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Top 10 Safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft: Kyle Hamilton remains the top of the class

Kyle Hamilton is the clear No. 1 at safety this draft class, but there is a ton of value to be had in this top 10.

In conjunction with the release of Pro Football Network’s Big Board of the Top 300 Players for the 2022 NFL Draft, we’ve debuted our top 10 players at every position. Today, we’ll look at the 2022 NFL Draft’s safety class, headlined by the consensus top player at his position: Kyle Hamilton.

Top 10 Safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10

The safety class for the 2022 NFL Draft is loaded with talent and upside. Everyone’s favorite is Kyle Hamilton. Nonetheless, there will be a ton of valuable additions to NFL rosters from this top-10 list.

10) Isaiah Pola-Mao, USC

Isaiah Pola-Mao hits like a ton of bricks at 6’4″, 205 pounds. He also provides a lot of value in coverage for a man his size. Pola-Mao has positional versatility, but he’s excelled during his time at USC when playing in the box as more of a traditional strong safety.

He’ll need to hone in on his tackling skills and sharpen his angles in tracking ball carriers. But Pola-Mao has more than enough instincts and great field vision to claim a roster spot at the next level.

9) Kenderick Duncan, Louisville

Kenderick Duncan transferred to Louisville after four years at Georgia Southern for something of a prove-it year. And he hasn’t disappointed in his lone season with the Cardinals. He recorded an interception against Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong and has made a handful of other plays on the ball in coverage.

He’s a rangy safety prospect with a great frame. With years of ball-hawking prowess and sure tackling under his belt, he’ll be coveted for his ability to move at his size. Like Pola-Mao, Duncan can also play in a variety of defensive alignments as either a traditional box safety or free safety.

8) Verone McKinley III, Oregon

A bit slight in frame, Verone McKinley III understands how to use his speed and athleticism to track ball carriers and find the football in coverage. He has some of the draft class’ best instincts in coverage, but he’s shown an ability to stuff run fits all the same.

McKinley has taken a step forward this season, helping to elevate the Oregon defense that lost a ton of talent over the years. He’s recorded 4 interceptions and has as many forced incompletions. Understanding his role, McKinley should add value as an Earl Thomas-type free safety in coverage at the next level.

7) Leon O’Neal Jr., Texas A&M

Something of a boom-or-bust-type safety, Leon O’Neal Jr. lays the lumber in all facets of the game. He may miss a tackle or two here or there, but his play in coverage and his big hits can turn the tide of a game. He has recorded 6 career interceptions and displayed great range despite splitting reps in and out of the box.

O’Neal Jr. can serve to tighten up his tackling skills and learn that living to play another down is better than giving up a big play. But his instincts are there. He presents great upside as he can also cover as a fourth cornerback if pressed.

6) Brandon Joseph, Northwestern

A redshirt sophomore with just two years of play to his name, Brandon Joseph isn’t even a sure thing to declare for the draft. But if he does, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. He finished last season with 6 interceptions, but he hasn’t quite lived up to that level of play so far in 2021. Still, his range in coverage is among the best among this top 10.

Joseph would benefit from putting on a few pounds at the next level, just as long as it doesn’t affect his speed, which is the name of his game. His 2021 tape is a tad concerning. However, his proverbial ceiling is high considering the level of play he showcased in 2020.

Top 10 Safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5

Who are the top five safeties for this year’s class?

5) Jordan Battle, Alabama

With great instincts come great plays — and Jordan Battle is a great play waiting to happen. He’s elevated his game in 2021 and is an easy candidate to rise from his current spot in these rankings. Battle is terrific against the run and even better in coverage.

Playing a physically imposing brand of football, Battle is a surprisingly sure tackler against ball carriers. He makes play after play on the ball in coverage and displayed his football intelligence during his 2-interception performance against Mississippi State this season.

4) Jalen Catalon, Arkansas

Another youngster who’s already made a name for himself, Jalen Catalon is virtually a lock to declare early for the 2022 NFL Draft at this point. He’s a rangy free safety who makes up for any potential lack of size with terrific ball skills. With excellent speed, Catalon is seemingly always in a good position to make any play on the ball in the air.

Catalon also displays sound tackling in coverage, but he can tighten that up at the second level against the rush. With 5 career interceptions and a handful of forced incompletions this year alone, Catalon’s true strength will be roaming free in coverage. The right defensive fit for him will be key, but he can help elevate a defense’s coverage prowess almost immediately.

3) Daxton Hill, Michigan

No matter the play call, Daxton Hill is the man for the job. Anchoring a talented Michigan defense in 2021, Hill has elevated his level of play to new heights — which is saying something. He’s been a rock-solid, consistent performer for the Wolverines since he stepped foot on campus.

Terrific on the back end against the run, Hill also excels in coverage. He typically covers slot receivers in Michigan’s defense but projects as a roaming free safety. But his positional versatility and ability to close the gap with incredible short-area quickness is unmatched in this class. Hill is a sure bet to be drafted even higher than his brother Justice Hill, who the Ravens selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

2) Lewis Cine, Georgia

Lewis Cine is as solid in the run game as he is in coverage. A three-year player for the top defense in the country, Cine is more than just a free safety. He’s an enforcer and brings with him even more upside at the next level.

What separates Cine from the rest of the class is his tackling ability, no matter the assignment. Cine will stop running backs in their tracks the same as he’ll limit receivers to no yards after the catch. He’s also jarred a ball or two loose in his time, separating the ball from the receiver with well-timed hits. At this point, Cine is the safest bet outside Hamilton in this class.

1) Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

Speaking of safe bets, Kyle Hamilton is a future All-Pro-type player. He transforms a defense, instantly making it a better unit. Hamilton is a closer of space, a demolisher of ball carriers, and a disruptor of offenses — and he does it all with a 6’4″, 220-pound rock-solid frame.

Hamilton can fill any gap at any point for any team. He’s a terrific free safety when allowed to roam in coverage. He may even be better at covering tight ends (from the slot or inline) or running backs out of the backfield. No matter what he transforms into at the next level, Hamilton will be looked at as one of the best safeties — not just among rookies, but among the entire NFL.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor

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