The American Athletic Conference is playing football this fall, and that is music to all of our ears. The AAC is a high-flying, spread out offensive machine at the top with Memphis and Central Florida. To defend that, your team needs to have talent and discipline in the back end, and particularly at safety with the number of downfield shots the top AAC teams take throughout a game. That is where UCF safety Richie Grant comes into play. And boy can he play.
UCF safety Richie Grant is a ball-hawking free safety
Grant only had one interception in 2019 after tallying six as a sophomore, but that doesn’t mean he’s not getting his hands on the football. The above play displays his ability to close and drive on the football while avoiding a penalty. The quarterback releases the pass as the receiver is breaking toward the post.
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He drives horizontally to remain over the top in case the ball was put out in front with loft, and when he was able to locate the ball he closed the gap, remained behind, and then was able to slip through the receiver to the front side so he could elevate and get a hand on the pass.
This rep displayed the easy hip transition Grant possesses and his acceleration. He moves like a cornerback in man coverage and he has the kind of range you’d want in a single high free safety type. But finding the football is still his strongest trait.
Grant again does a very nice job of flipping from his position bracketing the outside receiver coming to the inside to locate and elevate for the football here in the red zone, saving a possible touchdown. His feel for when to turn and find the football-based off keys given by the receiver and timing is impeccable, and it will bode well for him at the next level playing the deep half or center field spot.
Man coverage ability
As a slot player from off coverage, he shows some really incredible flashes of working through trash to remain hip-to-hip. He’s displayed an ability to go overtop and slash underneath of rub routes from the number two receiver as his man runs a quick out.
The UFC safety is also not opposed to staying patient inside the contact window and getting a piece of receivers with a nice controlled jam to throw off timing and get receivers off their line. Grant also excels in trail coverage, given his fantastic footwork and speed to remain in his trail position.
Grant must improve against the run
The young man just simply cannot take a correct angle of attack. Pursuit is not his strong suit, and when he does square up and get into position for a tackle his finishing rate is not great. If he had just one or two issues against the run we would be fine, but his propensity to take angle far too acute and obtuse along with the weak finishing ability, it would behoove his NFL staff to try and keep him out of the run fit entirely if at all possible.
Now from the perspective of coming downhill, remaining in his gap integrity, and trying his best to make a play between the tackles there is a lot to like. But for as well as he stays with guys in coverage, the opposite is true as a tackler.
Where does Grant fit in a loaded safety group?
In a league where the safety position is becoming more and more of a versatility-dependent position, Grant is more of a throwback. He is very much a traditional free safety. When it comes to working the back end or manning up both receivers and tight ends, we’re looking at a starting-caliber player at the next level. Outside of a few overly aggressive plays that leave him in poor positioning, he’s one of the better coverage safeties around.
However, his lack of juice against the run is a legitimate problem. But all it takes is one team to fall in love with the coverage, and if he improves drastically against the run in 2020 he could be one of the top five to seven safeties drafted. But when it comes to safeties in the draft, it all becomes a bit of a crap-shoot on when these guys will go.