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Pre-combine NFL Draft rankings: Safeties

Before the NFL Combine, we rank the best safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs are thin at multiple positions — but they might be thinnest at safety.

Juan Thornhill is the only safety with significant playing time who is now on the roster. Tyrann Mathieu’s future is still unclear — and with the possibilkity that Daniel Sorensen and special-teams ace Armani Watts could also be moving on, the group could need reinforcements.

It is rare to see a safety selected early in the draft. In the modern era, former UCLA standout Eric Turner (second overall in 1992) and the late Sean Taylor (fifth overall in 2004) are the only safeties to be taken inside the top five. Since the Chiefs hold the 30th pick, that is good news.

In this draft, there is likely to be a run on quarterbacks and edge rushers — which could allow Kansas City general manager Brett Veach to take a high-quality safety for the back end of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. In the 2022 draft class, there are many fine safeties — so the NFL Combine will help these players separate themselves from a crowded field.

But before we get there, let’s see where they rank.

1. Kyle Hamilton | Notre Dame | 6 feet 4 | 220 pounds

Boston College v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The best safety in the 2022 class, Hamilton has a claim to be the best overall athlete, too. For the Fighting Irish, he was a do-it-all defender — and on the film, it doesn’t take long to figure out where he is. On tape, he explodes with a speed/burst combination that allows him to play linebacker from the deep half of the field. If he starts to slide outside of the top 10, some team will probably trade up.

2. Daxton Hill | Michigan | 6 feet | 190 pounds

Michigan v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

One of my early personal draft favorites, this Michigan standout can do a lot for a defense — and changes the game while doing it. Hill possesses track-like speed that helps him be an effective tackler in the running game and also helps him cover over the top. In all phases of the game, he likes to play physically — but he also plays with control without being out of place. He excels at covering the slot — but it’s in creating turnovers where he could make the most noise.

3. Jaquan Brisker | Penn State | 6 feet 1 | 200 pounds

Rutgers v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

If the Chiefs use their first-round pick to fill a void Mathieu leaves behind, a prospect like Brisker could be a nice match; he plays with the same on-field intensity. He will not only make a play, but also let the opposing player know he just made that play. Brisker offers a lot in athleticism — and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Right now, he looks more comfortable as a box defender — but he has the potential to get better in deep man coverage, too.

4. Lewis Cine | Georgia | 6 feet 1 | 200 pounds

2021 SEC Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Take this with a grain of salt: when I watch Cine’s film, I see a little bit of Ed Reed. He’s put together in a similar way — and like Reed, he seems to glide across the field as if he is wearing ice skates instead of cleats. But unfortunately, his playmaking skills aren’t quite there yet. When he can, Cine likes to lay a big hit — but sometimes that can come at a price. He is much more reliable as a run defender than he is as a pass defender — and the way Spagnuolo utilizes his safeties, Cine will have to prove he has the necessary pass-coverage skills.

5. Jalen Pitre | Baylor | 6 feet | 197 pounds

2021 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Baylor Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

If a team is looking to add versatility to its defense, Pitre brings plenty of it. He thrives not only in zone coverage, but also when playing around the line of scrimmage — where he can be relied upon as a tackler in the running game. Pitre had a stellar career for the Bears that was capped with a spot on the All-American team. Early in his career, he could be a prime candidate for a special-teams role.

6. Kerby Joseph | Illinois | 6 feet 1 | 200 pounds

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Illinois at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While he might not be as athletic as some of his peers, Joseph did have a strong showing at the Senior Bowl where he was able to garner some traction and draft buzz. A lengthy player — which helps him create plays as a pass defender — he was able to haul in five interceptions during 2021. He can sometimes look lost — he does not yet dissect plays at an NFL level — but he plays tough and with effort.

7. Verone McKinley III | Oregon | 5 feet 11 | 194 pounds

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Oregon at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A lot of safeties at the top of this class are strong slot defenders who can cover over the top, too. In contrast, McKinley is better prepared to play the deep half of the field while covering the slot only on occasion. He has a firm grasp on what offenses are trying to do — and uses that to his advantage when timing his jumps and when to break on certain routes.

8. Quindarious ‘Smoke’ Monday | Auburn | 6 feet 3 | 200 pounds

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Mississippi State at Auburn Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A bigger prospect among safeties, Monday possesses a skill set that you often see among subpackage linebackers. If the Chiefs do want to add him in later rounds, he could carve out a nice little niche — perhaps becoming the third linebacker that many anticipated Dorian O’Daniel might become. Monday offers plenty of tackling ability, but it’s not clear he can be trusted with an every-down role.

9. Bryan Cook | Cincinnati | 6 feet 1 | 210 pounds

Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Cincinnati v Alabama Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

In 2021, the Bearcats’ defense was stacked with hidden prospects like Cook. A sneaky-good player, he’s likely to be a dark horse in this draft. The biggest knock against him is a lack of playing time; 2021 was his first real opportunity to showcase his talent. He looks like he is still learning and getting comfortable — which early on, probably won’t translate well at the next level. Still, while Cook is far from a Day 1 contributor, he has a higher ceiling than some may think.

10. Bubba Bolden | Miami | 6 feet 3 | 200 pounds

Appalachian State v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

A history of injuries — and some off-field incidents — mar Bolden’s resume, but the former four-star high school recruit has the measurements to warrant a deeper look. While Bolden definitely looks like an NFL safety, he doesn’t always play that way. There are times when he can be beaten on deep routes against faster receivers — but he could help Kansas City as a nickel defender who is used primarily in the box, helping against the run or on an occasional blitz. At the NFL Combine, Bolden has a lot to prove.