2019 NFL Draft Preview: Seahawks Feel They’re “In Good Shape” At Safety, But Will They Look For More Help In Draft?

3\. Taylor Rapp, Washington
3\. Taylor Rapp, Washington

With the NFL Draft coming up, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where things currently stand on the Seahawks’ roster, as well as the top prospects at each position. We’ll also look at Seattle’s draft history at each position under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.

The Seahawks currently hold four picks in the 2019 draft, which begins April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seattle’s 2019 Draft Picks: Round 1, No. 21 overall; Round 3, No. 84 overall; Round 4, No. 124 overall; Round 5, No. 159 overall. 

So far we’ve covered offensive line, defensive line, tight end, linebacker, receiver, cornerback and running backs, and today we turn our attention to safety. Monday we’ll wrap things up with a look at where things stand at quarterback.  

Draft History Under Schneider and Carroll: Earl Thomas (No. 14 overall, 2010), Kam Chancellor (No. 133, 2010), Mark LeGree (No. 156, 2011), Winston Guy (No. 181, 2012), Ryan Murphy (No. 248, 2015), Delano Hill (No. 95, 2017), Tedric Thompson (No. 111, 2017).

Where The Seahawks Stand

For the first time in a decade, the Seahawks will go into a season without Earl Thomas on their roster, and while it’s unfair to ask anyone to exactly replicate what the All-Pro free safety did during his nine seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks still feel good about what they have at safety even after Thomas signed with Baltimore in free agency.

Bradley McDougald, a 2017 free-agent signing who last year was one of Seattle’s top defensive players, leads the way at safety, and his flexibility to play both safety spots gives the Seahawks options of who to partner with him. Two 2017 draft picks, Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill, showed a lot of growth in 2018 after seeing their roles increase from their rookie seasons. Thompson took over at free safety after Thomas broke his leg in Week 4, then when Thompson got hurt late in the season, Hill started at strong safety with McDougald moving to free safety. The Seahawks also found ways to get Hill on the field in sub packages at times along with Thompson and McDougald. Most likely the Seahawks will have a competition in camp where, because of McDougald’s flexibility, any two of those three could end up in starting roles.

And whatever it looks like when the dust settles, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes his options at safety.

“I’m encouraged about the spot,” Carroll said last month at the NFL annual meetings. “Delano did a really nice job late in the season, he really came on. We chose him with the thought that he’s an extraordinary athlete, really fast, he’s big and strong, we thought he was the best tackler in the draft. In transitioning to the spot, all of a sudden he just popped last year, past the midway point, late in the season he just looked like he really embraced the position, the challenges, the questions, all that kind of stuff. So that’s a big positive. Bradley is a terrific football player. Bradley was working through some stuff last year, so he wasn’t as healthy as he would have liked to have been. He’s feeling great now, and we’re hoping he’ll be back in great shape. Then T2 (Thompson) was a terrific performer for us. Remember how well he competed through camp, he made such a big impression. We know he’s a good player, he’s a smart kid. So it’s a good trio, at least. We’re in good shape right there.”

In addition to that trio, the Seahawks also have at safety Shalom Luani, a September trade acquisition last year, and Marwin Evans, who was signed to the practice squad late last season. Carroll’s assessment of McDougald, Hill and Thompson would seem to indicate that safety isn’t a huge need for the Seahawks, but as the selections of Hill and Thompson showed in 2017 when the Seahawks had Thomas, Kam Chancellor and had just signed McDougald, the Seahawks are always willing to add talent and competition to any position group no matter how talented it already is.

NFL.com's rankings of the top safety prospects in the 2019 draft.

NFL.com’s Top 5 Safeties

1. Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State

Overview (via NFL.com): Blunt force-striker with the measurables and play demeanor teams look for from a down safety with nickel linebacker qualities. Abrams did an admirable job in coverage in Mississippi State's scheme but might not have the anticipation and ball skills to hold up in extended coverage duties. Abrams shines as a physical run defender with pursuit speed and energy to play sideline to sideline. He grades out as one of the better options for teams looking to deploy an effective "big nickel" defender near the box. 

2. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

Overview (via NFL.com): Big, athletic defensive back who requires tape study from 2017 and 2018 assess his optimal usage. Some teams will see him as a big slot defender who can blitz, support the run, handle zone duties or play man on big receivers and matchup tight ends. Others will see him as a Cover-1 high safety with the range and ball-tracking to take it away over the top. Gardner-Johnson is too often a step behind in his reads and reaction allowing completions that could be breakups. His versatility and talent could make him an early starter with a high-ceiling if he can put it all together.

3. Taylor Rapp, Washington

Overview (via NFL.com): Versatile three-year starter who combines tenacity with football intelligence to play at a consistently high level. Rapp isn't big, but he's well-built and durability hasn't been a concern despite his physical nature as a striker. He played all over the field this year and might be best-suited in a mix between down safety and two-high looks with the ability to cover tight ends. His coverage talent is average, but his run support effort and open-field tackling are clearly defined strengths that make him a relatively safe selection.

4. Darnell Savage, Maryland 

Overview (via NFL.com): Savage will offer an interesting litmus test for how teams value instincts, IQ and coverage quickness against size. He sports a compact frame with a muscular build and was actually bigger at the combine than some scouts expected. His sticky cover skills and ability to close on throws from all areas of the field are valuable commodities that should not be undervalued. Savage should be targeted as a Day 2 hybrid defender offering early starting potential as a two-high zone or slot cover talent.

5. Juan Thornhill, Virginia

Overview (via NFL.com): Three-year starter who proved he could bring his instincts and ball skills with him from cornerback to safety in 2018. Thornhill's size and cover talent should allow defensive coordinators the freedom to deploy him around the field in a variety of ways depending on the matchups and his running mate at safety. While he could garner consideration as a corner, safety gives him his best opportunity to become an early starter.

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