In almost a mirror image to the Los Angeles Rams cornerback unit, the safety room entered into the 2023 NFL Draft with very little experience and waited until late Day 3 for any additions.
L.A. waited until pick #234 of Round 7 to conscript Jason Taylor out of Oklahoma State. They also added four undrafted free agents later. One, Quindell Johnson of Memphis, received the Rams highest guaranteed bonus money. The others, Rashad Torrence (Florida), Collin Duncan (Mississippi State), and Tanner Ingle (North Carolina State) are long shots to make the opening roster.
If you can believe it, the safety unit has less returning experience than the swaddled cornerbacks, with only 267 defensive snaps last season spread amongst the four returnees Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast, Quentin Lake, and practice squad player Richard LeCounte.
Turf Show Times has already caught up with Jason Taylor, now let’s meet the undrafted free agents.
Quindell Johnson, Memphis
Annual All-AAC performer, both on the field and in the classroom. Had 37 starts in 48 games over five Memphis seasons, including a redshirt. He tallied 320 tackles, 15.5 for loss, forced four fumbles, and recovered three more. In coverage, he intercepted 10 passes and broke up another 34. He also blocked two kicks.
He has NFL safety size and length at 6’ 201 lbs., along with 9 1/2” hands and 33” arms. Was solid athletically, not elite at the Memphis Pro Day. Timed a 4.55 forty and 4.24 shuttle. He also logged a 32.5 vertical and 10’ long jump.
Well-rounded and versatile defender in both coverage and run support. Last year, he played almost 300 snaps as a deep free safety, another 150+ in the box, and 275+ out in the slot.
Better in zone coverage than man. Appears to a step slow in reaction time to breaks and double moves when tasked with one on one situations. Has the length to recover and play from trail position at the college level, but it won’t fly as a pro. He’s smooth both going forward and backpedaling, reads routes and times breaks well on the ball. His production supports a projection of stellar ball skills.
Reliable in run support and as a tackler. Not a thumper, he’s a chase and drag guy. Johnson missed quite a few tackles in 2022, but in his past he generally broke down, struck low, and wrapped up well. Some of the misses come from playing out of control and not getting the right angles, being a foot or so off and slipping off the tackle.
Ordinary testing, questions about his man coverage, and last years missed tackle percentage may be a lot of the reason that Johnson went undrafted. All those concerns are fixable. His testing isn’t bad, had he blown up the Combine, he would arguably be a late Day 2/ early Day 3 pick. The Rams neither play a lot of single-high zone or put their safeties into one-on-one man, the safeties need to react to deep routes from primarily Cover2 and 3. The missed tackle problem was a one year thing, not a career problem.
Quindell Johnson with the interception! @memphisfb#AmericanPow6r | @CBSSportsNet pic.twitter.com/m790UYXrP7— American Football (@American_FB) November 29, 2020
Safety Rashad Torrence, Florida
21 year-old played three seasons with the Gators, starting 28 of 34 games. Torrence charted 196 tackles, 3.5 for loss, three interceptions, six passes defended, and three fumbles forced or recovered. Was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll all three seasons.
The NFL Combine and Florida’s Pro Day were a mixed bag for Torrence. He measured in at 6’ 193 lbs. with big hands (10”) and long arms (32”). His forty times were disappointing, 4.73 at the Combine and 4.75 at Pro Day. While his 4.22 shuttle was average, a 6.83 time on the 3Cone is stellar and he backed it up on Pro Day with a 6.75.
Quite a physical presence for his size. Not a great tackler, needs to consistently break down and wrap up, but he is a aggressive banger. He times up his strikes on receivers to jar the ball loose. He is a linear/downhill pursuer, not a natural loose jointed player. Hasn’t shown superior ball skills, but seems to track the ball pretty well.
He improved his coverage skills by learning to break down film with former Round 1 corner Kaiir Elam and applying corner skills to his game. Likely limited to zone coverages, his long speed and creaky hip turns could make him vulnerable in pro man. Has a lot of successful single high coverage in his background, but 2 or 3 high fits his ability to cover ground.
The question with Torrence is where to play him. He doesn’t appear to have the free safety speed to cover wide swathes of field in deep coverage. And while he has the length, agility and short area quickness to win underneath, he’s a little undersized for a strong safety role. If he cleans up his tackling form, special teams is an area he can leverage his aggressive nature and linear play. Weak points aside, he is basically a tough, three-year SEC starter and should not be overlooked.
Rashad Torrence II lays the wood! pic.twitter.com/7YeLcOhygm— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) December 17, 2022
Collin Duncan, Mississippi State
SEC deep safety adept in keeping the action in front of him. Turns 22 next month. Spent four seasons with the Bulldogs, starting 33 of 47 games. He made 148 tackles, 7.5 for loss, three interceptions, and 15 passes defended. He also had two sacks and forced four fumbles.
At the Mississippi State Pro Day, he was sized up at 6’ 197 lbs. with 9 1/8” hands and 31 7/8” arms. Some parts of his athletic were sterling, he had outstanding leaps in the vertical 41.5” and broad jump, 10’ 10”. His forty time was a poor 4.74, as well as his 7.31 3Cone. In agility, he ran an adequate 4.28 shuttle and had 14 reps on the bench.
Played primarily deep in defensive backfield and didn’t offer much in run support. Certainly not a banger. As a cover guy, he doesn’t appear to have the long speed or short area quickness for single high in the NFL.
Has a background in special teams. I don’t want to be too negative, he’s a three-year starter used to facing up against tough SEC offenses. He has a steady all-around game, with no area particularly standing out.
Safety Tanner Ingle, North Carolina State
Aggressive, overachieving safety who is under-sized and lacks elite athleticism. In a five- year college career, he started 50 of 56 games and logged just under 3000 snaps. Ingle began as a slot corner and moved to free safety after his freshman season.
Ferocious downhill defender whose best work is done around the line of scrimmage. Ingle made 310 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a whopping 18.5 quarterback hits. In coverage, he defended 12 passes with three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. His aggressive play has led to multiple ejections for targeting.
Ingle did not get an invite to the NFL combine and did not work out at the NCSU Pro Day with minor toe surgery, but did measure in at 5’ 9” 179 lbs. with 9” hands and 28 1/2” arms. As far as athletic testing, nfldraftbuzz.com reports that he runs the forty in 4.53, but does not cite where the time comes from.
Can his toughness overcome his size around the line of scrimmage as a pro? There’s no doubt that he’s a downhill missile in run support and on short passes, but he needs a lot of coverage work. No matter the speed reportage, his lack of long speed shows on film and he is susceptible to double moves. He’s a bit of a tweener, too small for an NFL safety and currently lacks coverage skills to work out of the slot.
He does project as a special teams demon and fits the Rams mold of hot motor and football instincts. HIs ball pursuit and willingness to bang heads makes him fit and is his path to a possible role while developing.
Can any of these prospects make the opening 53?
It’s hard to make a case for Collin Duncan and Tanner Ingle. Duncan is primarily a deep player and just doesn’t seem have the NFL athleticism for that role. Ingle is an aggressive hot motor player who is on the small side and needs work in pass coverage. Both have deep special teams experience, and Ingle in particular, seems very suited to that role. There just isn’t a lot more to from either to make a case for.
It’s very early, but I can see the Rams keeping six safeties, they are prime fodder for special teams and stocking those units with players who are athletic and can tackle is paramount. The last couple of seasons has left a lot to be desired in this area.
Quindell Johnson can make this team. He has the versatility, leadership/football IQ skills, and solid all-around game, He appears to be aggressive and physical enough. He is more of a natural zone player and although the upgrade would be incremental, his addition over say, Richard LeCounte, would make the unit faster and more athletic.
Rashad Torrence is tougher argument to make. I like his chances because I like his film and the cut of his jib. He’s cocky/feisty like a cornerback, but has the heart of a linebacker. SEC guys, as a general rule, are talented, top high school prospects and receive good coaching. He needs to tighten up his tackling form coming downhill, but is very good as a “last resort” tackler on breakaways.
I guess anyone of the four could run down on special teams, but Johnson and Torrence both show they have some NFL traits that can be built on.