- This is the fourth in a series of features on the 2017 NFL Draft. Today's position: Safety. The Jets' roster synopsis is followed by five players considered top candidates in the deep middle:
*The Jets have a good mix of young experience in their current safety group. Despite injuries, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist still started together in 24 of the Green & White's 32 games in 2015-16.
And as a result of those bumps and bruises last year, Rontez Miles graduated from being just a gung-ho special-teams force to make four starts on defense and becoming the only Jet on either side of the ball to play at least 300 snaps on both offense/defense and on specials.
Add Doug Middleton to the mix as an undrafted free agent who showed a nose for the ball early and late (two preseason takeaways and his heads-up uncovered-kickoff touchdown recovery in the season finale vs. Buffalo). There is talent in the deep middle.
But fans want to see some ballhawking ability, and that went downhill from six interceptions for the safeties in 2015 to two, both by Gilchrist, in '16. Will the Jets seek to augment the position in the draft? Like cornerback and tight end, safety seems to be one of the deepest positions in this year's grab-bag.
NFL.com Lists Its Top 50 Overall Draft Prospects for 2017
Five Top Safeties in the Draft
JAMAL ADAMS, LSUAdams has not been anyone's top overall mock draft pick, but Bucky Brooks of nfl.com last week called the 6'0", 214-pounder "the best prospect in the draft." The son of former Giants first-round RB George Adams was considered one of the Bayou Bengals' best leaders in years, and while his one INT and four PDs as a junior last season wasn't impressive, his zero penalties was. At the Combine his 4.13-second 20 shuttle was tied for second at his position while his 4.56 in the 40 was solid but he blew that away with sub-4.40 times at his pro day. He appears comfortable either in the box or in coverage.
MALIK HOOKER, OHIO STATEDespite Adams' profile, Hooker (6'1", 206) is also in the running in some mocks to be the NFL's first safety selected. Called "the ultimate lurker," his production last season was through the roof — seven INTs, tied for second nationally, with three returned for touchdowns — and he received All-America and All-Big Ten first-team honors. On the other hand, 2016 was Hooker's redshirt sophomore season and his only one as a Buckeyes starter. And he's undergone reported surgeries for a torn labrum in his hip and a sports hernia, preventing him from working out for NFL scouts this offseason.
JABRILL PEPPERS, MICHIGANDon't look at the pick stats to judge North Jerseyan Peppers (5'11", 213) — he had only one INT in his three Wolverines seasons combined. But his biggest number was 15, as in the number of different positions he played on defense, offense and special teams, which earned him the Hornung award as the nation's most versatile player and the Lott IMPACT honor as the top overall defender. Rob Rang of CBS Sports thinks Peppers' speed and ferocity are reminiscent of the Steelers' Troy Polamalu. That's hairy.
OBI MELIFONWU, CONNECTICUTMelifonwu (6'4", 224) has a great size/athleticism package that made him a four-year star in the Huskies secondary. He had a career-high four interceptions as a redshirt senior and eight for his career, and also last year led the defense with 118 tackles. And two years after UConn's Byron Jones had a monster Combine, the force was with Obi at Indy this year as he topped all safeties with a 4.40 in the 40 and led all Combine participants with an 11'9" broad jump.
BUDDA BAKER, WASHINGTONBishard "Budda" Baker (5'10", 195) was a three-year starter for the West Coast's Huskies as a single-high safety and slot cover man. His two INTs as a junior last year gave him five picks, plus 18 PDs, for his career. A state-champion sprinter in high school, he's fast with a 4.45-second 40 at the Combine and a 4.08 in the 20 shuttle that was best among safeties. He's also undersized and overaggressive, and he could become a hybrid DB in the pros.