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Triple Take: Safeties

The "Triple Take" continues its look at the 2024 NFL Draft with a breakdown of the safeties. The Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the position.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take …

There might not be a first-round player at the safety position this year, but there are some good prospects, especially for what's asked of the position in today's NFL. Many of the safeties in this draft have slot capabilities, having played there in college. That has some added bonus, especially in today's NFL with so many teams running the ball out of 11 personnel.

Sleeper - Sione Vaki, Utah (5-11, 210 lbs) - Vaki played both safety and running back at Utah … in the same game, doing whatever his team needed on that day. He'll be a safety in the NFL. The former high school backfield mate of Najee Harris had 51 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, two sacks and an interception in 2023 while also rushing for over 300 yards and recording over 500 yards of total offense. He only ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine, but his jumps and athleticism showed up with a 39.5-inch vertical and 10-5 broad jump. He is very sudden. When he sees it, he hits it. 

#5 - Javon Bullard, Georgia (5-10 ½, 198 lbs.) - Bullard could be viewed as a nickel corner by some. He's got experience doing that in college. But he also can play strong safety, as well. Bullard posted a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the Combine with an excellent 1.51-second 10-yard split. He isn't afraid to lower the boom as a tackler.

#4 - Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, Texas Tech (5-10, 197 lbs.) - Though not the tallest safety, Taylor-Demerson possesses a thick build to hold up as a tackler. He recorded seven interceptions the past two seasons while also posting more than 70 tackles each season. He also ran a 4.41-second 40 at the Combine with a 38-inch vertical jump. Possesses the ability to be a nickel corner.

#3 - Cole Bishop, Utah (6-2, 206 lbs.) - Big, strong and fast, Bishop is the latest in what's becoming a good NFL pipeline of safeties from Utah. Recorded 3 interceptions and 4.5 sacks the past two seasons. Bishop posted a very good 4.45-second 40 at the Combine, while also putting up a 39-inch vertical jump. He has the size and speed to matchup with the very athletic tight ends that populate the NFL.

#2 - Jayden Hicks, Washington State (6-2, 211 lbs.) - A king-sized safety, Hicks did a little bit of everything at Washington State, intercepting three passes, breaking up 10 others and recording 3.5 sacks the past two seasons. He didn't run a 40 at the Combine, but the rest of his testing was above average for the position.

#1 - Tyler Nubin, Minnesota (6-1, 199 lbs.) - Nubin is a nice-sized safety who hauled in 13 career interceptions. He has the skill set to play strong or free safety and also can drop into the slot. Nubin didn't run at the Combine, so he didn't do anything to alleviate concerns about his speed, making his pro day the next big step in his quest to be the No. 1 safety taken.

Matt's Take …

Player contracts show us that the NFL values elite safeties and are willing to play those difference making players. But there really isn't a second tier contractually and there are a lot of values in free agency at the safety position. This draft doesn't look to have a special player at safety. There probably will not be a safety drafted in round one. There is depth here as well as several modern day safeties that can also play the slot. Of course, a lot of the drafted safeties will be immediately asked to play specials teams in the league.

Sleeper - Kitan Oladapo, Oregon (6-2, 216 lbs.) - Oladapo's size immediately stands out of course. He is an old school strong safety type that is best near the line of scrimmage and in the box. At this point, you don't want Oladapo in the deep middle of the field and maybe not even in deep split safety alignments, but he is a good athlete and could progress as a deep third defender. Oladapo is a smart player that can also do battle with tight ends and running backs in the pass game.

#5 - Cole Bishop, Utah (6-2, 206 lbs.) - Bishop ran a 4.45-second 40 at the Combine with simply outstanding jump numbers. His explosiveness is very obvious, and he obviously has excellent size. He was very productive at Utah, where he started for three years. Bishop is a hitter that really brings the wood, but rarely plays out of control. He has a lot of upside overall and it isn't crazy to think he might someday be the best safety from this entire class.

#4 - Malik Mustapha, Wake Forest (5-10, 209 lbs.) - Mustapha doesn't have great height, but he has a rocked up powerful build. Mustapha lacks ideal arm length. He flies around the field and arrives with bad intensions. Mustapha can play a little out of control at times, but this is a good athlete with intriguing traits to develop as a more traditional strong safety type. Mustapha is strong and fast with explosive movement skills. He stands out as a blitzer and is a bit of a throwback at this position.

#3 - Javon Bullard, Georgia (5-10 ½, 198 lbs.) - Bullard isn't the biggest, but he has a solid build and was a very good tester at the Combine. His tape is very solid. This is a good football player that can add a lot of different things to an NFL defense, including slot coverage capabilities. But Bullard is also a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none and doesn't have extreme standout skills or attributes. Bullard is best near the line of scrimmage in the slot or on the second level, but his ability to see the game well helps his cause when aligned deep.

#2 - Jayden Hicks, Washington State (6-2, 211 lbs.) - Hicks has great size and projects much more of a strong safety than free and possibly could thrive as a dime linebacker in the NFL depending on defensive scheme. However, Hicks does have a cornerback background and shows man coverage skills. But it would be wise to keep Hicks lined up against tight ends rather than speed receivers. This is an aggressive defender that can set the tone for his defense and is considered a very good communicator. Hicks can play at all three levels of the field if called upon and aligned at free safety a fair amount in college.

#1 - Tyler Nubin, Minnesota (6-1, 199 lbs.) - Nubin has been a full-time starter since 2021 and has plenty of college experience. He is ultra-productive with 13 career interceptions. Nubin has very good size with extremely fluid hips and abrupt change of directions for a safety. He is an eager tackler with some pop. Nubin understands what offenses are trying to accomplish and reads his opponent very well. He has alignment versatility, but Nubin best operates on the third level of the field, often as a deep middle defender. But Nubin also offers a lot of interesting options as a coverage player near the line of scrimmage. Nubin might sneak into the first round.

Mike's Take …

The position requires play-making, like any other. But the price to be paid when the necessary plays aren't made, and in particular when the player required to make them isn't in position to make them in the first place, can be more impactful than any other this side of quarterback. "I think it was (Browns defensive coordinator) Jim Schwartz who said, 'They call it a 'safety,' not a 'risky,'" NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah pointed out during coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Play the ball, make the tackle, repeat as necessary. Or watch the scoreboard change.

Sleeper - Jaylon Carlies, Missouri (6-3, 227 lbs.) - He may project best as a linebacker at the next level. At Missouri, Carlies played the ball (nine career interceptions and nine career passes defensed) and he got ball-carriers and pass-catchers on the ground (Carlies led the Tigers in tackles in the last two seasons). He ended his Missouri career on a high note with 11 tackles and a sack in Mizzou's 14-3 victory over Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Size, physicality and a 4.50 40-yard dash in Indy may just translate somewhere.

#5 - Calen Bullock, USC (6-2, 188 lbs.) - Inconsistent tackling may compel some NFL teams to look at Bullock as a cornerback, although he registered a career-high 61 stops in 2023. He can definitely play the ball (two-plus interceptions in each of the last three seasons, including five in 2022, one of which Bullock returned 93 yards for a touchdown against Rice). Jeremiah assesses Bullock as possessing get-to-the-sideline range from a center field position in the secondary.

#4 - Javon Bullard, Georgia (5-10 ½, 198 lbs.) - Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is high on Bullard's leadership skills as a captain, according to the NFL network's Tom Peliserro. Jeremiah has sited ball skills, leadership and intelligence as qualities Bullard can bring to the table. He was the defensive MVP when Georgia blew out TCU for the 2022 National Championship and he was voted the top practice safety by his team at the Senior Bowl.

#3 - Cole Bishop, Utah (6-2, 206 lbs.) - There were some potential questions as to whether Bishop had the speed required to play the deep middle. Then he ran a 4.45 40 in Indy. "That put him back in the post," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis maintained. Jeremiah agreed Bishop had answered the speed question "emphatically." Another well-coached player from Kyle Whittingham's Utah program, which has established a standard of reliability in recent seasons. Bishop's a three-year starter who handles his business and directs traffic as necessary. "I like Cole Bishop a lot," Davis added. "He puts himself in the right position all the time. I think Cole Bishop's gonna be the real deal."

#2 - Kamren Kinchens, Miami (5-11, 203 lbs.) - He can play the ball and he can play downhill. The 4.65 40 Kinchens ran at the Combine won't go at the top of his resume but evaluators are apparently willing to look past that. "He's a star," was one scout's assessment of Kinchens' potential to NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales, who added other scouts cited Kinchens' instincts, ball skills and spacial awareness. Kinchens is the only player in FBS with at least five interceptions in each of the last two seasons (11 combined). He might be a little too aggressive at times. Then again, you'd rather say "whoa," than "sic 'em."

#1 - Tyler Nubin, Minnesota (6-1, 199 lbs.) - He makes plenty of plays. But what's really impressive is comparisons have been made to Kyle Hamilton for the intelligence and instincts Nubin applies to his brand of play-making. Nubin reportedly cited his having undergone "a meniscectomy in my lateral meniscus in my right knee," shortly after the season as the reason he didn't run 40s at the Combine. According to The Minnesota Daily he clocked a 4.4 40 at Minnesota's Pro Day and was proud enough of it to post the news on his Instagram account. That said, Nubin's game isn't about testing. "He just gets a really good jump on everything," Jeremiah said. "If you're ever looking for Tyler Nubin's whereabouts, just find the football." The NFL Network's height-weight-speed comparison is Jessie Bates. And according to Dales, Nubin's favorite study is Minkah Fitzpatrick, "with the intelligence, the intangibles."