In today’s pass-happy NFL, defenses are searching for playmakers, especially at the safety position. Last season, we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers part ways with a first-round draft pick to secure Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick went on to become one of the league’s best safeties, and his presence instantly took the Pittsburgh defense to the next level. Over the weekend, we saw the Seattle Seahawks land Jamal Adams from the New York Jets in a blockbuster trade. Seattle had to pay a steep price in order to make this deal go down, but they did so because finding players of Adams’ caliber isn’t easy. The safety position is in demand, and the group of 2021 top safety prospects has a lot to offer.
We’re coming off the heels of a strong 2020 safety class, in which 21 players from the position were selected in last April’s draft. However, not one safety was selected in the first round of the 2020 Draft, and it wasn’t until pick 36, where the New York Giants selected Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. After McKinney was selected, we saw a fast and furious run on safeties, including Kyle Dugger (Patriots), Grant Delpit (Browns), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Buccaneers), and Jeremy Chinn (Panthers), all joining McKinney as second-round selections. While the 2020 group is one of the strongest safety classes we’ve seen in quite some time, the top safety prospects for 2021 compose a far superior group.
We’re talking about a 2021 group that is so strong that JaCoby Stevens (LSU), Trevor Moehrig (TCU), Richie Grant (UCF), Leon O’Neal (Texas A&M), Talanoa Hufanga (USC) and Isaiah Pola-Moa (USC) aren’t even among the top prospects at the position, yet they all could be starters at the next level.
2021 top safety prospects
Jevon Holland, Oregon, Junior (6’1″, 200 pounds)
Jevon Holland is the cream of the crop when it comes to 2021 top safety prospects. He is coming off of a strong 2019 season, where he accumulated 66 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, four passes defended, and a defensive touchdown.
Holland’s versatility will be attractive for NFL teams, as Holland possesses the ability to thrive at single-high safety or kick inside to excel at slot cornerback. As I pointed out in my article on the top Oregon prospects, “Holland is a dynamic athlete, possessing elite balls skills, as his nine interceptions in the last two seasons would indicate. Against the run, he is aggressive, instinctive, and effective. Also, his ability and versatility to thrive in the slot will add value to his 2021 Draft prospectus.”
When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, Oregon’s Jevon Holland will be selected much earlier than most early mock drafts have him going. His versatility and balls skills are reminiscent of the aforementioned Fitzpatrick. I see no chance that Holland will be available on the second day of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State, Senior (6’4″, 220 pounds)
You won’t find a more athletic phenomenon in college football than Florida State safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. Nasirildeen’s 2019 season was cut short due to a torn ACL, but prior to the injury, he was filling the stat sheet in a staggering manner. Want to have your mind blown? In his junior season, Nasirildeen racked up 101 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, three passes defended, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown.
Nasirildeen’s god-given physical tools are exciting, as is his athletic profile. When you watch tape on Nasirildeen, his length and fluidity stand out. Nasirildeen can impact the game in a variety of ways, including eliminating tight ends in the passing game with his superb coverage ability or excelling as a tackler at the line of scrimmage.
Pro Football Network’s Dalton Miller thinks very highly of Nasirildeen, stating as follows: “Nasirildeen is going to be a menace if quarterbacks believe they’ll be able to fit passes on timing routes to tight ends and slot receivers when he’s matching routes from his safety position.”
Nasirildeen is a surefire first-round selection in 2021. If he decides to test at the NFL Scouting Combine, he will blow the roof off of the place. NFL teams covet versatile freaks in the mold of Isaiah Simmons and Derwin James, and Nasirildeen might just be the next one.
Ar’Darius Washington, TCU, Redshirt Sophomore (5’8″, 179 pounds)
Don’t let his size fool you; TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington is NFL-ready, bringing elite ball skills and incredible range to the table. He is coming off a strong accolade-ridden freshman season, where he secured five interceptions.
In addition to his impressive ball skills and range, Washington possesses a high football IQ, highlighted by his ability to diagnose offenses that he faces. He has plus speed and is a smooth operator in terms of fluidity. According to Pro Football Focus, Washington only allowed five completions in 265 defensive plays in 2019.
Every year, Bruce Feldman releases his “Feldman’s Freak List” and this year, Ar’Darius Washington was featured: “The 5-8, 179-pound safety bench presses more than double his weight (370) and squats more than triple it (640).”
When all is said and done, it wouldn’t surprise me if Washington was the first safety off the board in 2021.
Paris Ford, Pittsburgh, Junior (6’0″, 190 pounds)
When it comes to 2021 top safety prospects, the most underrated player of the group is Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford. Ford was sensational in 2019, securing 97 tackles, a mind-blowing 11 passes defended, three forced fumbles, three interceptions, and a touchdown.
Pro Football Network’s Matt Valdovinos has Ford as his second-best safety prospect, stating “Ford is an elite athlete, with the best closing speed I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t do it often at PITT, but I do believe Ford has the sideline-to-sideline speed to be a dominant center-field type of safety.”
Ford might not be a household name quite yet, and it’s more than likely that he won’t be a first-round selection in 2021, but he is a steal on the second day of the draft.
Caden Sterns, Texas, Junior (6’1″, 207 pounds)
His freshman year was remarkable, but since then, talented Texas safety Caden Sterns has battled the dreaded injury bug. If he can prove to be healthy during the 2020 college football season, his 2021 Draft stick will skyrocket.
Many believe Sterns is the most talented prospect when it comes to 2021 safeties. He is a special athlete, who comes with elite coverage skills and instincts that are off the charts. Despite his battles with various injuries during his collegiate career, Sterns has 21 career starts under his belt.
The question remains: Can Sterns stay healthy? If he does, many in the draft community believe he can be the best Texas safety since Earl Thomas.
Richard LeCounte, Georgia, Senior (5’11”, 190 pounds)
It was quite a surprise when the enforcer of the Georgia secondary, Richard LeCounte, decided to return to Athens for his senior season. In 2019, LeCounte showcased his playmaking ability, as his 61 tackles, four interceptions, three passes defended, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries would indicate.
LeCounte is a monster in run support, utilizing his functional athleticism to make plays on the football sideline-to-sideline. He can deliver a blow and is a sound fundamental tackler. He isn’t afraid to mix it up and cover, as his athleticism and movement skills allow him to mirror tight ends. When you watch film on the Georgia defense, #2 stands out, as he plays like his hair is on fire.
While his athletic profile won’t be as appealing as the likes of Hamsah Nasirildeen and Caden Sterns, Richard LeCounte is a productive, battle-tested player who will hear his name called on the second day of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Andre Cisco, Syracuse, Junior (6’0″, 209 pounds)
“Ball-hawk” is a popular term thrown around, but no player in college football is more deserving than Syracuse’s Andre Cisco. Need evidence? In his two seasons at Syracuse, Cisco has a jaw-dropping 12 interceptions and 14 passes defended.
Cisco has quite the tool belt for the safety position. His ball skills, in particular, will have NFL front offices salivating. At times, Cisco’s aggressiveness can hurt him, as he tends to bite on pump fakes too often, but his closing speed and range allows him to play aggressive and be productive regardless.
When the dust settles, Cisco has first-round talent but could fall to early round two due to a deep 2021 safety class. NFL scouts love defensive players who can make game-changing plays, and that is second nature to Cisco.