2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 24: Budda Baker, S, Washington
What you need to know: Baker’s given name is Bishard, but he has gone by “Budda” since childhood. He joined LSU’s Jamal Adams on the AP All-America second team for 2016, although Sports Illustrated handed Baker a first-team nod. Baker also was first-team All-Pac-12, giving him back-to-back appearances on that roster. A starter from his true freshman season on, Baker has been in the lineup for 40 of a possible 41 games since 2014—he sat out a ’15 contest against Cal with an ankle injury. Baker led the Huskies with 71 tackles last season, including 9.5 for loss. His career totals: 199 tackles (13.0 for loss), 4.0 sacks, five interceptions and 18 pass breakups. He was a track superstar in high school, winning the Washington state title in the 100 and 200 meters.
Strengths: On the first defensive snap of Washington’s playoff game against Alabama, Baker lined up in coverage over the slot, closed at the snap to take away a potential swing pass out of the backfield, then turned and dropped 20 yards to break up (and nearly intercept) a pass intended for O.J. Howard.
That, in a nutshell, is what Baker can offer. He is a rangy, instinctive defender who can operate pulled up close to the line but also has the speed to cover a ton of ground. His size (5' 9", 195 pounds) falls in the “weaknesses” category, but it didn’t stop Baker from being a dynamic playmaker at Washington.
“God made me this height and all I can say is watch the film,” Baker said. “We always talk about how the film will set you free, so no matter how tall you are, how big you are, if you watch the film everything will take care of itself.”
The near-INT of Alabama’s Jalen Hurts happened, in large part, because Baker reads plays—all plays, not just passes—like an NFL-ready safety. He noticed Hurts’s eyes on that snap and pulled off his initial assignment to fall back on Howard. The same smarts are on display when Baker plays the run, too. While he may overpursue on occasion, he rarely steps into the wrong gap while seeking out a tackle. Baker holds his responsibilities and finds the football.
His athleticism (4.45 40-yard dash, 6.76-second three-cone) also allowed the Huskies to employ him as a blitzer. Up the middle, his only real chance is to perfectly time those rushes, but he has the speed off the edge to cause significant headaches.
Baker’s tackling attempts are well-timed and efficient. He knows he can’t win by going high, so he does well on most occasions to get low and take out a ballcarrier’s feet.
Weaknesses: Even though Baker plays bigger than he stands, there is no avoiding the size conversation. If he is going to drop down to play in man coverage, it likely will have to be against smaller slot receivers—tight ends and more physical slot threats will make life difficult for him. Baker has the speed to work around blocks, but the same lack of bulk comes through when he cannot create those free lanes to the ball.
His tackling doesn’t qualify as a huge issue because of how many plays he does finish, but backs that see him coming downhill can reroute and catch him leaning.
NFL player comparison: Tyrann Mathieu