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    Top 10 Safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft: Brian Branch Emerging as the Top Prospect

    Could a surprise name emerge at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft safety class late in the cycle? Here's how the group stands in the present moment.

    The 2023 NFL Draft will be a fascinating case study at many positions, but safety arguably holds the most intrigue heading into the big event. In a very unclear position group, which players will emerge, and which player types will prove to be most translatable? Here’s our latest look at the top safety prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

    Top 10 Safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft

    10) Trey Dean III, Florida

    The defining feature of the 2023 NFL Draft safety group is its overarching versatility. There’s a relative lack of traditional field safeties, but that scarcity is offset by dozens of multifaceted player types who can cover the slot and even match receivers in man.

    Florida’s Trey Dean III is one of the most intriguing safeties in that mold. His 4.68 40-yard dash is underwhelming, but he does play faster than his timed speed on tape. And at 6’2″, 200 pounds, with near-32″ arms, he has the burst, fluidity, and length to match in man, as well as cover move tight ends.

    9) Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State

    With nine interceptions and nine pass deflections through 2021 and 2022, Ji’Ayir Brown was one of college football‘s most productive playmakers at the catch point during his career. That coverage ability becomes even more exciting when you learn about his projection as a strong safety.

    MORE: FREE Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

    Brown brings good range and physicality in the box, and his 5’11”, 208-pound frame translates incredibly well in contact situations. He gravitates to the ball with unyielding consistency and always finds himself in position to make crucial plays, and his urgency as a defender ties it all together.

    8) Jay Ward, LSU

    If there’s a candidate in this safety class to come out of nowhere and play better than his draft billing early on, it’s LSU’s Jay Ward. Ward embarked on a career year in 2022, serving as the primary nickel defender for the Tigers, showcasing his exciting versatility.

    Ward is a stellar athlete with fluidity and burst at 6’1″, 188 pounds, with near-33″ arms, and his 11′ broad jump corroborates that. He began his career as a cornerback, and he has that man coverage ability. But Ward can also manage zones downfield, and he’s a handful in run support with his range, length, and quick recognition.

    7) Jordan Battle, Alabama

    Jordan Battle‘s scouting report has remained relatively steady over the past few seasons. The 6’1″, 208-pound DB isn’t going to be a coveted first-rounder like Alabama safeties of the past, but there’s a very plausible outcome where he becomes a good NFL starter.

    An adequate summation of Battle’s profile is “solid but unspectacular.” He’s not elite in any one area, but Battle has good size and speed, as well as visible play-recognition ability and versatility. Plus, he’s shown he can make plays when in position. Battle is also a good utility safety who can hold his own in coverage and provide support downhill.

    6) Jammie Robinson, Florida State

    Jammie Robinson isn’t the biggest or the most athletic safety, but his playstyle is one element of his game that will endear him to evaluators down the line. Additionally, his high degree of functional versatility is another major plus.

    MORE: Ranking the Top 10 2023 NFL Draft Prospects by Position

    At 5’10 5/8″ and 191 pounds, Robinson is average-sized, but his tenacity as a defender is anything but. He processes quickly and plays fast, and with his unyielding physicality, he can shock runners coming downhill. On top of that, he has the footwork and fluidity to cover in man, play the slot, and roam in zone.

    5) Christopher Smith, Georgia

    One of the few holdovers from the legendary 2021 Georgia Bulldogs defense, senior safety Christopher Smith put together another stellar campaign on the back end, racking up three interceptions and five pass deflections while helping Georgia win back-to-back National Championships.

    At just under 5’11” and 192 pounds, Smith doesn’t have the elite size, and his below-average testing athleticism will sow doubt. Nevertheless, Smith shows better functional athleticism on tape to pair with a high football IQ, quick processing skills in space, and the versatility to perform multiple functions.

    4) JL Skinner, Boise State

    JL Skinner officially declared for the 2023 NFL Draft on Dec. 20. But in truth, he was viewed as a potential early-round safety prospect as early as last May. Skinner’s athleticism at 6’4″, 220 pounds is eye-catching, but he’ll also win over teams with his relentless physicality in both phases.

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    Skinner’s tenacity at contact is unmatched, and he has elite explosiveness and impressive range for his size. He can still refine his coverage technique a bit more, but Skinner has a definite playmaking gene in both phases, and his ability to play two-high or loom in the box gives him extra appeal.

    3) Sydney Brown, Illinois

    If you have Sydney Brown as the top safety prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, you won’t hear any complaints. The ranking of the top group is especially subjective, and Brown has one of the more complete profiles in the entire class.

    Brown’s calling card is his combination of explosive athleticism, versatility, and physicality in the box. He’s a 210-pound block of stone with rockets in his socks, but he also has quality coverage technique and instincts, as evidenced by his six interceptions and seven deflections in 2022.

    2) Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

    There’s still more projection involved in Antonio Johnson‘s evaluation than preferred, but there’s reason to believe the Texas A&M defender can be a much better pro than a college player. That’s not to say he was bad, either. Johnson was exceptional in 2021 and flashed more promise in 2022 — but the best is still to come.

    MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

    Johnson can, at times, still be up and down in coverage, but he has the high-end length and explosiveness at 6’2″, 198 pounds to blanket receivers out of the slot. In the box, his range, physicality, and disruptive mindset can be nightmare-inducing for opponents, as he showed down the stretch in 2022.

    1) Brian Branch, Alabama

    There’s one non-cornerback who truly separated himself in 2022. That prospect is Brian Branch. Predominantly playing the slot for Alabama but also occasionally rotating back to safety, Branch distinguished himself as a premier talent, and he could be a Round 1 pick in April.

    Branch isn’t an overwhelming size threat at 5’11 5/8″ and 190 pounds, but his high-level talent and functionality combine to form a dangerous defender. He’s explosive, fleet-footed, and extremely physical. Beyond that, Branch is incredibly smooth and nuanced in man coverage, and quick to recognize plays and trigger with tenacity.

    Honorable Mentions

    • Daniel Scott, California
    • Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State
    • Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State
    • Jerrick Reed II, New Mexico
    • Gervarrius Owens, Houston
    • Quindell Johnson, Memphis
    • Ja’Von Hicks, Cincinnati
    • Christian Izien, Rutgers
    • Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame

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