Approaching the 2022 NFL season one area still concerning Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fans, would be the strong safety position. As the NFL Draft comes closer, the fact there is still no news on the signing of either Tyrann Mathieu or Terrell Edmunds to play alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick seems to increase the likelihood the Steelers could draft a safety. This incoming draft class has some very talented safeties in it: Kyle Hamilton, Daxton Hill, Jaquan Brisker, Lewis Cine, Jalen Pitre and Nick Cross as examples. For me, there are two prospects which stand out given the fact Hamilton is likely to go early in the Top 10.
Daxton Hill would be an early round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers if they decided to take a safety at No. 20. Hill played three years at Michigan and registered some pretty impressive statistics and performances. His stats showed progression year after year as he was someone clearly determined to improve and work on his game.
Hill is 6’0” 192lbs. and is extremely fast and explosive (4.38 second 40 yard dash). In fact, he displays rare speed for a safety, to the point many have said he is more like a cornerback with the speed he possesses. In addition, he has also been likened to Tyrann Mathieu and called the ‘young honey badger’. Hill is hybrid safety and can play nickel cornerback when he displays a versatile set of coverage skills. He is someone who could play alongside Fitzpatrick and form a very solid safety duo for years to come.
Hill’s skill set puts him in a place to succeed in the pro game. NFL.com’s draft grade of 6.33, equates to Hill being a plus starter in the NFL. Clearly, it is believed he will become a very impressive starting safety for years to come. Hill is an intelligent football player who can read routes and route developments. Moreover, he anticipates route breaks and reading the wide receiver’s intentions. He is also able to make plays on the ball showcasing adequate ball skills.
Daxton Hill could be the Steelers’ selection at No. 20, and would certainly help set the organization up for the future at the safety position. And if Minkah could be re-signed to a long term deal this would give the Steelers’ secondary a very impressive look.
However, should the Steelers want to take a safety later in the draft, a good prospect would be Nick Cross out of Maryland. Cross is someone whose draft stock is rising and is being talked about more as a good pick out of the college game.
Nick Cross is 6’1” and weighs in at 215lbs. This gives him decent size for an NFL safety. He also has long muscular arms, which enable him to make plays for, and fight for, the football. During his time at Maryland he was often in the right position at the right time to make plays on the ball and break up big plays.
It also should be noted Cross is a former track star. This helps with his explosive speed which enables him stay step-for-step with receivers and often come out of nowhere to make plays. His pass coverage is excellent, and his physicality would enable him to run with and cover tight ends, something Terrell Edmunds used to do so well for the defense.
What may make Cross a good pick in the 2nd or 3rd round is how he is a threat in all three phases of the game, something the Steelers look for in their strong safety. Edmunds was used on safety blitzes and would often come up to the line of scrimmage to help stop the run. Cross has good pass rush and run defense skills as well.
Like many other safeties in the league, Cross is able to explode into the backfield and put pressure on the passer. He brings a determination and ferocity to the pass rush. Last season he recorded three sacks from safety and two forced fumbles. In addition to his pass rush, he reads the run game very well. He combines this intelligence with excellent open field tackling, and rarely misses tackles. Cross could be someone who could come in and really help to supplement and improve the Steelers’ porous run defense from last season.
Cross certainly has the skillset to be a great compliment to Fitzpatrick as well. He is someone who is well worth a look in Rounds 2 and 3.
Of course, Brisker, Pitre, Cine and Cook all bring their own skillsets; however, for me Hill is the next best option to Hamilton in the first round, and Cross is someone who could be around where the Steelers pick in Round 2 or even Round 3. By picking one of these safeties it would certainly help address the Steelers’ current gap at strong safety and would be a long term partner for Minkah Fitzpatrick.