We’re back! The BTSC Big Board crew has returned for a second consecutive season! Between now and April, numerous BTSC draft analysts will give you stats, grades, and in-depth scouting reports for over 300 prospects in this year’s class. Just like last year, we will be doing these rankings by position until the week of the draft, when we finalize the overall rankings and release our all-positions-combined big board.
Today, we will be taking a closer look at a position the Steelers could definitely address: safety. At the time of this writing, the Steelers have yet to fill the vacancy at strong safety. While I would rather see the Steelers address this by bringing back Terrell Edmunds or signing another free agent, the Steelers may not see things the same way.
The analysis is a collaborative effort of Ryland, myself, K.T. Smith, Jeremy Betz, skyfire322, Itz JustNoah, and NecksNation, while the stats are compiled by SNW via Sports Reference. Proofreading was done by our newest big board contributor, DoomzoneFF.
If you have any thoughts on these safety prospects and their potential fit with the Steelers, be sure to share them in the comment section below.
Let’s get to the Big Board!
1. Kyle Hamilton | Notre Dame 6‘-4“, 219 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 4
2021 Stats: GP 7, T 34, TFL 2, Int 3, PD 4.
Necksnation: Hamilton is a generational talent who could become the highest-drafted safety since Jamal Adams. Despite the lack of positional value attributed towards safeties, Hamilton is worth spending a top-five pick on and should be a perennial pro-bowler in the NFL. He has great size for his position, measuring in the 99th and 92nd percentile in height and weight respectively, and he has good overall athleticism that gives him very high upside. He can be used in a myriad of ways, which will instantly make him highly valuable to an NFL defense, and he can make splash plays as well as routine ones with ease. Although he suffered a knee injury in the 2021 season, it isn’t an issue for him long term and he’s generally done a good job of staying on the field, playing 31 games in three seasons at Notre Dame. Hamilton could go as high as the second pick in the draft, with a likely floor of pick eight barring anything unforeseen, and he should make an NFL team very happy once he gets on the field.
2. Daxton Hill | 6‘-0“, 192 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 30
2021 Stats: GP 14, T 69, TFL 4.5, Sacks .5, Int 2, PD 8, FR 1.
Noah: If you are more of a casual fan or you don’t pay a ton of attention to the draft then you probably haven’t heard of Daxton Hill, but this guy is a baller. Hill is extremely versatile, he can play in the box, either safety spot or at slot corner, and do it at a high level. He’s physical and his ball skills are excellent, helping him to excel when he is tasked to cover slot receivers. He’s explosive and plays with a quick trigger which makes him aggressive in run support. Hill is disciplined in coverage and if a team were to want to make him a full-time corner he has the tools to do so. There are some major red flags though, the first being his knack for over-pursuing. He needs to learn how to control his speed and if he can do that he will be a much better run defender. Something else that will definitely help him out in run support is wrapping up! It’s very important that he wraps up better at the next level because coaches are strict, and they know what they’re doing, so a problem like that could cost him a job. If he’s put in the right situation, the sky’s the limit.
3. Jalen Pitre | Baylor 6‘-0“, 197 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 41
2021 Stats: GP 14, T 75, TFL 18.5, Sacks 3.5, Int 2, PD 7, FR 3, FF 3.
Necksnation: Pitre is a versatile defender who excels as a tackler and run defender but can also make nice contributions as a pass defender. Although he is undersized for the position, he is certainly a physical player, and he plays with good speed and agility. Pitre is a sideline to sideline player, and he is a bit of a nontraditional safety in that he often plays closer to the box. He has decent ball skills, as he was able to make four interceptions over the past two seasons, but it isn’t a major part of his skillset. He did a good job for the most part in pass coverage, and although he isn’t a source of a ton of splash plays, he quietly gets the job done to keep opposing pass catches in check. Tackling is a strength of his, but due to his aggressive nature, he sometimes over-pursues ball carriers and misses tackles that he should make. He forced three fumbles in 2021, and he should be able to force some turnovers like that in the NFL. Pitre projects as a second-round pick who should be a quality starting strong safety at the next level.
4. Jaquan Brisker | Penn State 6‘-1“, 204 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 42
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 63, TFL 6, Int 2, PD 5, FR 1.
Skyfire322: Jaquan Brisker, a Pittsburgh native, was an integral part and a leader in Penn State’s 4-3 defense. He is well-known for both his versatility and athleticism, but he also has a great football IQ. He is excellent at following the quarterback’s eyes but can stare down too long and bite on the play-action. Brisker is also an intimidating presence on the field who plays violent but within the rules. He’s good in deep coverage, isn’t handsy, and relies on his length for breakups, but he can leave too much space and while he is fast, can be burned by more speedy receivers. His play in the box is second to none. He can easily be relied upon in short-yardage situations and slice through the line to get into the backfield. While he has issues, such as less than desirable recovery speed, playing with wide hips, and taking bad angles, these are minor and can be tweaked. Brisker’s versatility will fit into almost any NFL defensive scheme and will likely be a week-one starter. Don’t be surprised to see him taken in the mid to late first round.
5. Lewis Cine | Georgia 6‘-1”, 200 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 66
2021 Stats: GP 15, T 73, TFL 2, Sacks 0, Int 1, PD 9.
Ryland B.: The energy that Cine plays with is simply infectious. He doesn’t have elite size but he packs quite the punch near the line of scrimmage. He’s a hard-hitting safety who excels in run support and plays with excellent effort. He’s a good athlete but not the greatest in coverage, not always looking the most instinctual or confident when defending the pass. He has shown flashes of greatness in that area, and some improvement in ball skills could go a long way in helping Cine become a more versatile safety. But despite his great attitude and skill in run support, his tackling form can be a little sloppy at times as he can prioritize the big hit a little too much. Still, he’s a fearless run defender and blitzer who might be a good fit at strong safety or sub-package linebacker (though size is an issue) in the right scheme. Cine is a bit of a tweener, which dampens the first-round hype I’ve seen for him, but if he can improve his coverage ability, he has the athleticism and want-to in run-support to be a top-tier NFL safety.
6. Tariq Carpenter | LB/S | Georgia Tech | 6‘-4”, 225 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 89
2021 Stats: GP 11, T 65, TFL 1, Sacks 0, Int 0, PD 2.
Andrew Wilbar: Carpenter is a defensive back who has added weight and converted to a hybrid linebacker. Weighing in at 230 pounds at his pro day, Carpenter looks the part of a modern-day linebacker, but it would definitely be wise to add more weight if he wants to commit to a full-time linebacker role. From an athletic standpoint, he checks every box, as evidenced by his impressive pro-day numbers. Not only did he run a 4.52 in the 40, but he also jumped out of the gym, recording a 39” vertical and a 136” broad jump. At the Senior Bowl, the first things that popped out to me were his loose hips and overall field awareness. In zone coverage, he does a good job recognizing where he is on the field relative to where the nearest receiver is, and in man coverage, his change-of-direction skills are good enough to keep up with most running backs, receivers, and tight ends. He is an intriguing name to watch late on day two or early on day three.
7. Nick Cross | Maryland | 6‘-1“, 210 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 105
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 66 ,TFL 3.5, Sacks 3, Int 3, PD 2. FF 2.
Noah: Cross was outstanding this year even if the stat sheet doesn’t exactly show it. I believe if he was at a bigger school like Bama or Ohio State he would be much higher on draft boards than he is right now. He was the fastest safety at the combine, running a 4.34 and that speed is apparent on film. His range is crazy and he’s also a ridiculously smart player making him a potential game-changer on defense. His play recognition is off the charts and it’s on display during this play. Cross is the deep safety and he gets to the ball quicker than everyone because of his IQ and his closing speed. I’ve seen him projected as high as the second round, and as low as a 4th round guy so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes come draft time.
8. Kerby Joseph | Illinois | 6‘-1”, 190 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 120
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 57, TFL 1, Sacks 1, Int 5, PD 2.
Jeremy Betz: In a deep Free Safety class, Joseph doesn’t necessarily stand out as a physical specimen or an outstanding athlete. His anticipation and vision though are solid, and he provides plenty of tools for coaches to work with as a deep defender. He’s a solid open-field tackler and special-teamer and his ball skills are great, however, he’s not a great asset in run support, often getting swept away by physical blockers or waiting for other defenders to make the initial contact. Scouts will like his ability to anticipate where the play is going and attack the ball, and coaches will be tasked with improving his in-game physicality.
9. Tycen Anderson | Toledo | 6’-2”, 210 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 125
2021 Stats: GP 10, T 44, TFL 2, Sacks 1, Int 0, PD 2, FF 1.
Andrew Wilbar: Anderson is an athletic safety with a high ceiling, but adding more weight may help him when coming downhill to defend the run, as he lacks ideal functional strength for the position. Anderson has good closing speed, and he closes open throwing windows in a hurry, but he struggles to finish tackles against a vast majority of running backs and tight ends because of his lack of strength. Having a better understanding of tackling angles would help him as well. Nonetheless, his production and talent make him worthy of a mid-round selection. He will just need time to fully develop.
10. Verone McKinley | Oregon 5‘-11”, 194 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 149
2021 Stats: GP 14, T 77, TFL 1, Sacks 0, Int 6, PD 6, FF 1.
Ryland B.: In a fairly deep safety class, McKinley’s 6 interception season might have flown under the radar. But the Oregon safety might be some great value for a team in the middle rounds, or even a surprise day 2 selection. What stands out regarding McKinley is his ball skills. He’s an elite ballhawk who can make acrobatic interceptions and undercut routes, while also possessing the type of football IQ where the football just seems to find him wherever he is on the field. He has good coverage skills overall with some versatility as a slot defender. Against the run, McKinley isn’t elite, but he’s an adequate tackler with good football smarts. The biggest knock on McKinley is his measurables. At 5’11” and 194 pounds he’s a bit short and undersized for the position. And although an adequate athlete at the college level, McKinley seemingly lacks the range of a great coverage safety in the NFL. Still, he has a fairly high floor and should be able to start early on in his NFL career.
11. JT Woods | Baylor 6‘-2”, 193 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 156
2021 Stats: GP 14, T 57, TFL 4.5, Sacks 0, Int 6, PD 2, FR 1.
Jeremy Betz: Woods is an exciting prospect with plenty of length and speed to handle the back end as a traditional FS. Woods creates plenty of havoc and splash plays with fantastic ball skills and return ability (9 INTs 2020-2021). He is often too aggressive and takes too many risks when in single coverage, relying on his speed to make up for unpolished instincts. In all he’s a late Day 2 prospect with upside, providing he can learn to balance aggression with patience and continue to rack up the takeaways.
12. Isaiah Pola-Mao | USC 6‘-4”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 184
2021 Stats: GP 11, T 57, TFL 1, Sacks 0, Int 0, PD 1, FR 1.
Andrew Wilbar: In case you were wondering, Pola-Mao is the cousin of Steelers legend Troy Polamalu. It is surprising that he has flown under the radar, as there is a ton of untapped potential here. He is a physical safety who is not afraid to lower his shoulder and blast opposing receivers and running backs. Do not let his physical play style fool you though, as he displays plenty of range in coverage as well. I just feel as if USC failed to put him in position to create splash plays in 2021, and I also feel as if he was playing out of position, aligning primarily at free safety for the Trojans. At 6’3”, I think the best scenario would be for him to add a few pounds and move to strong safety, where his physicality and blitzing ability would be utilized in a better way. Pola-Mao is more than likely not the next Troy, but he could be a nice toy for Teryl Austin in the secondary. If you would like to look into Pola-Mao’s game more extensively, check out this film breakdown by former BTSC contributor and current Pro Football Network analyst Nick Farabaugh.
13. Percy Butler | Louisiana 6‘-0”, 190 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 192
2021 Stats: GP 13, T 60, TFL 6, Sacks 0, Int 1, PD 4, FR 3.
Ryland B.: It was hard to find film on Butler, but from what I saw, he’s an athletic, lanky defender with experience as a deep safety. He has good cover skills, great closing speed, and a willingness to tackle. However, what stood out was his poor tackling angles, which could be a major issue at the next level.
14. Quentin Lake | UCLA 6‘-1”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 199
2021 Stats: GP 10, T 53, TFL 2, Sacks 0, Int 3, PD 6.
Andrew Wilbar: Quentin, the son of former Steeler Carnell Lake, was one of my day three sleepers in the 2021 draft class, but he decided to return to school in an attempt to improve his draft stock. He is primarily a free safety who brings solid athleticism and great instincts to the table. He has become much stronger against the run, and his tackling angles have also improved. He has also become unafraid to lower his shoulder, get dirty, and lower the boom on an opposing receiver. Overall, there is not much to complain about with Lake, especially when you consider that you will only be spending a late-round pick on him. Playing in a weak conference and playing games late at night may partially be why he is getting hyped so little, but don’t overthink it. Lake is a good football player who should definitely make an impact in the NFL, whether it be as a starter, backup, or special teamer. You can check out his full interview with Jeremy and me below.
15. Smoke Monday | Auburn 6‘-3”, 199 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 207
2021 Stats: GP 13, T 63, TFL 9, Sacks 2, Int 1, PD 5.
Ryland B.: Besides being in contention for the best name in football, Smoke Monday is an athletic, physical safety with some NFL upside. He’s a big-hitter, a sound tackler, and a solid contributor on special teams. In coverage, he has decent athleticism and can take on assignments with running backs and tight ends. Despite his physicality, I did feel like there were a few plays on his tape that were lacking effort. Monday looks to fit best as a box safety in the next level, although his size may be a bit of an issue when playing close to the line of scrimmage in the NFL.
16. Sterling Weatherford | Miami (OH) 6‘-4“, 221 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 219
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 66, TFL 2, Sacks 1, Int 2, PD 4.
Noah: It’s hard to tell exactly how Weatherford is going to fit in at the next level. He’s good in run support, flying to the ball and he wraps up well. He also uses his range and quickness when he’s in a deep zone to take away downfield throws. He is a tough player, willing to go through blocks and playing through the whistle. However, there are plenty of areas he needs to improve on. Weatherford has got to do a better job at reading the quarterback. Four interceptions in four years is alright but I think because of his range, he could have put up some fantastic numbers if he read the quarterback better. While he is very good as a run defender, his play recognition is subpar and sometimes makes him late to the play. This is a relatively deep safety class in my opinion and I think Weatherford would be viewed higher in previous years.
17. Leon O’Neal | Texas A&M 6‘-1”, 210 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 240
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 58, TFL 3, Sacks 1, Int 2, PD 5, FR 1.
Andrew Wilbar: O’Neal does not have a thick build, but he loves coming downhill and making big hits. He is a good athlete overall, and he is one whose motor is always running at one hundred percent. He closes on the ball quickly in zone coverage, which could potentially lead to more splash plays as he continues to develop other parts of his game. I also like his overall awareness as well as his ability to react quickly when coming downhill to defend the run. However, he lacks a great understanding of tackling angles, and he does not play tight enough in man coverage. There are definitely intriguing traits in O’Neal’s game, but I do not see enough in him to warrant anything higher than a day-three selection.
18. D’Anthony Bell | West Florida 6‘-2”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 244
2021 Stats: GP 11, T 61, TFL 1, Sacks 0, Int 2, PD 5, FF 2.
Andrew Wilbar: Bell is an intriguing athlete who has never really been tested against real competition at the collegiate level. This was proven at his pro day when he recorded an impressive 4.51 in the 40, 6.93 in the 3-cone drill, a 36” vertical, and a 129” broad jump. Despite the lack of competition, nobody can take away his collegiate experience. He has spent time at four different colleges in the span of six seasons, and his success has been recognized nationally, making Second Team All-Jayhawk Conference in 2019 and receiving the AFCA First Team All-American honors in 2021. He is the typical player one would draft in the sixth or seventh round and gamble on athletic traits, as we do not know how his game will translate to the pros.
BEST OF THE REST
19. Damarri Mathis | CB/S | Pittsburgh 5‘-11”, 195 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 252
2021 Stats: GP 12, T 43, TFL 0, Sacks 0, Int 2, PD 5.
Ryland B.: Mathis just screams Tomlin defensive back. He’s a little undersized, scrappy, and a high effort and energy player. He’s a good-not-great athlete who is physical in coverage, almost to a fault at times. And go figure, he played for Pitt as well.
20. Nolan Turner | Clemson 6‘-1”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 253
2021 Stats: GP 10, T 45, TFL 2, Sacks 2, Int 1, PD 0.
Andrew Wilbar: Turner is an athletic safety who displays good range and fluidity in coverage. His instincts and awareness in zone coverage seem to be lacking, though.
21. Trenton Morrow | Siena Heights 6‘-4”, 195 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 257
2020 Stats: GP 10, T 48, TFL 4, Sacks 2, Int 5, PD 3, FF 1.
Andrew Wilbar: Morrow is an Ohio native who went to college at Siena Heights, a Division 2 school in my hometown of Adrian, Michigan. Morrow had an incredibly productive season in 2020 but did not make as many splash plays in 2021. He is a solid athlete who could make the back end of a roster if he can prove his worth on special teams.
22. Bubba Bolden | Miami | 6‘-3”, 204 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 264
2021 Stats: GP 7, T 42, TFL 3.5, Sacks 1, Int 0, PD 2.
Ryland B.: Bolden is an athletic safety with excellent range in coverage and lots of upside. However, some injury issues and knack for poor tackling may hurt his draft stock.
23. Scott Nelson | Wisconsin 6‘-2”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 276
2021 Stats: GP 13, T 58, TFL 4, Sacks .5, Int 1, PD 6.
Ryland B.: Nelson has good size and solid athleticism to go along with his four years of experience as a starter for the Badgers. He’s a versatile player who has struggled with injuries during his college career.
24. Dane Belton | S | Iowa 6‘-1”, 205 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 283
2021 Stats: GP 14, T 46, TFL 3, Sacks 0, Int 5, PD 7.
Ryland B.: Belton is a physical box safety with good size. He’s not the greatest athlete but at the very least should be a solid special teamer in the NFL.
25. Reed Blankenship | Middle Tennessee 6‘-1”, 204 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 285
2021 Stats: GP 13, T 110, TFL 10, Sacks 1, Int 1, PD 8, FR 3, FF 2.
Andrew Wilbar: While Blankenship is a sound tackler and strong run defender, he is not consistent enough in man coverage to be a scheme-versatile player. He is another guy who could become a nice depth piece but is probably best suited for special teams only.
26. Brenden Schooler | Texas 6‘-2”, 201 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 320
2021 Stats: GP 11, T 50, TFL 1.5, Sacks .5, Int 0, PD 2, FF 1.
Ryland B.: Schooler started off as an Oregon wide receiver and ended his college career as a Texas safety. His versatility and athleticism make an interesting combination, although at this moment it looks likely his next stop will be NFL special teamer.
27. Bydarius Knighten | S | Auburn 6‘-1”, 201 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 334
2021 Stats: GP 9, T 46, TFL .5, Sacks 0, Int 2, PD 2.
Ryland B.: A former Southeast Missouri State safety who transferred to Auburn and had a career-best year. He’s a physical safety with some experience on special teams.
28. Russ Yeast | Kansas State 5‘-10”, 195 lbs
Andrew’s Overall Ranking: 381
2021 Stats: GP 13, T 47, TFL 1.5, Sacks 0, Int 4, PD 10, FF 1.
Ryland B.: Yeast is a hard-hitting safety with some experience at cornerback. He could be a sub-package slot defender at the next level.
Which EDGE rushers do you see as potential fits for the Steelers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for all the news and notes surrounding the Steelers and the 2022 NFL Draft!