Safety can often be a position that is difficult to assess on game film. With Safeties often playing deep, the cameras don’t catch them until the ball is in the air or a runner is at the second level. The Senior Bowl gives a great opportunity to see these players go through drills, work with coaches, and see the full compliment of what they can do.
Unfortunately, this is not a great safety class. “This safety class stinks” was a direct quote from Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy in a Bruce Feldman Athletic article back in November. He isn’t wrong, but there are some intriguing athletes in this group that may still get a chance to shine.
Tycen Anderson, Toledo
It feels like there is a big MAC Safety in the draft every year, and Anderson is the guy this time. He is a big rangy tackle who plays in the box well and is a tackle first type. There are even teams looking at Anderson to make the move to LB, so he will be getting some reps at that position in the Senior Bowl. If a team needs that classic Strong Safety, Anderson could be an intriguing Day 3 pick who can also be an excellent special teams player.
Anderson should have a solid week with reps at multiple positions. If he can excel as a LB, it opens up the possibility for teams to have him as a swing reserve and special teams ace. Even with buzz, it is doubtful that Anderson rises to be a Top 50 pick or anything in that range, but in a safety class lacking clarity in the third tier, Anderson could have an opportunity to move up.
Tariq Carpenter, Georgia Tech
A call-up from the Hula Bowl, Carpenter will have a big opportunity at the Senior Bowl to show what he is made of. Listed at a massive 225 pounds, Carpenter has the bulk to be a punishing tackler. He was the second level of Georgia Tech’s poor run defense often, making tackles to save big plays. He is pretty stiff in coverage though, and that may not go well for him.
Carpenter could flash out and show he belongs, but having to cover in 1-on-1 drills may be a difficult task for him. He isn’t the fastest or most athletic, so against some of the smaller speed guys, it will be tough to show coverage ability. That could lead to some bad reps. Hopefully the coaching and experience will make him better, but Carpenter is likely a core special teamer Day 3 type.
Yusuf Corker, Kentucky
Corker was the backbone of a rock solid Wildcat defense this season. As a great wrap-up tackler who showed promise in coverage, Corker is a versatile safety who can play a deep role but likely excels more as an in the box safety. With great fundamentals and football IQ, Corker likely has a special teams future with the potential to keep progressing as a safety.
The American Team has many similar safeties (which are the exact type the Lions may look for on day three of the NFL Draft). Corker should get a chance to flash his athleticism and technique throughout the week. Corker is the most likely of the three to move himself into Late Day 2 range.
Leon O’Neal, Texas A&M
The Aggies defense flashed dominance at times this season, especially against Alabama. That was O’Neal’s best SEC game of the season. As a big bodied safety, O’Neal plays a bit stiff, but he packs a punch tackling in the run game as an in the box safety. He has shown good ability to cover slower TEs and even blitz the QB, so O’Neal should be a core special teamer with some upside.
O’Neals size gives him an advantage, but he doesn’t quite have the athleticism of Anderson or Corker. There is some fear O’Neal’s stiffness could lead to some poor practice reps. Perhaps the coaching can help him loosen up and have more versatility.
Kerby Joseph, Illinois
Joseph is an underrated safety in this draft class who was the central point of the Illini defense. A rangy player who has a good nose for the football, Joseph can be a deep safety. He flashed playmaking ability this season and has the speed/athleticism to be an NFL rotational player.
This is the type of environment where Kerby will impress NFL teams. He flies around the field making plays. Joseph will be the most athletic safety at the Senior Bowl and may stand out above the rest. Day 2 is within reason with a good offseason and Joseph could be an excellent 2-deep safety in the NFL.
Jalen Pitre, Baylor
Pitre is a nasty football player. The Baylor defense in general is built on physicality, and Pitre led the way with jarring hits and quick closing speed, Pitre has a ton of upside. Though his coverage skills are subpar at times, Pitre improved throughout the season and flashed the ability to be a complete safety. Teams will look close at him on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
Senior Bowl week will be a good opportunity for Pitre to get NFL coaching and show his coverage ability. As a tackler and closer to receivers and Tight Ends, he is already on an NFL level. Though not a fit for every team, Pitre should still be a riser and show he belongs on an NFL roster.
Sterling Weatherford, Miami (OH)
Weatherford is a raw size and speed prospect who had an inconsistent season for the Redhawks. You can’t teach 6’4 215 though, and Weatherford can move really well for his size. He is listed on the Senior Bowl roster at LB and will likely spend most of his time learning that position throughout the week. It isn’t a huge transition as Weatherford mainly played in the box, but some of the nuances will take time.
Weatherford will bring a lot of intrigue moving positions, and he has great size and length to be a good wrap-up tackler. As a raw prospect, this is a big opportunity for the Lions staff to coach him on the finer points of the position and see how he takes to that coaching. The upside is big for Weatherford and his draft stock may depend on how the week goes.