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Draft Darlings: Jartavius Martin is an upside swing at safety

Kansas City could get even younger in the back end.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Since Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has had control over the roster, one of the positions he has heavily invested in is safety. He’s signed safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Reid to eight-figure free-agent deals while also drafting Juan Thornhill and Bryan Cook in the second round of the draft.

Veach believes in having high-quality safeties in his defense, and he’s made sure to keep the cupboard full of options.

While the safety room is secure in 2023, the outlook at the position isn’t clear. Reid is under contract in 2023, but the Chiefs would save $10.75 million against the salary cap in 2024 if they decide to move on. Reid could be extended to lower that cap hit, but his 2022 performance leaves questions on whether Reid’s worth paying long-term. The Chiefs did sign safety Mike Edwards this offseason, but his contract only runs for one year.

The Chiefs don’t need many snaps in their 2023 safety room but could look to potentially draft someone this year to give them insurance to move on from either Reid or Edwards in 2024. If the Chiefs are looking for a developmental option at safety for 2024, Illinois’ Jarvatius Martin might make sense.

Here’s what you need to know:


Out of high school, Martin was a three-star cornerback recruit from Florida. He committed to the University of Illinois as a cornerback, where he started 13 games as a freshman and sophomore. In 2020, Martin converted to a slot and single-high safety hybrid. 2022 was his best overall season, when he was voted All-Big Ten second team by the media and third team by the coaches. Martin had 64 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defended and two forced fumbles in 2022. Martin finished third in the Big Ten in pass breakups with 14.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Martin had an outstanding performance. He measured in at 5’11 and 194 lbs., which is one of the bigger frames in this safety class. Unlike most safeties, Martin had an exceptional athletic performance. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash with a staggering 1.47 10-yard split, which finished first for all defensive backs and in the 97th percentile-all time. Martin also had exceptional jumps, finishing with a 44” vertical (99th percentile) and 11’1 broad jump (96th percentile). His vertical jump ranked first for all defensive backs and his broad jump ranked fourth.

Film evaluation

When you turn on Martin’s film, the first thing that stands out is his explosive athleticism.

Martin can cover an incredible amount of range quickly. When he gets a trigger on something over the middle of the field, Martin will fly to the ball and lay you out. His explosive ability to go downhill is among the best for any safety in this class. Martin can be late to trigger on things downhill, but once he gets a read of what’s going on, he’s going to close with incredible speed.

Illinois also asked Martin to play in the slot, and they played him in a ton of man coverage. Illinois was primarily a man coverage team, and it wouldn’t give much help to Martin. His length gave slot receivers problems, but he’s also fluid enough to flip his hips and run with slot receivers. He can be a bit aggressive, yet was only called for two penalties in 2022.

Martin wasn’t asked to play the run much, but he has the frame and tackling ability to be a presence against the run. Illinois didn’t ask him to blitz much, but with his range and closing speed, I think he could be an incredible blitzer in the NFL.

How he fits with the Chiefs

While I like Martin as a prospect, I’m not sure he’s a great fit to play immediately. His overall processing is a bit late, and he tends to be aggressive and make some assignment errors. Illinois’s defense was fun and aggressive, but that did lead to a lot of discipline issues. Martin was no exception to that. He might need a year for the pro speed to slow down for him. His role would need to be limited early since he’s likely not ready for a full workload.

Long-term, Martin would be a great fit for the Chiefs. The Chiefs like versatile safeties who can play a variety of roles, and Martin fits that well. With his cornerback experience, he can play in the slot or in single-high for the Chiefs. If you put him with defensive backs coach Dave Merritt and give him a year to develop, I feel the Chiefs could harness his athletic tools to get the perfect chess piece for what the Chiefs typically like at safety.

The bottom line

Justin Reid was a better prospect than Martin, but I see some similarities between them. Their combination of range, size and hitting ability make them high-ceiling players that you would want to bet on. I wouldn’t want Martin playing too much early on. However, if the Chiefs are looking for a long-term bet at safety, Martin would be my first choice for this entire class.

Martin is the only safety I would bet on becoming a Pro Bowler someday, and I’d want to bet on his traits. If Martin is at the end of Round 3, I’d select him as a high-ceiling pick that could pay off in the future.

Grade: Round 2 or early Round 3

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