Tal­ent runs deep for teams in need

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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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

LSU safety Ja­mal Adams has the ball skills and the lead­er­ship ca­pa­bil­i­ties to suc­ceed in the NFL.

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