Birds Need Young Safety? College Prospects To Consider
With Eagles training camp is less than three weeks away and the next college football season around the corner, I've focused on a number of key positions the Eagles must address in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In the weeks leading up to training camp, we'll highlight some of the top players at those positions and assess their outlook heading into the 2021 college football season. For the third part of this series, we look at seven safety prospects with draft stocks on the rise.
Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The first in a long line of hulking, athletic defensive back crop that will be outlined in this piece, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton should emerge as the nation’s clear-cut premier safety prospect with a standout 2021 campaign.
In 24 games, the 6-foot-4, 219-pound defender has produced 104 tackles (5.5 for loss), 12 passes defended, five interceptions, and a touchdown.
Hamilton’s exceptional length enables him to narrow throwing windows and attack the catch point, while his superior movement, instincts, and decisiveness solidifies his status as the position's elite talent. Teams might suggest Hamilton add weight to moonlight as a linebacker in sub packages, but his innate coverage acumen, explosiveness, and ball skills should translate to early success in the secondary at the pro level.
Brandon Joseph, Northwestern
Joseph took the college football world by storm last season, announcing his arrival as one of the nation’s top safety prospects with a banner 2020 season. At 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, Joseph's build is more closely associated with a boundary cornerback, but his toughness, football intellect, and plus ball skills makes him one of the more intriguing players at his position. For perspective, Joseph grabbed six interceptions in just eight games, along with 46 tackles and two passes defended. He also established himself as a sure, sturdy open-field tackler and willing hitter across the middle. His lengthy dimension and athletic profile should translate to next-level versatility. One area of concern: his 10-game sample size. Joseph will have a full season to build on his success and cement his status as a bonafide blue chip player.
Tykee Smith, Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs will field college football's top safety tandem in 2021, thanks in large part to landing Smith via the transfer portal.
Smith, who spent his first two season at West Virginia, will patrol centerfield alongside Lewis Cine, a partnership that should only increase Smith's draft stock. Teams won't be able to avoid his side of the field. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound prospect brings to Athens a resume that includes 111 tackles (10.5 for loss), nine passes defended, four interceptions, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.
For all of the talented safety prospects in this class, Smith might be my favorite due to his versatility. Deployed like Tyrann Mathieu, or more recently Elijah Molden, Smith is sure to pique NFL teams' interest with his array of tools. However, while Smith boasts an incredibly high football IQ and innate nose for the ball, his versatility could ultimately work against him during the evaluation process. Additionally, his slight build is likely to scare some teams off.
Bubba Bolden, Miami (Fla.)
Originally part of the USC football program in 2017, Bolden needed to overcome early adversity, including a re-route in 2019 to the University of Miami, where injuries short-circuited his first season.
To his credit, Bolden stayed the course and burst onto the scene with a productive 2020 campaign. In his first season as a starter, Bolden racked up 74 tackles (6.5 for loss), four passes defended, four forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception in 11 games.
Another hulking safety with a build of 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, Bolden is a fluid, exceptionally athletic DB who closes on the football with urgency and provides sideline-to-sideline range. His innate athletic traits embody what teams typically build around in the secondary. His upside is immense, and he appears to be very much an ascending talent, but he must remain healthy and consistent to continue on this upward trajectory.
Jordan Battle, Alabama
Battle boasts the requisite build, promise, and pedigree to become the Crimson Tide’s next NFL success story.
A former four-star recruit, Battle was gradually brought along as a freshman in 2019, appearing in four games. However, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound safety blossomed as a sophomore, logging 66 tackles (3.0 for loss), five passes defended, and an interception in 13 starts.
Battle has the size and mentality to become a backend enforcer in the pros, but questions remain about his ability to consistently hold his own in coverage. While Battle doesn't possess top-end athleticism comparable to some of the players on this list, he has the talent to become a more well-rounded player.
Battle appears most comfortable around the line of scrimmage, where his instincts and physicality shine, but he must maximize his skill set to reach full potential.
Small school prospects
Keith Gallmon, South Alabama: What Gallmon lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with his football IQ, tenacity, and leadership. In 24 games, Gallmon has amassed 145 tackles (3.0 for loss) – including a career-high 84 in 2020 – 14 passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
The 5-foot-9, 205-pound safety is a hard-nosed, fundamentally sound defensive back who is an outstanding tackler. Though you’d like to see better ball production, Gallmon is coming off his best season, and the secret is out on his pro potential. With a well-rounded game and major upside, I have Gallmon as my top-ranked Sun Belt safety. Look for the senior to become a household name in 2021.
Sterling Weatherford, Miami (Ohio): A physically imposing defender at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, Weatherford is a multi-faceted back-end player who showcases his diverse skill set against the run and the pass. In 29 career games, the rangy safety has compiled 143 tackles (8.5 for loss), 17 passes defended, 2.0 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Built similarly to Kam Chancellor, Weatherford has the fluidity and lateral movement to cover ground in coverage and the downhill mentality to fill running lanes. He might ultimately be best served adding five pounds to become a hybrid linebacker. Given the growing offensive trends at the pro ranks, players of Weatherford’s mold are in high demand. Linebacker or safety, the RedHawks defender is undoubtedly one of the more underrated defensive players in the MAC.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.