The New Orleans Saints surprised some observers this offseason when they applied the franchise tag to free safety Marcus Williams. The move kept Williams off the open market and avoided a huge need for the team at that spot as they entered the offseason.
Williams was a second round pick by the Saints in the star-studded 2017 draft out of Utah. He has among the best ranges of any safety in the NFL and has intercepted 13 passes over his four years in the league. He’s led the team in interceptions each of the last three seasons and has broken up 30 career passes, along with forcing 2 fumbles.
Even with Williams under contract for 2021, safety is a position that the Saints could still address in the draft. Williams has not signed a long-term extension and could be a free agent at year's end. Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins will turn 34 before the end of the season and struggled with coverage responsibilities last year.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is an emerging star, but he’s best used in slot coverage and around the formation to take advantage of his versatility. P.J. Williams was re-signed, but has been inconsistent throughout his career. J.T. Gray was also brought back for his elite special teams skills.
The Saints are expected to address other needs with their early draft choices. However, there are a few safeties that could make an immediate contribution that will be available through the second and third rounds. Today's draft profile highlights one such prospect.
RICHIE GRANT, SAFETY (CENTRAL FLORIDA)
Pro Day 40m = 4.49
Pro Day Vertical Jump = 34.5”
Pro Day Broad Jump = 129”
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):
Tedric Thompson (Chiefs)
Lightly recruited coming out of Choctawhatchee High School in Florida, Grant stayed in-state with Central Florida. After redshirting his first year, he’d see action on nickel and dime packages in 2017. He contributed 32 tackles (one for loss), a fumble recovery, and two passes broken up for an undefeated UCF squad.
Stepping into a starting role in 2018, Grant led the Knights with 6 interceptions and 108 tackles while breaking up 3 passes, forcing 2 fumbles, and recovering another. His six picks led the conference, were 3rd most in the NCAA, and helped earn him 1st team All-American Conference honors. Grant was a repeat all-conference selection in 2019. He was second on the team in tackles and passes broken up, intercepting 1 throw (returning it for a touchdown), and forced 1 fumble.
Grant would be a three-time All-American Conference selection as a senior in 2020. He intercepted a team-high 3 passes and also led the Knights with 72 tackles, 3.5 for loss. He also broke up 5 passes, recorded a sack, and was responsible for 4 fumbles either forced or recovered. His UCF career concluded with nearly 300 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, 10 interceptions, 17 passes broken up, and 9 fumbles either forced or recovered.
A bit undersized for an in-the-box safety, Grant could have issues around the line of scrimmage against power-based attacks. He also struggled against bunch formations and overloaded multi receiver sets, leading to confusion that resulted in blown coverages.
Grant was fooled frequently by misdirection and lacks the recovery speed to make up ground once loosing a step. That also causes him to struggle to make a play along the sideline if he has a delayed read as a deep safety. Doesn't have a smooth change of direction when in man coverage and often gets beat with clever fakes or double moves.
Grant isn't a strong tackler in space. Often taking poor angles to a receiver or being frozen by elusive runners. His size is also a disadvantage against blockers inside the tackle box. Although he was a three year starter in an experienced secondary at UCF, Grant was viewed as allowing too many defensive breakdowns in coverage.
Capable of covering tight ends or providing deep support, Grant will add versatility to any secondary. He’s a fearless tackler in traffic who’s always looking to make a play in the backfield when near the line of scrimmage. He has a smooth backpedal off the line and a fluid transition into coverage responsibilities.
Grant has outstanding anticipation and diagnostic skills when off the ball. He recognizes trends from film study and as a game progresses, allowing him to make plays at key stages. His anticipation and ability to read quarterbacks extremely well gives him an early jump on throws.
Richie Grant's best fit is as a deep safety, but he’s capable of playing in either a single or double high scheme. He’s a natural playmaker with solid range because of terrific anticipation. Grant also has good enough athleticism to drop down and cover a tight end and 3rd or 4th receiver in sub-packages. He won't be drafted in the first round because of some inconsistencies in college, but will be the second or third safety off the board with the upside of a turnover creating starter.