Scouting Combine Safeties: Delpit Delivers
Part 1 of our three-part look at the 26 safeties includes LSU’s Grant Delpit, Utah’s top tandem and an elite athlete. (Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.)
Julian Blackmon, Utah (6-1, 204): Blackmon went from two-time all-Pac-12 cornerback as a sophomore and junior to an All-American safety as a senior. Despite missing two games, he tied for the conference lead with four interceptions. He added 60 tackles (four for losses and 1.5 sacks), four breakups (eight total passes defensed) and two forced fumbles. In four seasons, he finished with nine interceptions and 29 passes defensed.
“I love it,” Blackmon told the Salt Lake Tribune of the position change. “It honestly feels like something that I am natural at. … Once I really understand it, that's when I get comfortable and start to perfect it. I'm not even close to perfect yet, but the more I'm getting comfortable, I'll be really good at the position.” He was a star basketball player in high school but understood the realities of being a 6-foot-1 guard. So, he focused on football – and then the move to safety. “Every summer we have a break and that was a time for me to get better and understand what I needed to do to get better in my game,” he told Deseret.com. “I needed to get faster so I got faster, stronger so I got stronger and to be a safety I needed to get heavier, so I got heavier. It’s been comfortable, knowing that I put on the right weight.” Utah was his only FBS offer. “In the recruiting process it was a little bit frustrating because I knew I was as good as anybody else, but not getting the chance because I’m from Utah or whatever that little cliché is,” Blackmon told 247 Sports. “At the same time it was really good for me just because it made me want to prove everybody wrong and still today I want to prove everybody wrong cuz there is still going to be somebody hating.” An older brother, Jarriesse, played basketball at UC Santa Barbara. At Layton (Utah) High School, he was deemed a three-star receiver. The brothers helped lead the team to a state basketball title. "I followed in his footsteps," Blackmon told Athletes for God. "Just not having him, I was kind of lost. I didn't know what to do with myself, because at the time I hadn't found who I really was."
Antoine Brooks Jr., Maryland (5-11, 215): Brooks was a three-time all-Big Ten selection, including a second-team choice as a senior. He led the Terps with 87 tackles and was second with 8.5 tackles for losses. In the secondary, he had one interception and five breakups for six total passes defensed. In his final three years, he had four interceptions and 27.5 TFLs.
At DuVal High School, the native of Lanham, Md., averaged 182 rushing yards per game as a senior quarterback. However, he suffered a broken wrist and compound leg fracture while attempting to pass. He almost quit the game. “Dad was ready for him to give it up,” Brooks Sr. told the Baltimore Sun. “He told me, ‘I don’t want to play football no more’ and I was like, ‘OK, good, yes!’ By the time we got to the hospital, he told me he just wanted to play defense. I knew it changed on the ride to the hospital, just that quick.” His hard-hitting style started as a 5-year-old. "When he hit on someone, he'd say to me, 'Dad, they be grunting. Am I hurting them?'" Antoine Brooks Sr. told the Sun. Shortly after the death of teammate Jordan McNair, Brooks had the game-clinching interception to upset Texas.
Terrell Burgess, Utah (6-0, 198): A first-time starter as a senior, Burgess was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team. He was third on the team with 81 tackles (7.5 for losses, one-half sack). He added one interception and five breakups for six passes defensed. As a freshman, he played defense in three games and caught one pass as a receiver.
He arrived at Utah as a corner, moved to receiver, then back to corner and finally to safety. “It’s a blessing and a curse, to be honest, because you can play any position so you don’t have to start,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s good, but sometimes, I wish I could just be at one position.” A brother, Isiah Hennie, was a two-time honorable mention all-Big Sky receiver at Sacramento State. “I would win that matchup,” he told Whole Nine Sports. “I think over the years he has influenced me a lot. I started playing football because he played and now, he has just helped me have a strong-willed mindset.” He was active in the community in spending time with local kids. “I think I’ve always been somewhat of a humanitarian,” Burgess told 247 Sports. “I always liked helping a different culture than my own so I think coming out here – upstairs would tell us when we had community service opportunities and I’d always try to find any way I can help in different aspects. Demari [Simpkins] met this teacher at this special-needs school at Truman Elementary and ever since then I’ve been involved in different special needs schools and classrooms.”
Shyheim Carter, Alabama (6-0, 191): Carter started 23 games in his career. As a senior, he had 43 tackles (2.5 for losses), one forced fumble, one interception and seven breakups for eight total passes defensed. The lone interception came in his finale against Michigan. He had three interceptions in his career. He played through a broken hand as a junior.
Coach Nick Saban appreciated Carter’s intelligence. “I think Shyheim Carter would fit in probably one of the top two or three players on the team from a knowledge standpoint,” Saban said via USA Today. “He can answer every question in a meeting about every position. He would be a great, great coach. I think that’s what creates a lot of diversity for him as a player, to be able to play multiple positions because he’s very smart and it means something to him. He’s spent a lot of time trying to learn this stuff. He prepares well for the games.” At Kentwood (La.) High School, the prep All-American threw for 2,443 yards, rushed for 1,648 yards and accumulated 30 total touchdowns as a senior. Before that, he impressed Vincent Sanders, a barber and mentor to many young athletes. “This kid used to jump the fence at Kentwood High School at night to go run routes by himself,” Sanders told Rivals. “How do you run routes by yourself? He just did it. No ball, just mimicking as if someone was out there with him. He just wanted it that bad.”
Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (6-3, 212): Chinn picked up honors all four seasons. He was an FCS Freshman all-America in 2016, second-team all-Missouri Valley as a sophomore, first-team all-MVC as a junior and consensus first-team All-American as a senior. During his final year, he had a career-high four interceptions. In four seasons, he tallied 243 tackles, 13 interceptions (at least three in every season), 31 passes defensed and six forced fumbles. Plus, he made the FCS Academic All-Star team with a 3.55 GPA.
Chinn was overlooked by recruiters as he played at Fishers (Ind.) High School. "When I ended up getting the offer from SIU it was my first scholarship offer. I called my mom and I was crying on the phone, getting that offer was everything to me," he told the Indy Star. "As the process went on there was no doubt I was going to come to SIU. They were the first school to offer me and give me a chance; after that there was no looking back." Newly minted Hall of Fame safety Steve Atwater is Chinn’s uncle. "I couldn't have imagined it was going as it's been going," Chinn told CBS Sports. "I always figured there could be some way to get some NFL opportunity when the time came. but you know the opportunity I have now at the Combine is definitely a lot higher than what others projected for me as a high school athlete.” Atwater wasn’t his favorite safety to watch, though. “Two in particular are former NFL safeties Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed,” he told SIUSalukis.com. “I loved the way Dawkins got to the ball and how he used his physicality. The way Ed Reed could read the quarterback and make a play on the ball was ridiculous as well.”
Rodney Clemons, SMU (6-0, 205): As a senior, Clemons recorded a team-leading four interceptions and added 78 tackles (three for losses), nine additional breakups (13 passes defensed), one forced fumble and one blocked kick. A four-year starter, his final numbers included 272 tackles, 11.5 for losses, seven interceptions, 34 total passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Amazingly, Clemons didn’t play football until his senior year at Katy Taylor High School in Katy, Texas. The team wasn’t good so Clemons didn’t play. Finally, coach Trey Herrmann persuaded him to join the team. "You could tell by the way he moved, he was very explosive in his hips," Herrmann told the Dallas News. "I knew right away that was a kid I wanted to be my safety.” He was a running back and receiver as a freshman but hurt his knee, then gave up the sport. “I went out there my senior year, got a few awards, accolades, and ended up getting a scholarship to SMU,” Clemons told the Katy Times. “I give a lot of credit to coach Trey Herrmann. I was skeptical at first about playing defense; I considered myself an offensive player. I like to score touchdowns. But he showed me I could have a future in the game playing defense.”
Brian Cole II, Mississippi State (6-2, 210): A meandering career led to Cole becoming a first-time starter and team captain as a senior. In 2019, he recorded 65 tackles, 7.5 tackles for losses, two sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and two additional breakups. Cole played receiver at Michigan as a true freshman in 2015 but was released from the team, emerged as a top safety recruit at East Mississippi Community College in 2016, redshirted at MSU in 2017 and played a handful of games in 2018 until a season-ending pectoral injury.
Cole grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and played 7-on-7 football in Detroit. He was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Michigan. “God has a plan, and it just wasn’t meant for me to be there,” Cole told the Clarion Ledger. “I’m from there. You know what I’m saying? Now, I’m 12 hours away from home versus an hour away. I have friends everywhere out there in Michigan. I was moving too fast. Now, I don’t move. I don’t know where to go. I’m out here in Mississippi. I don’t have anything to do, but grind.” The showers at EMCC provided a dark reality check. "We wanted to get back to where we wanted to be," Cole told the Commercial Dispatch. "From getting scholarship money, to different benefits, flying to games ... when you have that, you lose it, then it humbles you and makes you want to to get back to where you were at."
Kamren Curl*, Arkansas (6-2, 204): Curl finished second on the team with 76 tackles, including two sacks and four for losses, intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. Those were the first interceptions and TFLs of his career. His three-year tally included 175 tackles, two interceptions, 15 additional breakups and three forced fumbles.
He grew up playing quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back and linebacker as a kid. At Arkansas, he went from starting corner to starting safety. He missed the final game of his sophomore season for socializing with Mississippi State’s cheerleaders. He arrived on campus as a 187-pound cornerback and grew, both physically and mentally. “I feel like I’ve taken it on pretty good because I lead the guys,” Curl told Whole Hog Sports. “I try to lead the guys by example and vocally because they’re going to come to me and ask questions, so I have to be on top of my game. That’s helped me become a better player.”
Ashtyn Davis, California (6-1, 200): Davis was one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best player who began his career as a walk-on. He was second-team all-Pac-12 as a senior with 57 tackles, two interceptions, six total passes defensed and two forced fumbles. In four seasons that included 33 starts, he recorded 171 tackles, seven interceptions, 19 total passes defensed and three forced fumbles. He had a career average of 22.9 yards per kickoff return. He was the team’s special-teams MVP as a freshman and sophomore. He also was a member of Cal’s track team, finishing 14th nationally in the110 hurdles in 2018.
It was Davis’ track acumen that opened the doors for him to play football. Football was his first love but it was those blazing track and field times that opened eyes. “My dad said, ‘Just keep doing (track) and use it as a platform for where you want to go for football,’” Davis told DailyCal.org. “It was really hard to find a school that was going to let me pursue football as well. When I visited Cal, the track staff was totally fine with me doing that, so it was just the right fit.”
As a member of the track team, he sent numerous e-mails to the football team in hopes of getting a chance to try out for the team. “I thought I could compete at a Division I level. I thought I could do something big here,” he told SI.com. When the track and field team finally offered him a scholarship, it came with a caveat. His football days would be over. As he told the Athletic: “I knew that I would rather be a scout team player or a dummy and do what I do and I love every day, than be an all-American in track all the time.”
Grant Delpit, LSU* (6-3, 203): Delpit was a first-team All-American during each of his final two seasons. In 2018, he won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation’s best safety with an SEC-leading five interceptions along with nine additional breakups, five sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. In 2019, he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, though his production fell to two interceptions, seven additional breakups, two sacks and 4.5 TFLs.
Delpit lived in New Orleans until the family fled for Memphis and then Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He was 6 when the storm swamped the family home. “I thought we were going on vacation and I thought we were going right back,” LSU’s star safety said. “It ended up flooding the whole house,” he told the New York Post. “We didn’t really have flood insurance. One less bill to pay. We were in the east and it’s not a flood zone, so we didn’t really have nothing. We came back and there was nothing.” He was a bundle of energy and athletic phenom from an early age. “If you were getting tackled, you were getting all 130 pounds,” Rich McGuire, Delpit’s defensive coordinator at St. Thomas High School in Houston, told the Advocate. “He was never holding anything back. He knew his ability. That’s why he was aggressive.” At LSU, he wore the coveted No. 7 jersey. “He came up to me and wanted to wear No. 7 and deservedly so,” coach Ed Orgeron told Nola.com before the 2018 season. “I think he’s one of the best players in the country. He deserves No. 7. Great character, great family, I think he’s going to wear it well.” Before the 2018 season, he suffered a broken collarbone in the spring game. He was called “Baby Jamal” in homage to former LSU star safety Jamal Adams.
LET US INTRODUCE YOU TO THE CLASS OF 2020
Introducing the 26 Safeties
Introducing the 35 Cornerbacks
Introducing the 31 Linebackers
Introducing the 34 Edge Rushers
Introducing the 25 Defensive Linemen
Introducing the 20 Tight Ends
Introducing the 25 Offensive Tackles
Introducing the 17 Guards
Introducing the 10 Centers
Introducing the 55 Receivers
Introducing the 30 Running Backs
Introducing the 17 Quarterbacks