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Safety in Safeties: Making the Case for Selecting Safeties in Your Rookie Draft
Bobby dives into some of the reasons why safeties selected in our rookie drafts end up becoming hits for IDP.
In a previous article, I looked at the hit percentage of rookie draft picks not only on the offensive side but for IDPs, as well. We looked at the success rate of those positions over the entire draft and round by round. In this article, I want to take a closer look at one glaring outlier from that article: the safeties.
As you’ll recall, the hit rate for that position was 44%, higher than any other defensive position. Over the past 5 years, 8 out of 18 safeties drafted in our rookie drafts were “hits.” For context, there were 8 DTs drafted to go with 29 DEs and 44 LBs.
Why did so many of the safeties we drafted work out for IDP? Let’s take a look.
Trusting NFL Teams
First, let’s add some specificity. Here are the safeties I deemed a hit, where they were taken in our draft, and when they were selected in the NFL Draft.
2021: Richie Grant, 3.10 (Round 2, Pick 40)
2020: Jeremy Chinn, 4.10 (Round 2, Pick 64), Antoine Winfield, 5.08 (Round 2, Pick 45), Grant Delpit, 5.06 (Round 2, Pick 44), Kyle Dugger, 5.12 (Round 2, Pick 37)
2018: Derwin James, 3.08 (Round 1, Pick 17), Minkah Fitzpatrick, 3.09 (Round 1, Pick 11), Justin Reid, 5.06 (Round 3, Pick 68)
I think that NFL Draft capital plays a key role in why these players worked out for our IDP squads. Of the players listed, 2 were 1st-round draft picks, with Fitzpatrick being the highest-drafted safety at 11th overall. Five of the safeties were taken in the 2nd round and only one of the safeties was taken outside of the 2nd, Justin Reid, who narrowly escaped the 2nd round being the 68th overall pick.
This makes sense to me. Instead of us trusting our untrained eyes to find talent late in drafts, we’re instead trusting NFL coaches and scouts to do the research for us. These decision-makers are telling us who they think the talented safeties are. Of course, this is a wise rule to follow for any position in IDP, as most of the time 1st-round draft picks are more talented players than later picks, get the most playing time earlier in their careers, and are given a longer leash when it comes to production.
Safeties Have More Time to React
We all know rookies take time to develop and learn their craft at the NFL level. With that in mind, think about the position that safeties play. They are the last line of defense, unlike defensive linemen, who have to win reps against grown offensive linemen and shed blocks to make tackles. Then there are linebackers, who have to call plays, make the correct read quickly, locate the back, and make a tackle. Cornerbacks are perhaps the most exposed since they’re often matched up 1-on-1 with wide receivers. That’s why outstanding rookie CBs are so coveted: they’re rare.
Safeties are the safety valve of the defense: when it all goes wrong and a wide receiver gets loose or a running back gets through the defense, the safeties are there to clean it up. Sure, safeties can miss tackles and play poorly in coverage but the fact remains that the distance that most safeties play from the line of scrimmage gives them more time to react on the ball, thereby giving them a better opportunity to succeed.
Look, no position in the NFL is “easy” to play. But for rookies new to the highest level of competitive football, I would argue it’s the defensive position where it’s easiest for rookies to make an immediate impact because they have more room for error. And if they have those ideal “sweet spot” snaps? All the better for IDP production.
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Worth the Dart Throw
Just this year, we saw rookie safeties like Jaquan Brisker and Jalen Pitre set the world on fire for IDP. Where did Brisker go in our draft? 4.03. And Pitre? Undrafted. I didn’t count guys from the 2022 class as hits yet because we’ve only seen the first year of their careers. We need more data on these guys and draft-mates Kyle Hamilton (2.03) and Lewis Cine (3.04), but so far this class is off to a promising start.
So, as we approach the 2023 rookie draft, you can draft LBs in the 3rd and 4th rounds if you want. I’ll be in the weeds looking for the next “safe” pick.
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