With all the roster turnover the Kansas City Chiefs have faced this offseason, one position has been hit the hardest. The safety position has seen veterans Tyrann Mathieu and Dan Sorensen depart while new names like Justin Reid and Deon Bush have been added.
To look at an even bigger picture of the position, Reid is the only safety under contract past the 2022 season; Juan Thornhill is entering the final year of his original rookie contract.
With that in mind, it’s important to avoid overlooking the safety position in this year’s NFL Draft. Their defense asks a lot of the position and can use up to three in prominent roles.
So I believe Kansas City should do their homework on the position, and my favorite choice for an early-round selection would be Georgia safety Lewis Cine. Let me explain:
Cine came to Georgia as a four-star recruit and made an immediate impact as a true freshman; in 2019, he totaled 14 tackles, one interception, and two passes defended.
Entering 2021, Cine was voted by SEC coaches as third-team all-conference — then outperformed that expectation by earning an AP first-team All-SEC honor by the end of the season. He finished as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
At the Combine, Cine measured in at just over 6’2” and 199 pounds; his wingspan resulted in an 81st-percentile measurement for safeties historically. The 4.37-second result from his 40-yard dash led to a 95th-percentile result; he also tested well with a 71st-percentile vertical jump (37 inches) and a 96th-percentile broad jump (11’1”).
At Georgia, Cine was used primarily as a free safety — aligning deep in either two or one-high coverage shells. In 2021, he played 67% of his snaps as a free safety; he did play in the box on 20% of his snaps.
When watching Cine, the first thing that catches the eye is how quickly he gets downhill from a deep alignment to help against runs or quick passes.
1st thing that pops out when watching UGA S Lewis Cine is how fast he gets to the LOS to help v. run/quick screens from a free safety alignment— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 30, 2022
He's willing to use that momentum to throw himself into a tackle too, but it does lead to missing some at times pic.twitter.com/XbHgIs2rC3
It’s not about Cine cheating up or guessing the play, it’s how quickly his mental recognition of a play translates to his body making the corresponding move. There is not much lag between the two. It’s also about his athleticism; he has impressive acceleration from a stationary position and keeps his speed as he comes downhill like a missile.
At times, the momentum he carries can lead to sloppy tackling, but it’s not due to a lack of strength. He can deliver big hits, proving capable of holding up his end of a big collision.
Cine was primarily used to patrol the back end of the Georgia D. Whether he's driving on passes horizontally or coming downhill, he always comes in hot at the catch point— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 31, 2022
Breaks up an attempt to Treylon Burks in 1st clip pic.twitter.com/4bn5aqV61X
That skill when coming forward translates to breaking on a pass from free safety — whether that’s horizontally or on passes in front of him. He quickly reacts to in-breaking routes and understands how to time up his contact. He looks instinctual at the catch point, whether it’s when going after the ball or prying it loose.
Cine's 4.37 40-time shows up in his range as a deep safety. It allowed Georgia to play single high at times, trusting him to keep a lid on vertical passes by himself— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 31, 2022
Gets over the top of Burks going full speed on the Go here pic.twitter.com/8WMJieDRP2
Cine played so much free safety because the role fit his strengths — including the range that allows him to cover the width of the field. The speed that turned into an impressive 40-yard dash shows up on film, and the reason Georgia was able to play one-safety sets was because they trusted Cine to handle it.
Bama is bound to get everyone, but Cine definitely made them earn this double-move TD— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 31, 2022
The slightest reaction to Jameson Williams' slant fake gives up 6, but Cine's speed allows him to still get a hand on the arms at the catch point
Important to remember Williams' blazing speed pic.twitter.com/Pxjb5teKNS
Even when a blazing-fast wideout like Jameson Williams gets him on the slant fake, Cine has the makeup speed to still catch up and at least get his hands on the arms of the receiver at the catch point. He allows a touchdown here, but it’s impressive to see his speed against Williams’.
How he fits with the Chiefs
With Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, and Deon Bush in the mix, the Chiefs’ safety room has bodies to use on defense — but adding Cine would boost the alignment-versatility possibilities for everyone.
From the get-go, Cine fits best as the free safety in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense — meaning he has plenty of deep-coverage responsibility and isn’t asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage as much as the strong safety.
Cine just looks flat out comfortable in whatever is asked of him as a free safety -- including picking up in man coverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 31, 2022
Yet, he doesn't play as confidently when asked to man up from the slot. He can keep up, but is no doubt at his best from a deep alignment pic.twitter.com/NOgiUufZxB
He can pick up in man coverage, but he looks much more comfortable doing so from a deep alignment. The same level of comfort isn’t replicated when he’s manning up in the slot or just has generally less cushion between him and the receiver. He has the athleticism to keep up in that role and fill it, but it is not one of his strengths currently.
That doesn’t mean Cine can’t play in the box. His reaction skills allow him to be competent against the run, but the physicality doesn’t translate as well to a linebacker alignment when he doesn’t have the same room to build up momentum.
However, Cine is an excellent blitzer because of his speed and his intelligence in what angles he takes to get in the backfield. He could absolutely fill a niche role in the Chiefs’ defense situationally, where he is asked to be a playmaker as a blitzer or short-zone coverage player.
The bottom line
I believe Cine will be a good starting safety in the NFL in the long term. He has the athletic capabilities to develop the portions of his game that aren’t as polished as others, and with only three college seasons played, he’s a very young prospect with room to grow.
With how the Chiefs have valued the safety position under Spags, it would make sense that they emphasize the position as one of the highest picks in the draft. When the defensive regime first began, they signed Tyrann Mathieu and followed it by drafting Juan Thornhill.
With this pick, the Chiefs would be strengthening the safety position for both the short term and the long term; with the high-powered passing attacks they have to regularly face, Cine’s talents will certainly contribute to slowing those opponents down.