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A way-too-early look at the 2021 NFL Draft: Safeties

Which defensive backs could be donning the black and gold next year? Let’s look at the top safeties Steeler fans should be watching this college football season.

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, speculation had already started up for the 2021 class. So, in that spirit, here we are with an article series highlighting prospects who look to be this upcoming draft’s biggest stars.

And the season hasn’t even started yet.

Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early - and as a result, are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.

In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. A predictive top 5, in Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, Gregory Rousseau, and Penei Sewell, are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers pick in the first round, and will not be included.

The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players that Steeler fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.

Just coming across this series or need a refresher on the players that were previously covered? Below is a list of the articles covering every major position from quarterback to cornerback in the upcoming draft. As this article is the final edition of this series, feel free to comment on this article your ideal first round pick (prediction or preference) for the Steelers in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Quarterbacks (Trey Lance, Jamie Newman, Kellen Mond, Sam Ehlinger, Brock Purdy)

Running Backs (Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, Chuba Hubbard, Max Borghi)

Wide Receivers (Justyn Ross, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Rondale Moore, Rashod Bateman, Sage Surratt)

Tight Ends (Pat Freiermuth, Brevin Jordan, Kyle Pitts, Jalen Wydermyer)

Interior Offensive Line (Creed Humphrey, Wyatt Davis, Deonte Brown, Trey Smith)

Offensive Tackles (Walter Little, Alex Leatherwood, Samuel Cosmi, Jackson Carman)

Interior Defensive Line (Marvin Wilson, Jay Tufele, LaBryan Ray, Darius Stills)

Outside Linebackers/EDGE (Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Carlos Basham Jr., Quincy Roche, Xavier Thomas)

Linebackers (Micah Parsons, Dylan Moses, Chazz Surratt, Paddy Fisher)

Cornerbacks (Shaun Wade, Patrick Surtain II, Paulson Adebo, Caleb Farley)

Eleventh (and final) in this series will be the position that provides the last line of defense: safeties. They are ranked in no particular order.

Caden Sterns, S #7, Texas

2019 stats: 59 total tackes, 44 solo tackles, 0 interceptions, 1 pass defended.

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 205 lbs.

Sterns is an excellent safety who suffered a down year in 2019. He has fantastic instincts and is a true “center fielder” at safety. Sterns has great ball skills and awareness, and is mobile enough to cover the back of a defense. He isn’t the greatest athlete for a safety but his above-the-shoulders game is more than adequate for the NFL level.

Sterns’ statistics in 2019 didn’t reflect his coverage ability, as only one pass defended and zero interceptions are a far-cry from his impressive freshman season. In 2018, Sterns had amassed 4 interceptions to go along with another 4 passes defensed. Sterns has dealt with a knee injury dating back to his sophomore year, but his 2020 season was still a disappointment by his standards.

Caden Sterns projects to be a solid free safety in the NFL. First he’ll have to improve upon his production. Some concerns have also arisen over his tackling as well, but it doesn’t appear to be a massive problem. If he can return to freshman form, Sterns has a chance to be the first safety off the board.

Some notable articles about Caden Sterns:

Way-too-early mocks like Caden Sterns to go high in 2021 draft - 247 Sports

Texas Football: Top 3 Longhorn prospects for 2021 NFL Draft - Saturday Blitz

Hamsah Nasirildeen, S #23, Florida State

2019 stats: 101 total tackes, 61 solo tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 passes defended.

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215 lbs.

Nasirildeen is considered by many to be the top safety in this year’s class. He’s a big, athletic safety who was among the Seminole’s few bright spots in a disappointing 2019 season. He’s fast, strong, and a menace near the line of scrimmage.

Versatility is Nasirildeen’s calling card. He’s lined up in both safety spots, as a slot corner, and a linebacker. He is probably the best run defender in this year’s crop of defensive backs, but he’s still great against the pass as well. Nasirildeen’s lack of a true position could hurt his NFL stock, but with hybrid defenders becoming more common in the pro’s, he could thrive in a LB/S role, or even as a strong safety in the right scheme.

Nasirildeen is more of a box safety, as his coverage skills and size aren't exactly suited for covering the back-end of a defense in the NFL—he’s better the closer he gets to the line of scrimmage. He sometimes struggles with speed and range while in coverage and doesn't have the greatest ball skills. However, he’s excellent in the role he is supposed to play at FSU, and if he can play in a similar scheme in the NFL he should have a very successful career. If Nasirildeen can improve upon his weaknesses, there’s no doubt he’ll be a high pick in the 2021 draft.

Some notable articles about Hamsah Nasirildeen:

2021 NFL Draft: Is safety Hamsah Nasirildeen the next Simmons? - Pro Football Network

Hamsah Nasirildeen Draft Profile - The Draft Network

Andre Cisco, S #7, Syracuse

2019 stats: 65 total tackes, 41 solo tackles, 5 interceptions, 5 passes defended.

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 203 lbs.

Cisco is a talented safety with great size and production. The FBS’s active leader in interceptions has been a ball hawk during his time at Syracuse and is very athletic to match. He has great range and instincts, and projects to be a play-making free safety in the NFL.

Cisco has a problem with staying consistent and has become a bit of a mystery prospect as a result. Some draft pundits think of him as a top safety in this year’s class while others won’t even place him in the top 5. His calling card is his coverage ability, but he’s had enough lapses to worry some analysts.

As a run defender, Cisco can get the job done, but there are worries about his tackling. He doesn't have the best form and there are some questions about his aggressiveness. His production is impressive, but Cisco still has some holes in his game he’ll need to fill out to be a first round pick in 2021.

Some notable articles about Andre Cisco:

Syracuse safety Andre Cisco poised for college football stardom - Pro Football Network

2021 NFL Draft: The missing piece to the Andre Cisco puzzle - With the First Pick

Jevon Holland, S #8, Oregon

2019 stats: 66 total tackes, 40 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 passes defended.

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 196 lbs.

Holland has quickly been rising in draft popularity following another impressive season at Oregon. As one of the more prominent members of a star-studded Ducks’ secondary, Holland has all of the tools needed to succeed in the next level.

He’s extremely athletic, and can play in both safety spots and in the slot. His football IQ is impressive and his ball skills are one of his best traits. Holland still has room to grow when it comes to run support, but for the most part he is a solid tackler who will continue to grow. With great speed and quickness, Holland excels in both zone coverage and man, and is an above-average punt returner as well.

Even though his aggressive play style can get the best of him sometimes, Holland is a fairly well-polished safety with all of the athletic tools to succeed. As a part of a talented defense in the PAC-12, Holland looks like he will continue to improve in 2020. He’s been projected all over the place in the first few rounds, but the arrow is definitely pointing up for his future. He has a chance at being the top safety in the upcoming draft.

Some notable articles about Jevon Holland:

Jevon Holland the linchpin of Oregon Ducks’ defense at Nickel - Oregon Live

Trio of Oregon Ducks land on Preseason All-America First Team - NBC Sports

Richard LeCounte, S #2, Georgia

2019 stats: 61 total tackes, 35 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 passes defended.

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 190 lbs.

LeCounte is a classic example of a high floor, low ceiling NFL prospect. He’s solid overall in most aspects of his game, but lacks a true ‘wow’ factor. What stands out the most are his above-average instincts which have helped him make some nice plays during his time at Georgia. LeCounte is a decent athlete who is versatile enough to play some cornerback, but he’ll definitely stay at safety in the NFL.

LeCounte isn't the strongest tackler and can whiff sometimes when going in for the hit. However, his willingness is not an issue when it comes to tackling. He doesn't have the greatest size for the position and ideally would bulk up a bit to improve his general strength. LeCounte is best when roaming the back of defense, allowing him to take advantage of his impressive football IQ. His range is limited however, as he isn't the most explosive safety in the bunch.

He wisely returned to college for his senior year and if he can improve on his athleticism and technique he could raise his draft stock in a big way. In a loaded safety class, LeCounte projects to be a solid day 2 pick, but could go higher with an impressive 2020 season.

Richard LeCounte Draft Profile - The Draft Network

Richard LeCounte Entering Leadership Role for Georgia Football - Dawgs Daily

Some other names to look out for this season include TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington and Trevon Moehrig, Pitt’s Paris Ford, Central Florida’s Richie Grant, LSU’s Jacoby Stevens, Cincinnati’s James Wiggins, and Florida’s Donovan Stiner.


Which safety would you most like to see as a Pittsburgh Steeler next year?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Caden Sterns
    (15 votes)
  • 40%
    Hamsah Nasirildeen
    (59 votes)
  • 8%
    Andre Cisco
    (12 votes)
  • 25%
    Jevon Holland
    (36 votes)
  • 2%
    Richard LeCounte
    (4 votes)
  • 12%
    (18 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now

Will safety be a draft priority for next year’s Pittsburgh Steelers?

It all depends on how confident they are in their depth, and chances are there will be a spot or two open at the position in 2021. The impressive tandem of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are the Steelers’ two starters, one of which is a play-making All-Pro, and the other a solid-yet-underappreciated former first-round pick.

Behind the starting duo, however, the depth gets a little sketchy.

Special teams ace Jordan Dangerfield doesn't offer much on defense, while Penn State alum Marcus Allen hasn't managed to get there yet. Rookie Antoine Brooks is an interesting prospect, but looks to offer more as a hybrid linebacker than anything else. Newcomers Tyree Kinnel and John Battle don't look to offer much, either.

Having a capable third safety would do a lot for the Steeler defense as both solid depth and an option for multiple-safety formations. Currently, the team doesn't seem to have that, unless they pull one of Mike Hilton on Cameron Sutton from the cornerback depth chart. Safety will be a position to watch as the 2021 NFL Draft draws closer.