This is the 12th and final installment of my NFL Draft deep-dive scouting series, following quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, guards, centers, tackles, interior DL, EDGE, linebackers and cornerbacks. Check back later this week for my top-400 big board and final mock draft.
The spider web of each prospect's test results from the NFL Combine comes courtesy of MockDraftable. SPARQ composite scores are provided by Zach Whitman. All players’ ages are calculated as of September 2019.
1. Nasir Adderley (Delaware) | 6’0/203
SPARQ percentile: 65.0
Comp: Reggie Nelson (Kyle Crabbs)
He may come from Delaware, but Nasir Adderley boasts supreme NFL bloodlines (cousin of Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley), tremendous versatility (played cornerback and safety at Delaware) and a Swiss-army knife of skills that his NFL team can deploy depending on what they’re trying to defend.
Adderley is a super fun eval. Not only do you have to parse the small-school competition aspect — he dominated the FCS with a 90.3 PFF grade a year ago, along with a class-leading 89.9 coverage grade — but he’s a mishmash of different skills as a 6’0/203 safety with extensive CB experience who rolls downhill and throws his body around in run defense.
As a centerfielder, he has the instincts of a cornerback, the speed and twitch to get where he wants to go quickly, and natural skill with the ball in the air. Adderley hauled in 11 career interceptions. He’s a maestro in the slot, and he’s also tough as nails and very willing to help in run support.
After reading that description, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Adderley adores Earl Thomas. “I watched Earl Thomas ever since I was younger,” Adderley said. “That’s someone I try to mold my game after. … I see a lot of similarities to my game, with the range and toughness, even the versatility. Even given that he might have been undersized, he was still flying around, he didn’t back down to anyone. Just like myself.”
But to repeat for the purposes of clarification: Adderley’s instincts at safety remain that of a corner. Risk is introduced into his profile in two areas: Level of competition, and mental mistakes in coverage at safety. Adderley was caught with his pants down several times against smart FCS quarterbacks, who took advantage of his lack of experience by deeking him out and going the other way.
Adderley’s pre-draft process didn't boom as I expected, with a pulled hamstring ending his pro day early after an ankle injury prevented him from participating at the NFL Scouting Combine. But I think the twitchy, explosive athleticism is clear on tape, so I’m not terribly worried about the tilted and incomplete athletic profile he submitted.
On the surface, the profile is boom/bust, but Adderley competes like a gladiator and seems likely to claw for every rung in his climb to his athletic ceiling. He’s the kind of kid I’d bet on. If he booms, you’ve got yourself a matchup-mismatch-nullifying chess piece to counteract the pre-snap machinations of those clever offensive nerds like McVay and Nagy.
And even if he doesn’t, there’s a big safety net to guard against his busting. If Adderley can’t quickly pick up NFL free safety responsibilities, he can always be bumped down to corner, where his skill set will absolutely play.
2. Amani Hooker (Iowa) | 6’0/210
SPARQ percentile: 84.5
Comp: Kenny Vaccaro
An extremely intriguing baby-aged prospect with a rare combination of athleticism, smarts and polish, Hooker’s profile has revved up the analytics community, his film has revved up #DraftTwitter, and his showing in Indianapolis opened the eyes of NFL evaluators.
Ranked as the No. 2 safety on Hayden Winks’ top-300 analytics board, Hooker’s young breakout age and combination of size and athleticism are harbingers of untapped potential. And this eval is far from projection-based. Hooker’s PFF overall grade of 90.7 last season was better than that of Taylor Rapp, Nasir Adderley, Johnathan Abram, Juan Thornhill and Deionte Thompson!
Hooker was particularly effective in coverage, with a 91.1 grade, second-highest of any defensive back in the country. And then went out and tested strong, with an 84th-percentile showing at the NFL Combine.
Built stout with a thick, powerful trunk, Hooker is a reliable safety with a magnetized attraction to the ball in run defense. He’s well-rounded and could handle either SS or FS duties in a zone scheme.
Last year, Iowa used Hooker on defense almost like they used TJ Hockenson on offense, which is to say all over. The Hawkeyes used Hooker as a FS, SS, and as a hybrid LB/S who made frequent business trips into the box for run support.
The only area he’s consistently struggled with is when he’s isolated in centerfield. Back there, he can misjudge the ball off the bat and cost himself a step or two. But Hooker showed real coverage chops in the slot and when assigned to a smaller zone, where he doesn't have to play Where’s Waldo? with the ball from a mile away and his natural gifts can do the talking.
As long as Hooker is close to the action with something to do or manning a specific patch of grass in zone, he’s a fluid thinker and mover who watches the eyes of a quarterback like a hawk. He was a program leader. He’s the one shouting out the meaning of motion and playing traffic cop with his teammates pre-snap.
For two years running, Hooker ranked as one of PFF’s best coverage defensive backs in the nation. Not just among safeties, but among everyone. And the bursty athleticism and Terminator eyes that helped him do it are both going to translate. I'm quite certain Hooker will excel in coverage in the NFL, and that's oh so very valuable.
Hooker could start at one of two positions in any zone scheme, and he’s also a very good special teams player. I’m confused why he doesn’t get more love. I think his floor is high. His ceiling? Pro Bowler.
3. Darnell Savage (Maryland) | 5’11/198
SPARQ percentile: 86.5
Comp: Lamarcus Joyner (Zierlein)
Another undersized safety in a class full of them, Savage fits the direction of the modern NFL, as a quick-thinking slick athlete in space. He has holy-smokes athleticism, running the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the NFL Combine and turning in broad and vertical jumps that both ranked in the 84th percentile or higher.
Savage’s burst and long speed allow him to stick close to slot receivers and tight ends in man coverage. He's also a reliable tackler who plays with an edge, though he could stand to throttle it back just a notch and come in squared with his head up on tackle attempts, instead of lowering the shoulder and trying to detonate guys like he’s Ronnie Lott.
A three-year starter coming off back-to-back seasons with grades over 86.0 overall on Maryland teams which floundered amid scandals and coaching upheaval, Savage acquitted himself very well without much help from his teammates in college.
Savage not only excelled in coverage, but he’s a missile around the line of scrimmage, reaching running backs with dizzying speed and laying impressive hits in the flat. And he doesn’t need to cheat (like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, discussed below) to get there ahead of schedule. That's because Savage diagnoses quickly and correctly and takes corrective action immediately.
Savage does have a bad habit of compensating for his lack of length in coverage by cheating in his own special way, making rash coin-flip decisions with the ball in the air in an attempt to flip the field. But he needs to realize that he’s not Greedy Williams either, and there are some balls he’ll just never be able to reach.
In a down safety class that is devoid of Tier 1 talent and a quagmire in Tiers 2 and 3, Savage is an exciting safety/slot hybrid prospect who lacks size but is blessed with electric athletic ability and a sonar radar for the ball. He’s got the ceiling you like to bet on. And the risk profile is relatively low, because he’ll add value on special teams and is so gifted north-to-south that he’ll at least be able to perform sub-package duties even if his development stagnated.
4. Juan Thornhill (Virginia) | 6’0/205
SPARQ percentile: 99.5
Holy Batman did Thornhill test like a bad man. World-class athleticism in any sport. Once upon a time, Thornhill was also a basketball star whose dunks made national highlights. He helped Altavista High to three state titles on the gridiron and two on the hardwood. That’s an athlete.
What intrigues most in his game is that he already has a slick feel for how to maximize his gifts. While at Virginia, Thornhill sometimes seemed to be five places at once, a freaky fast, freaky bursty terror who shows up on Game Day looking to flip the field at every available opportunity. He did so, often, to the tune of 13 career interceptions and 26 passes defensed.
Not only is he an ace at putting himself in position to make plays, he easily translates his gifts into pure, raw power when in range for the tackle. Outside of Jonathan Abram, few safeties in this class bring the kind of atom bomb explosion that Thornhill does when he lays into a helpless wideout.
The interceptions, the passes defensed, those are sexy, but Thornhill prides himself on being a complete player. His instincts for foiling passing plays are equaled by his instincts to bear down against the run, ranking seventh in run-stop percentage on Pro Football Focus for 2018.
Thornhill’s evaluation becomes thorny (ahem) in an odd way -- he is precise to a fault. Give Juan an assignment and he’ll execute it. Regardless of what’s happening. His discipline is admirable, but in a fluid game, occasionally problematic. The missed tackles on Thornhill’s ledger are all the tackles which he could have made had he simply taken a risk.
There are worse things to be than ultra-disciplined, but if Thornhill had just a touch more creativity on top of that athleticism, I think his game would explode. He also has experience at cornerback, a nice kicker.
5. Taylor Rapp (Washington) | 6’0/207
SPARQ percentile: 31.9
Rapp did a little bit of everything for the Huskies this past season, working at linebacker, both safety spots and nickel corner. He earned first-team All-Pac 12 recognition (for a second consecutive year). A lockdown tackler, Rapp whiffed on just two opportunities all season per PFF.
His mind is the key, here. Rapp might as well be the Zach Galafinakis GIF from THE HANGOVER. Instantly aware off the snap, he is adept at cutting through the chaos of a given play to get right to the point. Rapp doesn’t waste steps and he doesn’t waste chances.
Rapp lacks long speed and explosion, and that showed in an emphatic way in testing. His 4.77 forty at UW’s pro day elicited groans, and his jumps were poor in the aggregate as well. But Rapp is quick and a very fluid mover, with a 92nd percentile short shuttle showing and a 79th percentile 3-cone.
And while that 4.77 number makes the eyes bleed and is hard to forget, keep in mind that Rapp ran a 4.57 40 at the Husky Combine a year earlier. He is extremely skilled and is going to get the job done if he can get there. Over the past two seasons combined, PFF ranked him as the third-best player in the country.
Washington used him all over the place, with 79 snaps at the line of scrimmage, 364 in the box, 528 at slot cornerback and 1,271 at free safety over his collegiate career. Rapp proved adept at coverage despite his lack of wheels, surrendering a 12.0 passer rating and only 0.13 yards per coverage snap.
But as enticing as the intellectual and technical package is, the lack of speed is going to hurt heading into the NFL. Rapp is so skilled that he’s going to start anyway, but it’s difficult to envision him becoming a NASCAR star while wearing restrictor plates.