The safety position in the 2023 NFL Draft is existing in the shadow of a very good cornerback draft.
This year’s safety class isn’t weak by any means, and has some very interesting prospects. However, they’re easy to be overlooked in favor of a very deep and talented cornerback class. For instance, Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown is coming off of a breakout season, but isn’t getting anywhere near the talk that teammate Joey Porter Jr. is getting.
The New York Giants, meanwhile, have questions all over their secondary. Veteran and defensive captain Julian Love departed in free agency and Xavier McKinney is entering the final year of his rookie deal. The Giants have some options at safety, but they could use more long-term answers.
Could Ji’Ayir Brown be an answer for them?
Prospect: Ji’Ayir Brown (16)
Games Watched: vs. Purdue (2022), vs. Auburn (2022), vs. Michigan (2022), vs. Ohio State (2022)
Games Played: 32
Tackles for a loss: 9.0
Forced fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 9
Games Played: 13
Tackles for a loss: 7.0
Forced fumbles: 2
Passes defensed: 3
Best: Instinctiveness, football IQ, physicality, versatility
Worst: Athleticism, range
Projection: A rotational safety with starting upside and positional versatility.
(Brown is Penn State safety number 16)
Ji’Ayir Brown is a smart, tough, and versatile safety prospect from Penn State University.
Brown played a variety of roles for the Penn State defense, aligning as a free and strong safety, playing the deep middle of the field as well as in the box. He is a very smart and instinctive defender who’s an active communicator before and after the snap. Brown shows the kind of instinctive movement and quick diagnosis that typifies good MIKE linebacker prospects, consistently taking an accurate first move toward the play. He does a good job of keeping his eyes in the backfield throughout the play and quickly diagnoses the offensive play.
Brown is seldom fooled by misdirection and quickly diagnoses whether the play is a run or pass, and generally makes an accurate read as to where the ball is going.
He has a compact backpedal that allows him to quickly gain depth on his zone drops while remaining balanced. He has adequate range in the deep middle of a Cover 3 shell, as well as in the hook/curl area. Brown’s football IQ allows him to get a good jump on the ball and take advantage of a strong closing burst.
He is a very physical player who is disruptive at the catch point. Brown arrives at the catch point with bad intentions and is able to knock the ball loose, and also does a good job of high-pointing the ball when he’s in position to make an interception.
Brown has a quick downhill trigger and is a very willing run defender. He’s physical when taking on blockers and does a good job of using his hands to keep himself clean, and is a good, reliable form tackler. Brown takes smart angles to the ball, generally putting himself in good position to make the tackle and limit ball carriers’ yards after contact. He’s a hard hitter and is able to get even bigger running backs on the ground.
He shows upside as a blitzer, timing his rushes well and using his burst to beat blockers before they’re able to establish their blocks.
But while Brown is smart, tough, and versatile, he’s held back by pedestrian athleticism. He has a good downhill burst, but lacks great (or even good) long speed. That limits his range in coverage and makes him very dependent on his football IQ to make up precious seconds. Likewise, he can be outrun by most receivers and running backs in space.
Brown shouldn’t be asked to match up in man coverage that often, as most NFL caliber skill position players can out-athlete him.
Overall Grade: 7.3
Ji’Ayir Brown projects as an important rotational safety at the NFL level, at least to start his career.
He would likely begin his career as a third safety who is brought onto the field in “Big Nickel” packages, but he should be tough to keep down the depth chart. Brown has the upside to seize a starting job in the right situation, and has the highest ceiling in a Cover 3 or Cover 4 scheme. He’s good enough in zone coverage to man those smaller coverage zones and has the versatility to play deep and near the line of scrimmage. He’s smart, instinctive, and processes the play very quickly. His football IQ easily compensates for his mediocre athleticism and allows him to play much faster than he times.
He should also appeal to defenses that run blitz-heavy schemes. He times his rushes well and takes very smart routes to the ball. He’s able to either avoid blockers or get skinny and beat them through sheer physicality.
Brown will likely struggle if the offense is ever able to isolate him in man coverage. Likewise, he probably shouldn’t be asked to play free safety and man the centerfield in a Cover 1 scheme due to range limitations. However, he does enough well in the rest of his game that he should be a useful player in the right situation.