The 2021 NFL Draft safety realignment is still underway, but a lot has changed since the start of the season. New safeties are contending for the top spot at the position, and others are moving up the draft board as well. UCF free safety Richie Grant is one of those NFL Draft risers. How does his profile stack up against the rest of the class, and what is his ceiling on draft day?
Richie Grant NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: UCF
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 5’11 5/8″
- Weight: 197 pounds
- Wingspan: 77 5/8″
- Arm: 31 1/2″
- Hand: 9 1/4″
Tony Pauline’s Richie Grant Scouting Report
Positives: Three-year starter with an underrated game. Moves well laterally and effectively tracks the pass in the air. Gets a beat on the throw, timing interceptions or pass defenses. Instinctive, quick to read and diagnose, and chases the action hard. Displays a closing burst and always works to get involved in the play. Fires up the field, hits hard, and sells out defending the run. Consistently takes good angles to the action.
Negatives: Lacks great lateral range and is slow getting to the flanks in coverage. Average size and play speed.
Analysis: Grant is a solid safety in all aspects of the position and is effective in covering the pass or defending the run. He comes with average size as well as speed, but he could line up in dime packages or as a traditional strong safety. Grant also comes with a special-teams mentality, which is added value.
Richie Grant Player Profile
The grind has a way of forging NFL prospects, at least out of players who have the mentality to give it their all day in and day out. The grind did that for Richie Grant.
At the start of his football career, no one had eyes on him as a potential NFL player. He was a slim, 6-foot-0, 172-pound two-way player out of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was unranked on ESPN’s recruiting board, and was a two-star prospect at 247 Sports, ranked outside the Top 2,500.
Grant didn’t receive much interest at wide receiver or defensive back. His lone Division I-A offer came from the Golden Knights of Central Florida. At the time, UCF was coming off an 0-12 season, the school’s first winless campaign since 2004. They were not the AAC juggernaut they are today, and that perception was reflected on the recruiting trail.
Nevertheless, Grant, starved for options, accepted the offer and enrolled in 2016. He banked his NFL hopes on an unproven coaching staff led by rookie head coach Scott Frost. Grant might not have known it at the time, but he was about to help build the bedrock for one of the Group of Five’s most consistent teams.
Making a name for himself as a standout safety at UCF
Richie Grant redshirted his freshman campaign and did not see the field. In 2017, Grant moved up into a rotational role and saw time in 12 games. During the Knights’ undefeated 2017 season, Grant logged 32 total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass deflection. He’d have to wait another year to become a standout contributor, however.
In 2018, Grant got his chance to shine. The Knights lost some talent in the secondary, and Grant slotted into a starting role at safety. The UCF safety started all 13 games and broke out in a big way, amassing 108 total tackles, three tackles for loss, six interceptions, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles over the course of the season.
Grant was named a first-team All-AAC honoree. He was placed on the Thorpe watch list the following season.
Grant reprised his role as a defensive playmaker for the Knights in 2019, putting up another interception and eight deflections. He considered leaving for the 2020 NFL Draft. However, Grant ultimately chose to stay in college and return as a redshirt senior. It was a decision that bade well for him.
Richie Grant’s stellar 2020 season
Through the 2020 regular season, Grant only played nine games, but he left an undeniable impact and strengthened his national notoriety. Grant accumulated 72 total tackles in those nine games, 3.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, five pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Grant opted out of his team’s bowl game against Brigham Young, and the Knights sorely missed him, allowing 49 points in his absence.
Despite his decision to shelve the pads early and prepare for the NFL Draft, Grant was a unanimous first-team All-AAC selection. He was recognized as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award alongside TCU safety Trevon Moehrig and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Grant became the second player in UCF history to be recognized as a finalist for a national award. The first UCF player to earn that distinction was three-time NFL Pro Bowler Daunte Culpepper, who nearly won the Johnny Unitas Award in 1998. That connection bodes well for Grant. He possesses the production that often comes with NFL prospects. But does he have the traits?
Analyzing Richie Grant as a 2021 NFL Draft prospect
There’s a lot to like about Richie Grant’s game. The UCF safety is a bit undersized, but he plays with a fast play speed and offers good aggression on the back end. He’s also a good athlete. He doesn’t have elite top-end speed, with just a 4.57 40-yard dash. However, with a 34.5-inch vertical and a 129-inch broad jump, he has the explosiveness necessitated at safety, and he also has very good agility scores.
Grant can accelerate extremely quickly, especially if he has a runway. This explosiveness not only gives Grant impressive range, but also provides him with the ability to come downhill and make stops against the run.
Does Grant have “centerfield” traits?
Grant knows how to use his athletic traits, especially in coverage. He’s one of the best safeties in the class in single-high alignments. Deep down the field, Grant has the awareness to follow the quarterback’s eyes, and he has the acceleration capacity to break toward the throw and provide help whenever necessary.
His athletic makeup also allows him to play in man coverage. Although his change-of-direction skills aren’t quite as prolific as his explosiveness is, he’s fairly fluid in space. This gives him the versatility to line up in multiple spots.
There are times when Grant’s direction change can come a bit late, but there’s no disputing Grant’s ability to cover ground quickly. Moreover, once he reaches the catch point, he has solid ball skills. Just as he seeks out action, he also seeks disruption at the target point.
His hands are active, and he also has excellent ball tracking ability, especially in the deep third. He made a few highlight-worthy picks in his time with UCF by swooping in with his range and using his vertical athleticism to hawk tight-pocket throws.
Richie Grant’s abilities closer to the line of scrimmage
Coming downhill, Grant’s range is just as valuable, but what truly pops off the screen is his physicality. Grant weighs in at under 200 pounds, but he brings every bit of his mass as a tackler. The UCF safety has shown proficiency at squaring up incoming runners and leading into tackles with his shoulder, and he’s put a few teeth-rattling hits on tape.
Grant is generally proactive at seeking contact, and when he has time to process the situation from back deep, he’s fairly good at calculating his angles and using his speed to shut down plays. He also has the pursuit speed to clean up when big plays occur.
Additionally, Grant has a turnover mentality in tackling situations. More than once, he actively stripped ball carriers by seeking the ball with his arm.
Any limitations in his style?
Predictably, there are drawbacks to Grant’s aggressive style. As a run defender, he sometimes commits prematurely to the edge in an attempt to get into the pocket, leaving the middle wide open if the linebackers need help.
Additionally, Grant sometimes takes the wrong angle, which can lead to big plays for the offense. Among other things, Grant also gets handled by blockers with relative ease, and he’ll need to get closer to 200 pounds to mitigate that at the NFL level.
The verdict on NFL Draft prospect Richie Grant
Richie Grant is a playmaker. That’s never been more clear after a 2020 campaign that had him in contention for the Thorpe Award. Grant brings some of the best range in the 2020 class, and he plays with a physical mindset.
He’ll have to continue to hone his instincts and add to his frame at the NFL level, but if a team needs a defensive catalyst on early-to-mid Day 2, the UCF safety is one of the best value options in that range.
Some factors prevent Grant from being considered the draft’s top safety. He can still be more consistent, and his age also generates pause. Grant will be 24 years old by November of his rookie season, so there might be more long-term potential with other players.
Nevertheless, Grant is still an impact player with a nice floor-ceiling combination, and he also grew to be a defensive leader for UCF. His fast play speed, combined with his athleticism and physical mentality, ensures he’ll have a role waiting for him no matter where he’s picked.
Richie Grant’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Grant offers an enticing skill set for teams in need of a playmaker at safety. Round 2 seems like the best range of value for him. Given the safety class’s obscurity, as well as Grant’s Senior Bowl showing, late Round 1 is possible, but Day 2 seems like a more realistic destination. Whenever he comes off the board, however, the UCF safety brings immense potential. The right destination can kickstart his NFL career.
Given his range and physicality, Grant projects best on a team that uses two-deep safeties often. Even so, his athleticism and experience allow for a degree of versatility.
Looking at Grant as a free safety primarily, he profiles well with the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Football Team, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Atlanta Falcons. Additionally, teams with potential future vacancies like the Broncos, Lions, and Saints could also be in the market for his talents.
There are no sure things in this safety class, but Grant’s ability to develop into a playmaker inspires confidence. He produced consistently over his time in UCF and matched that production with tangible traits on film. Given his age, he’ll have to hit the ground running in the NFL. Yet, that might not be much of an issue for him.