deep middle as a free safety, played a pseudo-linebacker position, or covered the slot.
Brown has a high football IQ and is a very active communicator before and after the snap. He can often be seen directing traffic and helping to line up his teammates in the pre-snap phase. Brown diagnoses the play quickly regardless of where he lines up. He’s quick to identify whether the play is run or pass and is seldom fooled by misdirection or play-action. Brown has a very quick downhill trigger and flies to the ball as a run defender. He takes smart angles when playing downhill and is unafraid of taking on contact. Brown’s play strength allows him to take on and defeat bigger blockers and he is a very hard hitter. Brown typically uses good tackle form and routinely gets the ball carrier on the ground with a minimum of yards after contact.
As mentioned above, Brown has very quick feet and fluid hips. He has an efficient backpedal and easily gains depth when dropping into zone coverage while staying balanced. His long speed gives him good range in zone coverage and he’s easily able to cover ground in shallow coverage zones. He also has near-cornerback hips with excellent fluidity for a safety. He’s easily able to mirror and match tight ends and running backs in man coverage, and has the quickness and speed to stay in phase and carry them down the field.
Brown was frequently used as a blitzer in Illinois’ scheme. He rushed through both interior gaps and off the edge and timed his rushes well in both cases. Brown is willing to take on larger blockers and his speed into the backfield allows him to beat blockers before they’re in position to pick him up effectively.
Brown is a well-rounded safety with few true issues in his game. That said, his lack of length is occasionally an issue. Taller tight ends can make catches over him, and he can struggle with blockers who can use their length to neutralize his quickness and play speed.
He can also occasionally cross the line from tough and aggressive to over-aggressive. Brown commits quickly and fully to the play, but that can lead to problems of he makes an incorrect read or guesses incorrectly.
Overall Grade: 7.8
Sydney Brown projects as a starting safety with scheme versatility at the NFL level.
Brown usually lined up near the line of scrimmage for Illinois, and he might be best as a strong safety in a Cover 3 or Cover 1 scheme. He has enough hip fluidity to cover slot receivers, though NFL caliber receivers might be too much for him. That said, he should have plenty of athleticism to match up against tight ends and running backs in man coverage.
He’s also an effective run defender playing at the second level. He typically diagnoses the play quickly and accurately, and has very good speed into the backfield without freelancing. He also has upside as a blitzer, showing good timing and the ability to use his quickness and dense frame to beat blockers.
Teams may knock Brown for coming in under height thresholds, and there could be concerns about matching him up in coverage against taller tight ends as well as slot receivers. However, he should be a versatile piece for a variety of defenses within his limitations.