Safeties to watch for the 2023 NFL draft




 

Kyle Hamilton became the highest-drafted safety in recent years when he came off the board 14th-overall to the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks ago.

Could the 2023 NFL draft class see another safety push that high up the board?

If the current "way too early" mock drafts are to  be believed, perhaps not. The highest-ranked safety at the moment is Malachi Moore from Alabama, who is coming off the board in mock drafts outside the top 15.

This time a year ago, Hamilton was lurking around the top five.

Of course, a lot can change in a year. Here are the safeties to watch for the 2023 NFL draft.

If you have missed any of the previous watch lists, you can view them here:

Quarterbacks to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Wide receivers to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Running backs to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Tight ends to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Offensive linemen to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Edge defenders to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Off-ball linebackers to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Cornerbacks to watch for the 2023 NFL draft

Jordan Battle, Alabama

 

(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Jordan Battle graded as a consensus four-star recruit, and was one of the top safeties in the 2019 recruiting class. He chose Alabama over Miami, Ohio State and Oklahoma, and carved out a role in the secondary as a true freshman in 2019. That season Battle made four starts, notching 30 tackles and an interception.

Battle moved into the starting lineup for the 2020 campaign, and finished third on the team with 66 total tackles. He also recorded three tackles for a loss, four pass breakups and an interception. That interception came against Kentucky, and he returned it for a 45-yard touchdown.

Last season, Battle put together his best year for the Crimson Tide as he recorded 86 total tackles and three pass breakups. He was named A third-Team All-American by the Associated Press, and a First-Team All-SEC player by both the media and the coaches.

Battle aligns primarily as a deep safety for the Crimson Tide, but his best role at the next level might be as a strong safety, playing down near the line of scrimmage. You can see that, along with his nose for the ball, on this tackle against Auburn:

Jalen Catalon, Arkansas

 

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Dating back to his sophomore year of high school, Jalen Catalon has been a force on the football field from his safety position. As a sophomore at Mansfield Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas, he tallied 183 total tackles and nine interceptions. The following season he recorded 101 total tackles, three interceptions, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries, and he was named the All-Area Defensive Player of the Year by the Dallas Morning News.

Oh, and he threw for 1,122 yards and 15 touchdowns, and added 1,064 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, as the team's starting quarterback.

His senior year was cut short when he suffered a knee injury in the season-opener, but he had a number of scholarship offers in hand, including from Oklahoma, Texas and TCU. He chose Arkansas, and redshirted as a freshman.

Catalon took over as a starter for his redshirt sophomore season, and registered 99 total tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups. He was named a First-Team All-SEC player by the media. He started six games for Arkansas last season, but dealt with injuries throughout the year. He played through a broken hand suffered early in the year, and then was put on the shelf for the season with a shoulder injury. Catalon had 46 total tackles when his season ended.

It was thought that he might enter the 2022 NFL draft, but he announced in December that he would return to campus for another season:

Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

 

(Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports)

Antonio Johnson was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of East St. Louis High School during the 2020 recruiting cycle, and was viewed as one of the top players in the state of Illinois. He committed to Texas A&M, and immediately saw time for the Aggies during the 2020 season as a true freshman. Johnson played in seven games, making a start in the Orange Bowl as the Aggies topped North Carolina. On the season he recorded 14 total tackles and broke up a pass.

Last year, he stepped into the starting lineup for Texas A&M, finishing second on the team with 79 tackles. He added five pass breakups - placing third on the team - and also chipped in with 8.5 tackles for a loss. He was named a Second-Team All-SEC performer by the Associated Press.

Johnson was used last season primarily down in the box, as 768 of his 822 snaps came with him aligned near the line of scrimmage. The Aggies used him in the box, on the outside and even in the slot, where he notched this interception against Missouri:

Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame

 

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

A three-star prospect coming out of College Station High School in Texas, Brandon Joseph chose Northwestern over in-state option Texas Tech. After redshirting during the 2019 season, he stepped into the lineup for the Wildcats in 2020 and put on a show. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, Joseph recorded 46 total tackles and six interceptions. He was named a First-Team All-American, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a First-Team All-Big Ten player at the end of the year.

Last season, Joseph recorded a career-high 79 total tackles, and added three more interceptions to his resume. He was voted a Second-Team All-Big Ten player at the end of the year.

With Kyle Hamilton departing for the NFL, Joseph is stepping into the Notre Dame secondary for the season ahead:

NFL fans saw Hamilton come off the board in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft. Could Joseph follow suit?

 

Tanner McCallister, Ohio State

 

Tanner McCalister was a running back and cornerback at Rockwall-Heath High School in Rockwall, Texas, and ESPN graded him as a four-star cornerback during the 2018 recruiting cycle. He chose Oklahoma State over a host of schools, including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi State and TCU.

McCalister saw action in 12 games as a true freshman, recording 11 tackles. As a sophomore in 2019, McCalister recorded 31 total tackles on the season, playing on both defense and special teams.

He took on a bigger role for the Cowboys in 2020, making ten starts. He finished fifth on the team with 41 total tackles, and he broke up five passes. Last year, McCalister started all 14 games for Oklahoma State, making him just one of six defenders on the roster to start every contest. He finished the year with 42 total tackles, six pass breakups and an interception. He sealed Oklahoma State's win over Texas with that interception, which came in the closing minutes.

McCalister transferred to Ohio State during the off-season, following Jim Knowles who was his defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and is expected to take on a big role with the Buckeyes this fall:

Malachi Moore, Alabama

 

(Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)

As discussed in the introduction, Malachi Moore is floating around as the top safety in the 2023 NFL draft class, according to the "way too early" mock drafts. Currently, Moore is coming off the board most frequently inside the top 20, at 16 overall to the New England Patriots.

Watching Moore as a true freshman in 2020, you can understand why. Moore stepped into the starting lineup right away, starting in the first 11 games of the season before suffering an injury that knocked him out of the lineup prior to the College Football Playoff. As a true freshman in the SEC, Moore recorded 44 total tackles, including four for a loss, and notched three interceptions. Those three interceptions led the Crimson Tide defense. At the conclusion of the season, Moore was named a Second-Team All-SEC performer by both the media and the coaches, and was also an Freshman All-SEC selection.

Last year was a different story for Moore, as he saw his playing time diminished in favor of Brian Branch. But if Moore looks like the player we saw as a true freshman in 2020, then perhaps his position in the "way too early" mock drafts will be proven correct.

Christopher Smith, Georgia

 

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Christopher Smith was a standout at cornerback for Hapeville Charter Career Academy in Atlanta, where he helped lead his high school team to a 14-1 record and the Georgia High School Association Class AA title in 2017. Both 247Sports and Rivals rated him as a four-star prospect at cornerback, and he decided to stay in-state to play for the Bulldogs.

After playing in a reserve role and on special teams his first two seasons, he enjoyed a bit of a breakout during the 2020 campaign. That season, Smith played in all ten games for Georgia, stepping into the starting lineup midway through the year. He recorded 26 total tackles and four quarterback pressures. He started 11 games for Georgia last season, finishing the year with 35 total tackles, four pass breakups, three interceptions and a pair of quarterback pressures.

His first career interception came in the season-opening win over Clemson, and it was a critical play for the Bulldogs, as it broke a scoreless tie:

Smith reads this play perfectly, jumping the route and putting the first points of the season on the board for the Bulldogs.

Tykee Smith, Georgia

 

( Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Tykee Smith began his college football journey at West Virginia, where he started eight games, playing in 12, as a true freshman in 2019. He was fifth on the Mountaineers with 53 total tackles, and notched a pair of interceptions. At the end of the year, he was named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection, and a Freshman All-American by the media.

During the 2020 campaign he played in all ten of West Virginia's games, making nine starts. He was fourth on the roster with 61 total tackles, and his two interceptions tied him for the team lead. He was named a Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press.

Prior to the 2021 season, Smith announced his decision to transfer to Georgia. He injured his foot during the off-season, causing him to miss the first five games of the year. Smith managed to return to the field when Georgia played Auburn in October, notching three total tackles in the victory.

However, it would be the only game he played during Georgia's run to the national title. He suffered a torn ACL the next week.

Smith is healthy for the start of the 2022 season, and is expected to take on a huge role with the Georgia defense alongside fellow safety Christopher Smith. With the departure of Lewis Cine to the NFL, he should see significant playing time for the Bulldogs this fall.

 

 

Rashad Torrence II, Florida

 

ESPN graded Rashad Torrence II as a four-star recruit during the 2020 cycle, ranking him as the 24th-best safety in the nation. Torrence was a standout at Marietta High School in Marietta, Georgia, where he helped the team finish 13-2 and win a state title in 2019.

The season prior, Marietta finished with a 5-6 record.

Torrence entertained offers from Alabama, Clemson, Kentucky and Miami, but opted to play at Florida. He saw action immediately, playing in nine games for the Gators during the 2020 season and making three starts. Torrence notched 25 total tackles as a true freshman.

During the 2021 campaign, he started all 13 games for the Gators, recording 87 total tackles which placed him third on the team. Torrence added three interceptions and a pair of pass breakups on the season.

Last year, the Gators used him primarily as a deep safety, as he saw 714 of his 823 defensive snaps as either a single-high or a half-field safety. Even starting from depth, he can explode downhill and be a factor against the run. On this play against Vanderbilt, watch as he runs the alley and stops this play  behind the line of scrimmage:

Isheem Young, Mississippi

 

One of the more fascinating defenses to study recently at the college football level comes to us from Ames, and the Iowa State Cyclones. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock's three-safety approach has been quietly working its way through the collegiate ranks, and to the NFL as well.

For the past few years, Isheem Young was a core component of that defensive structure. After redshirting as a freshman in 2019, he played in all 12 of Iowa State's games during the 2020 season, making nine starts for the Cyclones. He recorded 50 total tackles - tops among freshman in the Big 12 - and recorded three pass breakups along with an interception. At the end of the season, he secured a number of honors including the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection by the coaches.

Last year, Young recorded 55 total tackles for the Cyclones, and set a new career-high mark with two interceptions on the year.

He announced his transfer to Mississippi, and will be part of a defense that will look very similar to the one he ran in Ames. Last season, Mississippi altered its defense to mirror what the Cyclones were running, and even sent their coaches to Iowa State to learn the system.

Now they'll add the hard-hitting Young, who was a part of that very defense for the past two seasons:

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