Top 9 safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft

    The safety position is a vastly convoluted spot on the football field. It’s a position somehow devalued by the NFL, despite the massive difference having just one good one can make on a team. It’s the most unique position in football in terms of body type and responsibility. Safeties can be asked to play linebacker, cover running backs out of the backfield, cover tight ends from in-line, play man-to-man against wide receivers, and then a plethora of zone, man, and zone/man-match coverages from depth. That’s what makes it my favorite position to watch. With that said, these are the top nine safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

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    The analysts at Pro Football Network have pooled their rankings to create a Top 300 Consensus Board. We will use this 2021 board as our guide.

    9) Tyree Gillespie, Missouri

    Tyree Gillespie surprised us when he went out and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash. However, his tape against one of the best players in the draft, Florida TE Kyle Pitts, should have suggested he had more than enough athleticism.

    Gillespie played the top-10 talent well in the man coverage reps he had against him. He got a bit turned around on one rep and got beat deep, but Pitts wasn’t targeted on that play. Other than that, he performed admirably.

    If he’s fast, he must be a true free safety, right? Well, not necessarily. This young man’s play against Alabama was inspiring. Toward the line of scrimmage, he took a full-throttled Najee Harris head-on and stopped him in his tracks on the goal line.

    Gillespie is not an incredibly fluid athlete, even if he has the long speed. With that, his best fit would be on a team that runs a lot of quarters or one that will use him as a strong safety playing in the box and manning up against tight ends. Those two performances alone have him in the running for the top safeties in 2021.

    8) Andre Cisco, Syracuse

    Andre Cisco didn’t participate in pre-draft testing after suffering a torn ACL early in the 2020 season. Cisco possesses outstanding size for the free safety position at 6-foot-1 (rounding up) and 216 pounds. His status as a physical specimen wasn’t able to be cemented with testing, but it’s evident on tape. Cisco can close the gap on deep passes in a hurry. He is opportunistic in coverage and makes the most of his “right place, right time” situations.

    It is easy to see why the league would covet a player of Cisco’s physical profile and production as one of the top safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the injury muddies the waters going forward. Additionally, as good as he is at generating turnovers, there are reps where he allows receivers to sneak by him downfield. He’ll need to play more assignment sound football and take fewer chances against deep threats (like Tutu Atwell).

    7) Talanoa Hufanga, USC

    Talanoa Hufanga is one of the most fun players to watch of the top 2021 safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft. There is a level of violence in his pads that brings you back to a different era of football. However, instead of the headhunting, body launching hits of the past, he simply runs through ball carriers.

    Hufanga’s testing numbers raised a few eyebrows as he came in under 200 pounds. Although his vertical jump and broad jump were good, he struggled off the line in his 40-yard dash and struggled a bit in agility drills. Nevertheless, if there is a position where elite athleticism is least important, it might be safety.

    6) Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

    Ar’Darius Washington said it himself. If he weren’t 5-foot-8, he’d be considered the best safety in the class. I tend to agree. He’s an incredibly intelligent and instinctual safety with a physical attitude and man coverage skills to be a legitimate slot cornerback.

    That’s why, despite his lack of stature, he’s still considered one of the top safeties in the class. His ability to process and trigger on route keys is his party piece. TCU’s safeties play flat-footed by design so they can better drive on underneath concepts. In a hybrid slot/free safety role, Washington should flourish.

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    Where does Washington’s TCU teammate Trevon Moehrig come in on our top safeties in the 2021 class?

    5) Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State

    Hamsah Nasirildeen has the wingspan of a Wandering Albatross. His tackle radius is the mathematical area of the football field. For teams that run a lot of single-high looks, Nasirildeen will be the perfect complement to that free safety.

    Throw Nasirildeen into the Kam Chancellor role, and he’ll prove why he’s one of the top safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft. He must improve his awareness in coverage, but he has all the tools to be a difference-maker.

    4) Jevon Holland, Oregon

    Jevon Holland is a football coach’s favorite player. He’s a physical slot cornerback who projects as a slot corner/hybrid safety at the next level. Of these top 2021 safeties, there may not be anyone better than Holland in terms of versatility. He can run, hit, and cover in man and zone. His projection is more difficult than the likes of Richie Grant and Trevon Moehrig because he lacks tape playing in a traditional safety role.

    3) Elijah Molden, Washington

    Elijah Molden, like Holland, is a do-it-all coverage safety who can also play physically in the box. He saw most of his snaps down in the slot for the Washington Huskies. Molden is not as athletic as Holland, but he makes up for it in his outrageous instincts and ball skills in both man and zone coverage. Molden is a safety or a true slot cornerback and should go within the top 50, no matter what teams draft him for. The young man just plays football.

    2) Richie Grant, UCF

    If there is one true single-high free safety in this class, Richie Grant is that guy. For Cover 3 teams, he could easily be considered the best safety in the 2021 NFL Draft class. But even in a more multiple-coverage scheme, he’s one of the top 2021 safeties. Grant also plays the slot incredibly well. His man coverage reps at the Reese’s Senior Bowl proved he’s versatile. Physicality is not his game, but slicing into passing lanes and having sideline to sideline range is. Use him accordingly, NFL.

    1) Trevon Moehrig, TCU

    I implore you all to go listen to the “Make Defense Great Again” podcast with “Coach Vass” Chris Vasseur. Listen to it generally to become a smarter football fan, but listen particularly to his two-part podcast with TCU safeties coach Paul Gonzales.

    Trevon Moehrig is a versatile safety with the innate ability to keep his feet flat from depth and remains patient against receivers pushing vertically in his area of operation. Like his teammate Washington, his responsibilities are extremely complex, but they allow the rest of the TCU defense to survive. Moehrig has the best combination of current play level and upside of the top safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

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