Marcus Allen — Penn State Nittany Lions — This Marcus Allen is an aggressive, tackling machine that lives in opponents backfields considering his free safety spot, recording 6.0 tackles for loss. He collected 110 tackles in all, forcing one fumble and blocking a kick. He’s not as dynamic a pass defender at this juncture, with just 8 career pass deflections and no picks, but as a run-stopper, well, he’s among the most proven at the position with 249 career stops.
Mike Edwards — Kentucky Wildcats — One of many Ohioans snagged by the Wildcats in the 2014 class, he broke into the rotation as a redshirt freshman, then exploded in his sophomore campaign. He finished the season with 100 tackles, with 5.5 for loss (a very good number for a safety). However he also was excellent versus the pass, breaking up eight balls and picking off three. This season we see him clinching an All-SEC selection, and potentially more honors, as the 6-0 200-pound junior looks to improve the Wildcat defense as their leader, plus his draft stock.
Quin Blanding — Virginia Cavaliers — It seems like he’s entering his seventh season for the Cavs, however that’s just what happens when you are a star and start as a true freshman. He’s tallied a remarkable 358 stops on his career, averaging 120 a year, and has tacked on 5.5 TFL in the span. He’s no slouch versus the pass, amassing 15 pass deflections and 6 picks in the same span. Yet for all his production, it’s his measurables and athleticism that have NFL scouts impressed, as the 6-2 215-pounder moves well for his size and is fluid in coverage. Look for another solid season from Blanding and a nice capper to his stellar career.
Ronnie Harrison — Alabama Crimson Tide — The best tackling defensive back for the Tide last season as a sophomore, he’s a perfect backstop at the free safety position thanks to said ability to bring down ball carriers. Yet he’s also adept against the pass (two picks, seven pass deflections), and likely sees more balls over the middle given the move of Minkah Fitzpatrick back to corner, where team’s are best to avoid him. All and all, he’s a proven play-maker for the Crimson Tide, a leader by example, and once again will provide a steadying presence on the back-end.
Godwin Igwebuike — Northwestern Wildcats — A steady and heady leader for the Wildcats, he’s proven to be a terrific run defender in addition to good speed and agility in pass defense. He made 108 total tackles, but notably finished ninth nationally with 78 solo stops. He is also adept versus the pass, having four career picks and 18 pass deflections in three seasons. Another 6-0 200 pound Ohio native, he’s proven to make plays in timely situations, and should parlay that knack into even greater production as he leads a nasty NU secondary.
Derwin James — Florida State Seminoles — Nobody on this list instills fear in offensive coordinators and tantalizes scouts on this list like Derwin. This is despite missing much of 2016 with injury, he’s just that good. With linebacker size (6-3 210) and elite athleticism he exploded in 2015 with 91 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, and tallied 11 with a pick in 2016 before injury bit him. Healthy, and likely hangry, an insane 2017 is almost certain as he looks to paydays thereafter.
— Derwin James Jr (@derwinjames6) April 18, 2017
Dominick Sanders — Georgia Bulldogs — Entering his fourth season as a full-time participant, with 36 games under his belt, Sanders has flashed eye-opening skills in all facets of the game for a safety. He’s made key stops, including behind the line; he’s picked off a good number of plays and shown excellent ball-skills overall., and he’s shown an ability to be around the football. However last season he was hampered by a shoulder injury, and thus those flashes seemed less frequent. We’re anticipating a bounce-back season for the senior and Georgia native.
Damon Webb — Ohio State Buckeyes — Webb played last season amidst three first day NFL Draft picks, and while he couldn’t match their play at times in 2016, he finished strong and enters this season as the senior leader in a rebuilding secondary. Without the generational talent in Hooker beside him, he’s going to need to play sure and sound defense in coverage, building on his late success. He’s been strong in the early spring and looks primed for big year and key role on the back-end of the Buckeye defense.
Andrew Wingard — Wyoming Cowboys — Another tackling machine on the list (256 in two years), the Wyoming star has two seasons’ worth of sick play and look for no drop-off in what is likely an improvement year for a young but talented Cowboy defense. His 2016 was pretty absurd (131 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 2.0 sacks, 2 INT, 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles), so any improvement just sort of solidifies him as an All-American…
Jordan Whitehead — Pitt Panthers — After a breakout freshman season he was on pace for another solid season when injury took him out in the stretch run for the Panthers. A stout run-stopper for his size, he amassed 174 tackles in less than two full seasons, as an underclassman. He can show up a bit more against the pass to help round out his potential in the back-end, however as a tackling safety with decent ball skills, he’s just emerging as a junior for the Panthers.
Snubs — Javon Hagan, Ohio Bobcats; Chase Hansen, Utah Utes; Trayvon Henderson, Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors; Taylor Rapp, Washington Huskies; Asauni Rufus, Nevada Wolfpack
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