SI All-American Watch List: Safety Prospects

Breaking down the top safety projections in the college football recruiting class of 2022
Author:
Publish date:

As the 2021 football season draws near, SI All-American continues to evaluate the nation's top prospects at every position for the college football recruiting class of 2022. The first wave of the evaluations are the 'Watch List' selections, also known as SI All-American candidates, to be released throughout the month of July.

It precedes the SI99 rankings, our preseason mark of America's top college football prospects regardless of position, to be released the first week of August.

Naturally, the quarterback watch list was up first, rolled out in several releases two weeks ago. Last week we moved to skill positions, beginning with a pair of cornerback releases ahead of the nickel defensive back watch list. To cap the week, the flip side is considered in a look at the nation's most impressive wide receiver projections. The top 10 wide receivers were released on Friday and slot receivers debuted Monday.

Edge rushers capped last week's releases, including the first batch released Thursday ahead of the top 10 reveal Friday. After a step back on offense at running back Tuesday, the interior defensive line took center stage Wednesday. Friday, we flipped back to the offensive side of the ball with our tackle rankings and broke down the interior prospects soon after.

The final positions are upon us and tight ends were atop the discussion this week before linebacker took center stage. 

We now wrap up with the safety position. 

1. Kamari Wilson

Vitals: 6'1", 195 pounds
School: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy
Recruiting: Considering Georgia, Florida, Florida State, LSU, others

An explosive, physical enforcer who flashes against the run and the pass, Wilson has throwback strong safety traits with the athleticism to challenge for a versatile role. He is among the most comfortable in the class running the alley and finishing with force. The coverage instincts are strong in both reaction time, redirection and breaking downhill on the ball or ball carrier. Wilson may have been the best player on a star-studded IMG Academy defense in 2020, flashing the range and sideline to sideline ability to match his confidence. 

2. Xavier Nwakpa

Vitals: 6'2", 200 pounds
School: Altoona (Iowa) Southeast Polk
Recruiting: Considering Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, others

A two-way talent out of Iowa, don't allow that to skew the perception of a truly balanced safety talent. Nwakpa screams downhill with head-turning drive and pop at the contact point, but he also shows range and grace against the pass with supreme ball skills and raw ability to make a play. He is comfortable working sideline to sideline, with some of the best space tackling samples in the class, and has better linear speed than his big frame would suggest. Nwakpa plays under control in all facets and takes good risks versus the run and pass relative to his instincts and awareness. 

3. Keon Sabb

Vitals: 6'2", 200 pounds
School: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy
Recruiting: Committed to Clemson

There is some classic safety at play within Sabb's game, from strong downhill principles to easy transitions, wide range and ball skills. A two-way talent before making his way to IMG Academy, he is an effortless playmaker with a balanced game, including good speed, physicality and comfort working towards the football in flight. He possesses strong footwork, some finishing ability and toughness regardless of alignment. Experience at cornerback, with smooth technique and twitch, may allow him to be moved around throughout the Clemson secondary scheme. 

4. Zion Branch

Vitals: 6'3", 195 pounds
School: Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
Recruiting: Considering USC, Ohio State, Clemson, others

Branch may be the most versatile safety on the list from a skill set perspective, where the imagination of seeing him working deep, in the box and even singled up in man coverage on an island isn't a stretch. There are twitchy, short-area explosion samples littered in his tape when coming downhill and he works comfortable in the underneath zones against both the run and the pass. Branch's underclassman tape reveals a smooth backpedal, the ability to redirect without much wasted movement and ball skills worthy of high praise.   

5. Jacoby Matthews

Vitals: 6'2", 205 pounds
School: Ponchatoula (La.) High 
Recruiting: Considering LSU, Texas A&M, others

A multi-sport standout with basketball experience and effectiveness, Matthews has a combination of size and athleticism to fit the modern safety space. Also an offensive weapon with quarterback work as a dual-threat, his vision, instincts and open field athleticism translates to the back end as well. Filled out and muscular with room to add even more weight, Matthews has strong ball skills and can play the high point to combat bigger targets. The one-time LSU commitment has smooth movement skill and flashes good hips and quickness in breaking on the football. He could build up to become a linebacker in a modern sense, but his speed on that bigger frame is plenty adequate.

6. Bryce Anderson

Vitals: 6', 200 pounds
School: Beaumont (Texas) West Brook
Recruiting: Considering Texas and Texas A&M 

Another two-way talent on the list, Anderson may be the fastest at the safety position as well with 100-meter dash times sub 10.5 seconds registered in 2021. The torque he runs with appears effortless on tape, too, an invaluable strength for any secondary projection. The quarterback experience will aid a full transition to the safety spot, complete with a long stride that will make up for experienced-based technical aspects not yet attached to his name at safety. Anderson has a strong football IQ and the physical traits to make this ranking look way too low down the line. 

7. Sione Hala

Vitals: 6'2", 200 pounds
School: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Recruiting: Committed to Boston College

Hala may be Boston College's top verbal commitment to date in the 2022 cycle. The safety projection plays in the top high school league in America, out in the Los Angeles area, making plays against the pass and the run with effectiveness. He is smooth in his back pedal, can come off of the line and transition down hill to make plays with authority. Hala is a big body with the potential to play in the box or even rush the passer on occasion, so expect him all over the field in the ACC.

8. Bryan Allen

Vitals: 6', 185 pounds
School: Aledo (Texas) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Texas

Allen has a strong natural feel for the game while playing against some of the best competition in the Lone Star State. His instincts are built for the pass-first nature of the modern game, in that he tracks the football well and has plus range. A rock solid run supporter with good angles and tackling technique, there is also a control in all elements of his game, something that could lead to a nickel type role earlier in his collegiate career. 

9. Sherrod Covil 

Vitals: 6', 285 pounds
School: Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith
Recruiting: Committed to Clemson

Clemson commitment Covil ramped it back up this spring, just before picking the Tigers, and he impressed. The in-state talent plays the alley like you draw it up, with some enforcer pop upon contact on a low plane. There is some finesse in his game, too, particularly in coming off the hash at 45 degrees or downhill with efficient transition fluidity to boot. Throw in plus ball skills and to the surprise of few, the Tigers have a good secondary prospect on their hands.

10. Jake Pope

Vitals: 6'5", 210 pounds
School: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy
Recruiting: Considering Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama

Pope is one of Georgia's fastest secondary prospects and he's got two-way ability and ball skills on top of the wheels. He gets to top speed so quickly to make up for technical aspects of the game yet to be mastered, and he can come out of his breaks with similar force. He plays with a confidence in all three phases and is at his best seemingly when contested by a blocker, bigger-bodied receiver on in the alley against a ball carrier. 

Best of the Rest

* Taylor Groves is a do-it-all athlete for his prep program in Tennessee, seeing successful time as a long running back and downhill safety. His stride covers big ground on both sides of the ball, of course translating well to a prospect tasked to roam the middle of the field. At 6'3" the Ole Miss commitment of course plays the football well, but his instincts in all three phases should play intriguing when projecting to the SEC West. 

* Trejon Williams comes out of the state of Oregon with a balanced game, showing the ability to come off the hash with purpose to make plays throughout the third level. He works as a wide receiver as perhaps the top athlete on his team, showing a good combination of size and straight-line speed to pair with ball skills. Williams' physicality in short windows, from a low plane to attacking the football, helps validate a solid floor. 

* Christian Driver isn't a wide receiver projection like his father was, but it's hard not to think of dad's game when watching the Penn State commitment at work. Not only is he about the same size as Donald, but the toughness shines through on tape. Driver does get some pass catcher work in but he really flashes on defense with his high football IQ, transition out of his pedal and of course ball skills. 

* Myles Rowser makes plays in the box and beyond as the captain of his defense. He is quick to commit and has a motor to the football we often talk about with front seven prospects. Good linear speed and a patience before diagnosing his best angle to the play make for a strong zone defender versus the pass and run alike for the Arkansas commitment.