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Draft Preview | Safety: Could Three Land in Round 1?

As Debate Rages on Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, Jets Have Capital to Continue to Address Defensive Backfield

Notre Dame defensive back Kyle Hamilton runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Entering the offseason, the Jets had big questions marks at safety. Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner, their two opening-day starters in 2021, were slated to become unrestricted free agents, and Will Parks also had an expiring contract. And this followed a season that saw Ashtyn Davis, Elijah Riley, Adrian Colbert, Jarrod Wilson and Jason Pinnock among the Green & White's nine different starting combinations.

Maye, who tore his Achilles tendon in Week 9 at Indianapolis, had his run as the longest-tenured Jet end when he signed a three-year deal with the Saints. While Maye won't return, the Jets re-signed Joyner, who sustained a torn triceps in Week 1 at Carolina, and Parks. They also got a young tone-setter in Jordan Whitehead, who played four seasons in Tampa and had 276 tackles (206 solos), 25 PDs, 5 INTs and 2 sacks while appearing in 59 contests (55 starts).

"Hard hitting, that's my style," he said. "I go back to little league; I always liked those big hits. For a while I played on offense, but you don't get to do those big hits. On defense, you don't get to take it to the house, you don't get that love. I chose to do the big hits. I pride myself on it."

Whitehead brings big-game experience, the Jets love Joyner's versatility and Davis should benefit from his 10 starts as a pro sophomore. But the tinkering might not be over.

Top of the Class
Kyle Hamilton (6-4, 220), Notre Dame — Is Hamilton a unicorn?That will be for teams at the top of the draft, including the Jets, to decide. Safety typically isn't a premium position in the draft, but Hamilton is long and explosive, and he makes plays on the ball. In 31 career games, Hamilton had 8 INTs and 24 PDs. Hamilton is a big hitter who is happy to come downhill or play deep and find the ball. After posting a 4.59-time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Hamilton was timed at 4.56 at Notre Dame's Pro Day. The Jets could have multiple opportunities to draft the rangy safety if they keep their No. 4 and No. 10 selections.

Dax Hill (6-0, 191), Michigan — Hill was a First-Team All-Big Ten performer last season, pacing the Wolverines with 2 INTs and 11 PDs. Hill's a versatile defender who can play nickel or in the post. He's an explosive athlete who was timed at 4.38 in the 40 and figures to hear his name called in Round 1.

Lewis Cine (6-2, 199), Georgia — The Bulldogs fielded an NFL-caliber defense last season, and it was Cine who led the Bulldogs in tackles (73) and PDs (10). Cine, who was born in Haiti and has lived in Florida ,plus outside of Boston and Dallas, is a student of the game and a thumper with 4.37 speed. He played in all of Georgia's 39 games the past three seasons and saw his production increase each year. Cine could go late in the first round, but he still might be available with the Jets' 35th and/or 38th picks at the top of the second.

Best of the Rest
Jalen Pitre (5-11, 198), Baylor — Pitre, already equipped with two degrees including a master's in educational psychology, Pitre well-rounded in many areas. A former linebacker, Pitre broke out last season in the defensive backfield at the "Star" position for the Bears while earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in a wildly productive campaign that included 18 TFLs, 3 FF, 9 PDs, 3 sacks and 2 INTs. The Jets coached Pitre at the Senior Bowl and it will be interesting to see how this chess piece is used at the next level.

Jaquan Brisker (6-1, 199), Penn State — Brisker, one of eight children, initially attended Lackawanna Community College (PA) before transferring to Penn State. Over his final 21 games for the Nittany Lions, Brisker had 16 TFLs, 14 PDs and 3 INTs. Brisker, used mostly in the box on the collegiate level, could play a more traditional strong safety role in the NFL.

Day 3 Diamond
Verone McKinley (5-10, 198), Oregon — You can't argue with ball production and McKinley finds the rock. Last season, he led the FBS with 6 INTs and he paced the Ducks with 12 PDs. In 38 college games, McKinley had 11 INTs and 21 PDs. As Dane Brugler of _The Athletic _pointed out, McKinley is one of only two players in the 2022 draft class with multiple seasons of at least 4 INTs.

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