The "The Triple Take" hits the week of the draft and moves into the defensive backfield. In this installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the safety. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Take ...
Matt Williamson: There isn't a slam dunk premier safety in this draft class and it is quite possible that one isn't selected in the first round. That being said, there could be a high number of safeties drafted this year and this class looks set up to provide value once the second day of the draft begins.
#5 - Ashtyn Davis, California (6-1, 202 lbs.) - Davis is a super tough guy that overcame a lot of hardships off the field and plays the game with a real edge and aggressiveness. Davis missed the end of his final season at Cal with a groin injury and hasn't been able to participate in the pre-draft process, but on tape, his play speed is certainly a strength. Mostly a deep safety either in single high or in Cover 2, Davis also plays man coverage (usually from the slot) quite well for a safety prospect. Davis' range and play demeanor are his best traits.
#4 - Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (6-3, 221 lbs.) - Chinn is easily the most impressive safety in this class from a pure workout perspective. In fact, Chinn isn't all that far off of Isaiah Simmons in this capacity and while obviously Chinn doesn't play at Clemson and isn't the prospect that Simmons is, we should look at their usage in the NFL in the same capacity. The term "Positionless football" greatly applies to both players. One week Chinn might be spying Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray or Josh Allen. The next week he might be playing a large dose of man coverage against a tight end. The week after that, his new team might try to protect him well and just Chinn run, hit and make plays. Chinn needs to develop better play recognition (so can he handle many roles?), but there is a lot to work with here.
#3 - Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota (5-9, 203 lbs.) - Winfield is a fifth-year redshirt sophomore, which is rather difficult to wrap your head around and speaks to Winfield's durability problems, which need investigating. Winfield takes after his father, a great compliment. He is tough, versatile and shows outstanding football intelligence. When lined up at cornerback, usually in the slot, Winfield might be the best in this safety group. He also could be the best blitzer, something Winfield times up very well. He played about half of his snaps as a deep safety. He does it all. His size is a concern, but Winfield is an impressive football player and there is a case to be made that he should really rank first on this list. He also tested quite well at the Combine.
#2 - Xavier McKinney, Alabama (6-0, 201 lbs.) - McKinney profiles as a do-it-all leader of a defense that compares to someone like Malcolm Jenkins, who is now back with the Saints. He his highly instinctive and wastes very few steps in coverage or against the run. He is also an accomplished blitzer. McKinney gets his hands on the football quite a bit and is equally effective in the box or playing from a two-deep shell. He has decent size for the position, but just average speed. But McKinney plays faster on tape than his 4.63 40-yard dash would indicate. McKinney profiles to today's NFL very well.
#1 - Grant Delpit, LSU (6-2, 213 lbs.) - Delpit's tape in 2018 would warrant him being the first player on this list. He missed a ton of tackles this past year, but it wasn't because he was turning them down or making "Business decisions". Delpit often had a difficult time coming to balance to make the proper tackle. He can be too aggressive with his tackling angles, but his biggest issue could be attributed to playing injured. Granted, that is an optimistic view on this player considering what he put on tape last year. But at his best, Delpit is long and rangy and excels as the last layer of defense like few in this class. He breaks on the ball in the air extremely well. This ranking gives Delpit a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and is banking on him being closer to the 2018 version that what we saw last season.
Dale's Take ...
Dale Lolley: The Steelers' first-round pick this year – Minkah Fitzpatrick – is a far better safety than anyone at the position in this draft.
But that doesn't mean the draft doesn't have players capable of helping a team early in their careers. It wouldn't be surprising, however, if we made it through the first round of this year's draft without a safety being selected. There's just no true star power at the position this year.
#5 - Ashtyn Davis, California (6-1, 202 lbs.) - A rangy deep safety who was a track star before walking on at Cal. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the season that kept him from running at the combine. Is it healed up or something that will linger?
#4 - Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (6-3, 221 lbs.) - A small-school prospect with outstanding size and speed. Could be considered an off-ball linebacker by some teams because of that size.
#3 - Grant Delpit, LSU (6-2, 213 lbs.) - A good-sized prospect who can match up against athletic tight ends and play the run well but will miss some tackles because he flies around a little out of control at times.
#2 - Xavier McKinney, Alabama (6-0, 201 lbs.) - A do-it-all contributor for the Crimson Tide, McKinney played all over the defense, including the slot. But his lack of true top-end speed could hurt him in the NFL.
#1 - Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota (5-9, 203 lbs.) - One of the biggest reasons for Minnesota's strong play in 2019, Winfield is the son of former the former Ohio State star of the same name. Had some injuries early in his career but put it all together in 2019.
Mike's Take ...
Mike Prisuta: They're becoming the type of chess piece every team needs, the defender with an array of skills and versatility that almost qualifies as "position-less" by definition and applies to whatever type of matchup might arise.
But those guys are hard to find.
You can't just go down to the Derwin James Store and pick one up.
There's maybe one of those guys available this year, but Clemson's Isaiah Simmons will likely end up at linebacker.
The search continues.
Here's a look at what teams might covet in this year's bunch:
#5 - Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (6-3, 221 lbs.) - He might be a linebacker, too. Chinn's done his best work as a box safety but he also has ball skills (13 career interceptions). Chinn won't go nearly as high as Simmons will, but NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah doesn't expect Chinn to last into the third round, either. Uncle Steve Atwater might be able to offer some tips in Chinn's transition to the NFL.
#4 - Grant Delpit, LSU (6-2, 213 lbs.) - He played through an ankle injury in 2019 and still displayed range and an ability to handle the box. Jeremiah was impressed with Delpit's ability as a blitzer, which included "timing, burst, finish." Delpit also has a great nickname, "Baby Mal," in honor of Jets safety and fellow LSU Tiger Jamal Adams.
#3 - Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota (5-9, 203 lbs.) - The son of former first-round pick Antoine Winfield played a lot in the slot for the Gophers and picked off seven passes in 2019. "That's the family business," Jeremiah observed. "Tips and overthrows, they will find him." NFL Network analyst Charles Davis is likewise impressed. "He has Tyrann Mathieu instincts in how he plays. This is a smaller in-terms-of-height safety but he's a big player in terms of going and getting the football, tackling, being in the right place at the right time always. I think his instincts are off the charts."
#2 - Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne (6-0, 217 lbs.) - If you can look past his NCAA Division II upbringing at Lenoir-Rhyne, there's a lot to like. "Phenomenally explosive athlete," Jeremiah assessed. "He hits guys and they go flying. He has ball skills. He's an outstanding kick returner." Dugger showed up in the Senior Bowl when he made a play on a pass to a tight ends over the middle, a tackle for a loss on third-and-1 and an open-field tackle in the flat. And those were against D1 guys. Dugger's resume includes 10 career interceptions and, according to Davis via one of the Lenoir-Rhyne coaches, five that were called back because of defensive penalties.
#1 - Xavier McKinney, Alabama (6-0, 201 lbs.) - "I feel like every year we have an Alabama safety," Jeremiah offered. "Maybe we take a year off every now and then, not this year. Xavier McKinney is the best safety in this year's draft." Dane Brugler of The Athletic sees a plug-and-play prospect in McKinney, an "instinctive, full-speed-ahead defender with the functional range and diagnose skills to put himself in position to make plays, projecting as an interchangeable safety who should start from Day One."