Even if Jordan Fuller can overcome his injury problems, the Los Angeles Rams safety unit lacks experience, athleticism, and depth. L.A. is meeting with prospects, but have only three draft picks that are high enough to add realistic contributors, and it’s a thin 2023 safety draft class.
There are certainly some good candidates at the top of the class, but I recently posted an article about stocking the Rams secondary with physical cornerbacks for their coverage ability and athleticism. I’m sticking to that. If you compare all the profiled prospects, even the slowest corners have a leg up over 40 yard speed and/or the 10 yard split.
Still, there are some prospects that can add speed, special teams work, and competition for the current group. Particularly late in the process, when L.A. has the bulk of their draft selections. Let’s look at the top candidates and some others that I think would offer value.
Old school thumpers
Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M - 6’ 2” / 198 lbs. / 32 1/8” arms / 4.52 / 1.57 6.34
His physical nature and flow to the football are obvious, but I think that sitting him back deep in coverage is a waste of what he’s best at. With his football IQ and nature, a safety/linebacker hybrid role would seem the best use of his attributes. He appears a little stiff on the move in space and his 3cone and shuttle numbers bear that out. I wonder if his testing numbers have taken a little of the shine off his top safety in the class rating.
Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State - 5’ 11” / 203 lbs. / 31 1/4” arms / 4.65 / 1.56 6.30
Lined up all over the field for the Nittany Lions, 345 snaps deep, 157 in the box, and eight each as a corner and overhang. As a pro, he will likely be able to handle Cover3 responsibilities because of his football IQ and read/react skill, but will likely be best the closer to the line of scrimmage. Needs a defense that let’s him be aggressive and play downhill. He’s got a nose for the football and is a strong run defender. He does need to work on playing under control and clean up missed tackles.
Split safety look, tremendous read and react work from Ji'Ayir Brown. Great drive on the ball again, big hit to jar the ball free. pic.twitter.com/8CQ5AIPPYt— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) April 19, 2023
Jammie Robinson, Florida State - 5’ 11” / 191 lbs. / 29 5/8” arms / 4.59 / 1.51 6.11
Simply put, a tough SOB. As good a tackler as any secondary player in the 2023 draft. He has the vision and innate ability to to find the right angle. When he gets there, he brings a load. Not just a square-up striker, he can chase-and-drag as well, and even with his relatively short arms, wraps up. Not an elite athlete, but his 10 yard split and 3Cone numbers show burst, agility, and body control. Hard not like his film, but at that size, will he be able to withstand the physicality of the NFL?
Sydney Brown, Illinois - 5’ 10” / 211 lbs. / 31 1/2” arms / 4.47 / 1.51 5.97
Very experienced, with 50 Big 12 starts. Earned some All-American accolades in 2022. Brown’s motor runs red hot and he plays aggressively. Explodes downhill to take runners or blockers. His flying into the action led to missed tackles, he’ll need to work on form and playing under control. Was predominantly utilized as a box safety, with some slot work. Was seldom used in high coverage, but appears to to be sticky underneath and in the mid area. Cut quite thickly, has very good speed, but seems a bit stiff when turning to change direction.
Jordan Battle, Alabama - 6’ 1” / 209 lbs. / 32” arms / 4.55 / 1.56 6.18
Originally committed to Ohio State by Urban Myer, and reneged when Myer left. Smart, consistent defender who although playing predominantly deep, appears to have the skills to cover in the slot and underneath. Lined up a lot in single-high, but might be a step slow to cover that much ground for in the NFL. He could certainly fit the Rams schemes. He triggers downhill well and is a good tackler. A solid, low ceiling/high floor player.
JL Skinner, Boise State - 6’ 4” / 209 lbs. / 32” arms / 6.25
Tore a pectoral muscle in February and did not participate in NFL Combine or Boise State Pro Day. On film, he appears to have good move skills, better long speed than short area quickness. Hot motor and physical, Boise aligned him all over the field to take advantage of his football IQ and pursuit. When he gets where he’s going, Skinner thumps. During Senior Bowl workouts he absolutely bullied wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. That week, those position groups voted him Practice Player of the Week. As a pro, even though he can move well for his size, he is not a freakish athlete and likely needs to play as a short/mid area defender.
JL Skinner just wants to hit, man pic.twitter.com/ZhWwGXSm7w— Cory (@fakecorykinnan) February 3, 2023
Christopher Smith, Georgia - 5’ 11” / 192 lbs. / 31 1/8” arms / 4.62 / 1.56 5.95
Georgia keeps turning them out, hard working, disciplined defensive backs. And like those before him, Smith made his bones on special teams. Solid in all facet of the secondary. Very physical and willing both in the open field and filling on run support. Only has adequate athleticism and agility, but has good read and react skills to make up for it.
Jartavius Martin, Illinois - 5’ 11” / 194 lbs. / 31 1/8” / 4.46 / 1.47
2500+ Big 10 snaps over five years. Began as an outside corner, moved to the slot, and finally finished his Illini career as deep safety. Stellar speed and burst. Played some deep zone, but not sure that’s his strong suit, better in man coverage. Good chase-and-drag tackler, particularly in space.
Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame - 6’ / 202 lbs. / 30 7/8” arms / 4.62 / 1.56
On-field production digressed at Notre Dame after two solid seasons at Northwestern. Might be because he played closer to the line of scrimmage for the Irish and was predominantly a center fielder for Northwestern. Plays best in zone, reads the quarterback well, adequately reads and reacts, and has good hand/eye coordination. He’ll need to speed up his game, it appears a step slow for the NFL.
Late round value
Daniel Scott, Cal - 6’ 1” / 208 lbs. / 30 1/4” arms / 4.45 / 1.55 5.87 6.75-4.17-39.5
Two-year starter, waited his turn toiling on both return and coverage units. Will turn 25 in October. Tested very well at the NFL Combine, stellar speed, athleticism, and agility. Good half-field range and is able to process and trigger forward in run support. Willing hitter, but needs tackling discipline. Polish work needed on tackle form, staying under control, wrapping up and moving through runner.
Chamarri Conner, Virginia Tech - 6’ / 202 lbs. / 31 3/8” arms / 4.51 / 1.56 5.86 6.91- 4.30-40.5
47 game college starter with experience as an outside corner, as a nickel/slot, and safety. Although primarily a zone defender and not an elite athlete, he has enough strength, speed, and short area quickness to play man coverage on tight ends. Strong run defender, good form tackler. He’s a physical, instinctual football player, not a track guy in pads. He has deep special teams experience and his versatility can fill a lot of roles.
When you see the best NFL prospect on a college team flying down on punt cover and celebrating because it clearly matters to him, that’s a guy who just loves to play. @HokiesFB DB Chamarri Conner is that dude. NFL scouts are gonna like @chamarriconner9.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/XCSedPcOAW— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 23, 2022
Jason Taylor, Oklahoma State - 6’ / 204 lbs. / 32” arms / 4.50 / 1.52 5.92 7.16-4,20-43”
Back in February, I named him as a player to watch from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and I still like him as late round pick. Played as deep safety in 2022 and in the box and slot in 2021. In 27 college starts, he eight interceptions and 19 passes broken up. Stellar ball skills and hand/eye coordination. His value might be best underneath as he takes good angles and is a fearless run defender.
Anthony Johnson, Iowa State - 6’ / 205 lbs. / 31 1/4” arms / 4.54 / 1.55 6.18 7.07-431-37.5
54 Big 12 starts, 42 as a cornerback before moving to safety. Four-year All-Academic award winner. He is a loose, fluid athlete, not elite, but combined with his grit, he can be sticky in coverage. Although still transitioning and learning the nuances of safety, he plays much better looking at the action and moving downhill. Willing take-on tackler and in space, had 400+ special teams snaps.
Brandon Hill, Pittsburgh - 5’ 10” / 192 lbs. / 30 3/4”arms / 4.43 / 1.50 5.92 6.88-4.12-35.5
Played a lot of zone and matchup behind a blitzing, stunting front. Kinda fun to watch, always flying around. Explodes into run support. Has stellar pursuit speed and needs it with some of the angles he takes. His pro game would improve with a little discipline, he needs to consistently wrap up tackle and not lead with his shoulder for the big hit. Has the range, change of direction agility, and burst to range atop a defense.
Better luck next year
Right now, the Rams will have a huge gap between pick #77 and #167. Since I have all the top safety prospects graded into that abyss, the best return on investment would appear later on in the process. Late-round players that have special teams upsides and could earn their way onto the defense, ala Russ Yeast, Nick Scott, or Jordan Fuller.
From the versatility category, if the Rams did trade back for extra picks, I do like all-around game of Jordan Battle and JL Skinner, just don’t believe there’s roster/draft value for them until around pick #100. As for the others, Smith could be considered a system defender, Martin is fast and has good coverage skills, and Joseph, while a good college player and being solid in all areas, doesn’t seem much more exciting than what the Rams currently have under contract. I would not be the least surprised if all these prospects are drafted ahead of where I think they belong.
The thumpers are all nice players and would help round out the unit, but excepting Sydney Brown, are all a step slow and would seem similar to what L.A. has fielded in the recent past. I don’t see them as difference makers and cannot make a case for the Rams to choose any of them with one of their Top 3 picks. If they fell back a ways, sure, but I can already hear the comparisons to Taylor Rapp. (Important note: I liked Rapp’s game better than most Rams fans, just thought he was a little overdrafted.)
Amongst the value category, all share two traits, experience in zone defenses and extensive special teams play. They all also have very good to stellar numbers in vertical leap, 3cone, and shuttle. I can drone on about this category being sleeper’s and they have those solid traits, but being dispassionate, getting four phase special teams play out of the last rounds is squeezing out value.