Talent runs deep for teams in need
1. JAMAL ADAMS
LSU, 6-0, 214 For clubs seeking a highly effective dualpurpose safety, he’s probably the best option in this draft. Adams is a ball magnet who will blow up screen passes, stonewall ball carriers at the line of scrimmage or break up or intercept a pass in coverage. It’s hard to miss his No. 33 streaking across the field to make a play. He’s also a willing special teams player who will gladly throw a nasty block in order to spring a returner. Finally, Adams brings a reputation as a strong leader, often an undervalued component of a safety’s responsibilities. He could be a top-five pick.
2. MALIK HOOKER
Ohio State, 6-1, 206 Coming off a monstrous 2016 season for the Buckeyes, he’s the premier centerfielder of this class. Hooker has great range and seems to move effortlessly while tracking the ball over great swatches of terrain. He picked off seven passes last season and showcased his athleticism by returning three for touchdowns. He’s not nearly as ferocious a hitter as Adams and tackling is one area where his inexperience as a oneyear starter shows up. Surgeries on his hip labrum and for a sports hernia prevented him from working out at the scouting combine. But if he checks out medically, his high-end potential could make him the first safety off the board when the first round opens April 27.
3. JABRILL PEPPERS
Michigan, 5-11, 213 You have to admire his selflessness and fearlessness. Peppers switched from safety to linebacker in 2016 in a bid to address a defensive weakness in a team-first move. Mission accomplished. He also saw spot duty at running back, returned kicks and officially played 15 different positions for the Wolverines. His versatility is an asset and could help him find a niche like the Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon, a hybrid defender, in the NFL. Peppers packed on 13 pounds before the combine and willingly worked out at as a defensive back and linebacker. Though he eats up a lot of ground and excels at running down the ball, Peppers only had one career in- terception at Michigan.
4. BUDDA BAKER
Washington, 5-10, 195 He plays with abandon and frequently pours every ounce of his 195-pound frame into tackles in order to waylay larger opponents. Like Adams, he often arrives to make a play at a dead sprint, whether in run support or coverage. A three-year starter who averaged nearly 70 tackles per season, Baker also has a nose for the ball.
5. OBI MELIFONWU
Connecticut, 6-4, 224 He’s a physical marvel and, like fellow ex-Husky Byron Jones (the Dallas Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2015), he tore up the combine. Melifonwu ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, posted a 44-inch vertical leap — most of any player this year — and also “won” the broad jump (11 feet, 9 inches). A fouryear starter, Melifonwu intercepted six passes over the past two seasons. Still, his ability to quickly diagnose plays and react will have to improve while he’s taking a huge step up in competition level. But his athletic gifts make him a compelling prospect. And he’s more than willing to play corner or nickel if that proves a better fit for his skill set.
6. JOSH JONES
North Carolina State, 6-1, 220 If not for Melifonwu, he probably would have garnered more buzz coming out of the combine. But Jones is another large, athletic (4.41 40-yard dash, 37½-inch vertical) defensive back who will intrigue teams with his size and speed. He made 109 tackles last season and finished with seven career INTs for the Wolfpack. He brings bad intentions as a tackler but does tend to hit ball carriers a bit high.
7. MARCUS WILLIAMS
Utah, 6-1, 202 Productive player who totaled 129 tackles and 10 INTs over the past two seasons. His 43½-inch vertical leap in Indianapolis trailed only Melifonwu, and Williams is plenty fast enough, too (4.56 in the 40). Does skew a bit light.
8. MARCUS MAYE
Florida, 6-0, 210 Part of the Gators’ vaunted secondary, he has nice versatility and consistently shows up around the ball whether defending the run or pass.
9. JUSTIN EVANS
Texas A&M, 6-0, 199 He’s not the biggest guy in the bunch yet is athletic, aggressive and fearless. Still, probably not someone suited to playing in the box very extensively at the NFL level.
10. JOHN JOHNSON
Boston College, 6-0, 208 His experience at corner and defending the slot are assets. But he’ll probably need to shore up his tackling to be a reliable threedown player. Picked off three passes each of past two seasons, mostly while playing at deep safety, but split time between strong safety and cornerback in 2015.
LSU safety Jamal Adams has the ball skills and the leadership capabilities to succeed in the NFL.