NFL 2022 Draft Positional Rankings: Safeties

Safety is one of my favorite positions to scout in the NFL as there is a wide range of playstyles that can make a massive impact. For example, Kam Chancellor was an aggressive downhill force who made plays in the box on the Seahawks’ legendary Legion of Boom defense. At the same time, Earl Thomas roamed sideline to sideline in a single-high look and was an enforcer over the middle of the field. This year’s draft class has safeties who fit both molds and can fill numerous roles, and it will be exciting to see what skillset different teams covet with their early-round selections.

NamePos. RankingCollegeClassOverall GradeDraft Range
Kyle Hamilton1Notre DameJunior94Top 10
Daxton Hill2MichiganJunior841st Round
Jalen Pitre3BaylorRS Senior832nd Round
Lewis Cine4GeorgiaJunior832nd Round
Jaquan Brisker5Penn StateSenior822nd Round
Kerby Joseph6IllinoisSenior783rd Round
Nick Cross7MarylandJunior773rd Round
Bryan Cook8CincinnatiSenior754th Round

#1: Kyle Hamilton – Notre Dame

Kyle Hamilton is perhaps more locked into the #1 spot at his position than anyone else in this draft. Hamilton is built like a linebacker at 6’4″, 220 lbs, but his fluid movement and athleticism are rare for someone his size. Hamilton was a first-team All-American safety last season, and his elite production across the board will translate into him being a high-level starter from the jump in the NFL.

Strengths:

  • Consistently great ball production – eight interceptions and 16 passes defended at Notre Dame
  • Elite tackler whose missed tackle rate dropped every single year in college
  • Great feel for the game in zone coverage – instincts and awareness of a ten-year veteran
  • Excellent back-end range that allows him to consistently find the ball as a single-high safety
  • Physicality, ideal frame, and foot quickness show upside for him to be a force in man coverage

Weaknesses:

  • Short-area burst can let him down on rare occasions when he’s not in the right spot
  • Lack of twitch and agility can limit his downfield man coverage
  • Tends to tackle high and has been flagged for it quite often
  • Ran the 40-yard dash at just 4.59 seconds (27th percentile), but play speed is much better than that

Summary: Kyle Hamilton’s unbelievable versatility and sphere of influence are rare for any position. He’s drawn comparisons to the Chargers’ Derwin James for his ability to be a high-level impact player in any role he’s asked to fill. There aren’t many holes in Hamilton’s game, and any weaknesses are nitpicky. The question for Hamilton’s final draft landing spot is how teams view the safety position in terms of positional value.

Draft Range: Top 10

#2: Daxton Hill – Michigan

Daxton Hill is a former five-star recruit for Michigan who filled several roles in the Wolverines’ defense but was at his best as a full-time slot defender during the team’s Big Ten Championship campaign in 2021. Hill may be a smaller defensive back, but his combine was electrifying as he tested in the 80th or better percentile for arm length, hand size, 40-yard dash, and 20-yard shuttle. He also tested in the 98th percentile for the 3-cone drill. With that elite athleticism, he can fill various roles in the NFL.

Strengths:

  • Hard-nosed tackler who puts his body on the line to make plays
  • Eye discipline and awareness boost his profile as a slot defender
  • Has the long-field speed for man-to-man coverage against faster slot receivers
  • Excellent range on the back-end with elite 4.38-second 40-yard dash speed

Weaknesses:

  • Lack of play strength limits his ability to take on blocks
  • Ball production was improved in 2021 but still lacking overall
  • Change of direction can be an issue if he needs to redirect his movement
  • Hips can be sticky at times and hurt his ability to flip in coverage

Summary: While Daxton Hill is undersized, his 32.25″ wingspan is actually within an inch of the 6’4″ Kyle Hamilton. Hill was asked to fill a variety of roles while at Michigan, and his consistent production both as a single-high safety and a natural slot cornerback offers a picture into the roles he can play in the NFL. Hill’s elite speed, eye discipline, ball-tracking, and burst to close on the football allow him to excel at many of the things modern safeties are asked to do.

Draft Range: 1st Round

#3: Jalen Pitre – Baylor

Jalen Pitre is a former three-star recruit who was a part-time role player in 2017 before redshirting as a sophomore and missing significant time to injury in 2019. However, in 2020 and 2021, he became one of the most productive slot defenders in the country. In 2021, he was one of four First-Team All-American defensive backs as he became a star player at the “Star” position for Baylor, which is becoming increasingly important in the NFL.

Strengths:

  • Ideal short-area quickness agility (87th percentile 3-cone) for a slot defender
  • Explosiveness and competitive demeanor allow him to make plays on the ball
  • Quick trigger to diagnose the play and accelerate to the football
  • Excellent run defender with physicality and secure tackling

Weaknesses:

  • Only ever played in the slot for Baylor – lacks versatile experience
  • On the older side as a fifth-year senior who’s likely close to his ceiling
  • Lacks top-end speed and fluid movement to handle downfield coverage assignments
  • Awareness and eye discipline can let him down at times in zone coverage

Summary: With NFL teams increasingly playing with a nickel defensive back on the field in their base defense, players like Jalen Pitre, who can make plays in run and pass defense, are increasingly important. Pitre doesn’t have excellent back-end range, and he’s not going to be a jack-of-all-trades safety like some of his peers. Still, his quick-trigger instincts, competitive demeanor, and elite agility profile him as an ideal fit as a slot defender in the NFL.

Draft Range: 2nd Round

#4: Lewis Cine – Georgia

Lewis Cine received playing time on a stacked Georgia defense as a freshman in 2019, and he showed promise before becoming a steadying presence over the past two years. As just a former three-star recruit, Cine has had to rely on his technical mastery and instincts rather than elite athletic talent while at Georgia, but his combine showed that he’s a much better athlete than most thought. He tested in the 96th percentile with a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and 11’1″ broad jump, and those results could see someone take a shot on him as soon as the end of Day 1. He’s rising up my board.

Strengths:

  • Excellent instincts and anticipation allow him to always be in the right spot
  • Consistent tackler with just a 6.9% career missed tackle rate per PFF
  • Smooth hips to flip in coverage and stay attached to his assignment
  • Physicality and competitive demeanor typical of Georgia defensive prospects

Weaknesses:

  • Consistently a half-beat slow on his breaks, surprising with his clear intelligence/instincts
  • Can get caught flat-footed or too tall in space which makes him easier to beat
  • Play strength is just average, not going to take on blocks with consistent success
  • Tackling may not be as much of a calling card in NFL, needs to add a bit more mass

Summary: Lewis Cine’s excellent combine testing has him as the biggest winner at the safety position, and his mental acuity for football is challenging to teach incoming rookies. He may not be the strongest or most physical safety, but he’s so technically refined that it’s easy to see him being an impact defender right away in the NFL. With his elite speed, fluid movement, and savvy, Cine doesn’t have a ton to clean up before becoming a consistent starter at the next level.

Draft Range: 2nd Round

#5: Jaquan Brisker – Penn State

After being deemed academically ineligible for NCAA Division 1, Jaquan Brisker transferred to Penn State from Lackawanna Community College in 2019 and has been a top-notch leader for their defense ever since. Jahan Dotson, Brandon Smith, Arnold Ebiketie, and many other Penn State draft hopefuls have referenced how Brisker’s competitive drive and tenacity have been contagious for the rest of the team. He checks many of the boxes for traits teams look for in safety prospects.

Strengths:

  • Technical understanding, instincts, and awareness all took a huge step forward last season
  • Tenacious run defender with downhill physicality and burst to the football
  • Range and timing allow him to make plays on the ball in pass coverage
  • Massive hands and elite bench press (both 91st percentile) flashed his strength/physicality at the combine

Weaknesses:

  • Hip stiffness limits his ability to flip and recover in pass coverage
  • Limited experience in versatile roles, primarily a box defender at Penn State
  • Inefficient angles to the football sometimes take him out of plays
  • Play recognition and eye discipline still a work in progress

Summary: Jaquan Brisker is a different player going forward than backward. If he’s in a role where he can play downhill and aggressively attack the ball with his physicality, strength, and tenacity, he’s going to be a force in the NFL. His lack of fluidity and top-end speed means he likely won’t be a high-impact safety in Cover 2 or single-high looks, but he has enough range to contribute as a slot defender and will be an excellent box safety.

Draft Range: 2nd Round

#6: Kerby Joseph – Illinois

Kerby Joseph has one of the more wild paths to being a potential Day 3 pick in the NFL. He was a bench player and special teams contributor for three years at an Illinois program in shambles before securing a starting job in his senior season. Once he got the starting opportunity, he made it count as one of the most productive safeties in the country last season. The pre-draft process has been kind to Joseph with a great Senior Bowl week and a tremendous combine.

Strengths:

  • Elite ball production – five interceptions and four pass break-ups last season
  • Ball-hawking traits – 33-inch arms (94th percentile), 10.25-inch hands (98th percentile), and 39-inch vertical jump (82nd percentile)
  • Fluid movement allows him to flip his hips easily in coverage
  • High-value special teams experience, also boosts his tackling expertise

Weaknesses:

  • Questions will be there about his inability to be a starter at Illinois until his senior season
  • Lacks elite speed for back-end range in coverage, not a single-high safety
  • Lack of experience hurts his decisiveness and play diagnosis
  • Not a thumping downhill box safety, inconsistent tackling technique

Summary: Kerby Joseph is likely pigeonholed into a specific role in the NFL with his lack of elite speed/quickness and mediocre play strength. He’s not a downhill, attacking box safety, and he’ll never be able to handle a full-time single-high role. Nonetheless, he has high-end traits that project him as a ball-hawking coverage safety whose natural movement, massive frame, and high-level ball production are ideal for any team that runs a lot of Cover 3 or Cover 4.

Draft Range: 3rd Round

#7: Nick Cross – Maryland

A former track star at Maryland, Nick Cross’s 4.34-second 40-yard dash perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it’s impressive for a player who came in at 6’0″, 212 lbs. That combination of size and speed isn’t very common among draft prospects, and it has his draft stock on the rise. Cross has been a stalwart defender for Maryland over the past few years with some of his best performances against top-level Big Ten opposition.

Strengths:

  • Enforcer in the middle of the field – explodes into receivers to break up plays and finishes tackles aggressively
  • Straight-line burst to close on the football with good focus and ball-tracking
  • Size and strength to cover tight ends man-to-man in the future
  • Good ball skills that translated to ball production at Maryland

Weaknesses:

  • Elite speed doesn’t always show up in coverage, needs to improve ability to backpedal
  • Feet need to be more active to keep him in the play longer
  • Hip tightness and lack of agility hurts his lateral playmaking
  • Anticipation, play recognition, and mental adjustments are lacking

Summary: Nick Cross has many physical attributes that teams look for in safety prospects with his combination of size, strength, and length, but he isn’t as polished as some of his peers in this class. If he lands with an excellent defensive backs coach in the NFL, Cross has the upside to turn those physical gifts into consistent production. However, he’s not ready to make an immediate impact, which drops him a bit in my rankings.

Draft Range: 3rd Round

#8: Bryan Cook – Cincinnati

Bryan Cook began his collegiate career at Howard before transferring to Cincinnati in 2019. Cook finally got the opportunity to start in 2021, and he played pretty well as he was asked to fill a variety of roles on one of the better defenses in the country. Of course, playing next to Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant helped tremendously, but Cook is no slouch with his ability on the field.

Strengths:

  • Former cornerback with quickness for solid slot coverage
  • Stout in run support with physicality to fill the lane and make big tackles
  • Solid awareness and vision overall, smart player
  • Anticipatory reactions help him get a jump on the ball

Weaknesses:

  • Anticipation can get him in trouble at times with overshooting plays
  • Lacks elite long speed for downfield coverage, not a rangy safety
  • Ball production is underwhelming, not a contested-catch force
  • Stiff in open space and lacks agility and change-of-direction

Summary: Bryan Cook is still a work in progress as 2021 was the first year he logged more than 220 snaps on defense, and his feel for the game isn’t complete. However, Cook brings a winning mentality with standout special teams play, solid run defending, and versatile upside in pass coverage. That’s enough for me to consider him an earlier Day 3 pick.

Draft Range: 4th Round

I've been a huge sports fan for as long as I can remember and I've always loved writing. In 2020, I joined the Lineups team, and I've been producing written and video content on football and basketball ever since. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. My goal is to tell enthralling stories and provide meaningful insight on the sports I write about while helping you cash some bets along the way.

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