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SI All-American: Ranking the Top 10 Safeties in the Class of 2021

Breaking down the top safety prospects, next to be ranked by John Garcia, Jr. and Edwin Weathersby II at SI All-American.

After compiling several months worth of data in addition to cycling back for a closer look at the 2019 football season, SI All-American has put pen to paper at each position group.

As we work towards the preseason SI99 on Monday, ranking the top 99 college football prospects regardless of position, establishing a top 10 ahead of the 2020 season for each position group plays paramount. The offensive positions rankings have wrapped up and we kicked off defense in the trenches with the interior line prospects last week. The secondary is the final group to dissect.

Safety is one of the few traditional positions still working within the constructs of a defense similar to yesteryear, although in some cases the position has become more demanding with the growth of spread offense at the collegiate level. The position remains reserved for smart and rangy prospects with true balance in their ability to support the passing game as well as the running game from depth. 

Here are the best of the best within the safety projections ahead of the 2020 football season.

1. James Williams, Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage

6-foot-4, 214 pounds

Committed to Miami

Williams is not only the top safety on our board, he’s one the elite overall prospects in this class, regardless of position. Possessing rare size, Williams likely has a defensive-oriented head coach like Manny Diaz dreaming of the various packages and concepts he can design at Miami. We feel Williams can play a “monster-back” role, splitting snaps between single-high safety, split-safety, nickel, off-ball linebacker and even edge. He has good eye discipline and anticipation in zone concepts, along with plus ball skills. Williams also has savvy and good timing as a blitzer to offer the Hurricanes a player to use in 3rd-level pressure packages. While Williams likely will want to begin his career as a true cornerback, and it’s not out of the question, he could become a star in a featured monster-back role.

2. David Daniel, Woodstock (Ga.)

6-foot-2, 185 pounds

Committed to Georgia

Range, ball skills, versatility -- it all fits with the future Georgia Bulldog. Daniel is as comfortable running the alley and making a play with pop as he is retreating and tracking the football through the third level with urgency and purpose. He comes off the hash at 45 degrees more efficiently than one would expect at 6-foot-2 or better with the fluidity to gear down and cut up the grass in screaming downhill as needed. Having grown since his junior season based on offseason evaluations, Daniel could make the case for strongest floor among safety projections nationally. With the savvy and quickness to play as a sub defender or in the box, we don't expect to see him waiting very long to see the field even on a talent rich roster like the one Kirby Smart has assembled in Athens.

3. Terrion Arnold, Tallahassee (Fla.) St. John Paul II

6-foot-2, 187 pounds

Considering Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, LSU, Auburn, Miami and Georgia Tech.

The more you dig into Arnold's athletic profile, and not just on the football field, the more intrigued one becomes as an evaluator. The long and wiry prospect has turned heads as a vertical wide receiver, savvy run-after-catch returner and of course as a balanced safety capable of laying some lumber in addition to playing the apex at an ideal rate. Mix in legitimate bounce as an above-the-rim basketball player and you see why he's risen up just about everybody's board in the last 12 months. As a safety, Arnold flashes instincts and a dynamic impact at the catch point with true lower-body explosion on display. The raw traits for a game-breaking talent exist and it's only a matter of time before singular position focus leads to considerable gains in the polish department.  

4. Ahmari Harvey, Tallahassee (Fla.) Florida State University

5-foot-11, 175 pounds

Committed to Auburn

There may be no defensive back in the country with better range ball skills than Harvey. He projects as a classic single-high safety who can close off the middle of the field in cover-1 and cover-3 concepts as an apex-player. Harvey can also work as a boundary safety in split-shell alignments and be spun to the post pre or post-snap. What he lacks in size, he compensates with range, anticipation and leap timing to arrive at catch-points with the intentions of a receiver. The Florida native is the type of safety who allows cornerbacks to take more chances and play with more confidence by knowing he’s up top as their safety net. We expect high-end ball production from Harvey at the college level.

5. Corey Collier, Miami (Fla.) Palmetto Senior

6-foot-2, 170 pounds

Committed to Florida

Collier is another safety talent who exceeds in the classic asks of the position, with true last-line-of-defense game both in between the ears and from a physical standpoint. With an extremely high floor given length, range and run support consistency and pop along the way, the Florida Gator commitment plays the game with true balance and flashes impact, turnover-educing plays along the way. His athleticism won’t jump off the page but he compensates with incredible savvy, ball skills and sheer play-making ability that gets defenses off the field on third down. Collier, who has strong samples of man-coverage ability on the outside, projects as a signal-calling deep safety with the advanced technique to hold up in man coverage as needed.

6. Derrick Davis, Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway

6-foot-1, 195 pounds

Considering Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, Notre Dame, USC, Michigan State and Miami, among others.

Davis, another prospect with two-way experience as an offensive playmaker, has the traits to develop into a very good starting college back-end defender. He has enough instincts and ball skills to go along with play speed, range and toughness in the box to play both free safety and strong safety, while also having the size to potentially even contribute as a linebacker on sub-packages. Great vision on display from his experience as a running back can reinforce his sub package value in the box and beyond. As he continues developing his man coverage skills and consistent tackling technique in space, Davis has a chance to become a core contributor to a collegiate defense.

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7. J.D. Coffey, Kennedale (Texas) High

6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Committed to Texas

Coffey is an uber-physical safety who thumps like a train at collision points. He’s a patrolman in the seams who can do a myriad of things on the back-end. Coffey can work as a split-safety and pick up crossers and deep overs, among other routes by slots and tight ends, as well as be spun to the post as the apex-defender up top and play with range or down as the robber. He is willing to challenge the run from depth, possessing mesh-point vision, toughness to run the alley and the ability to get a proper fit. As he adds mass and bulk to his frame, Coffey could even play some snaps as a nickel or dime linebacker, if need be at Texas.

8. Nyland Green, Covington (Ga.) Newton

6-foot-3, 185 pounds

Considering Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and others

Outside of SIAA's top safety, James Williams and/or No. 3 Terrion Arnold, the height/weight/speed department is dominated by Green like few others nationally. Recent in-person evaluations suggests he could actually be in the 6-foot-4 range with one of the best combinations of linear speed and ball skills many wide receiver projections in this class would be blessed to have. Also unique in his cornerback experience compared to just about every safety projection in the country, Green has an added value of true base man coverage skill to match up with today's towering pass catchers. The safety projection on our end is, well, about safety. The Peach State prospect operates best vertically as well as at the high point, more suitable for zone cornerbacks or free range safeties at this stage of his development. There aren't many defenders we'd like to take a closer look at in 2020 than the SEC and ACC target. 

9. Omar 'OJ' Burroughs, Jr., Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy

5-foot-10, 165 pounds

Committed to Kansas

While he lacks great size, Burroughs simply has exceptional ball-production from the safety position. He led the state of Florida in interceptions as a sophomore with 10, and followed that up with a 4-interception game as a junior versus powerhouse Miami (Fla.) Northwestern. Burroughs can sit on top of coverage as a lone-high defender, be patient in his mental processing of route combinations and use quickness and proper angles to get out of transition to undercut routes or challenge catch-points with good timing. Burroughs should definitely help increase the Jayhawks’ defense ability to create turnovers.

10. Hunter Wohler, Muskego (Wis.) High

6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Committed to Wisconsin

Wohler is an active safety prospect whom we feel can play several roles at Wisconsin. Aside from working as a split-safety in 2-shell looks, he can also work as a rover, big nickel or off-ball linebacker. He’s comfortable in the box working as a 7th or 8th defender to fit the run, and he can thump in alleys. Wohler has more than enough play speed to run with Big Ten tight ends and carry them in the seams, plus he can match up with running backs in coverage with solid short-area quickness and also be used as a green-dog player to supplement the pass-rush after the snap. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a former safety himself, will surely have fun with Wohler in Madison.

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John Garcia, Jr. contributed to this feature.


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