the lookout list: S
By Simon Carroll
In his final lookout list before the 2019 season begins, Si analyses the safety position and finds ten names to keep an eye out for this year:
Grant Delpit, LSU Tigers
Okay. Let’s start how we mean to go on. When it comes to the sheer volume of playmaking safeties in college football this season, Grant Delpit is the gold standard. Relocated to Houston due to Hurricane Katrina, Delpit returned to his hometown state to play for the Tigers in 2017. In two years in Baton Rouge he has started every game, recording 134 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 6 picks and 1 forced fumble. Compare those numbers to anyone else taking the field in 2019 and they just don’t come close; Grant Delpit is a production machine.
Heading into his junior year, expectation levels are high. Delpit’s development has been off the charts and if he continues the pattern he’ll be one of those safeties that quarterbacks fear. His all-round game leaves very little weaknesses for oppositions to exploit. He’s so revered at LSU that they have given him the honour of wearing the famous number seven jersey next year (for those watching out for him on tape he used to wear number nine). He has some work to do on his tackling – PFF credited him with 16 missed tackles in 2018. But not many players can dominate the field like Delpit can. He’s the number one safety in college and it’s not even close.
Caden Sterns, Texas Longhorns
It’s about time a Longhorn made one of these lookout lists. Talk about leaving it late! If Delpit is the best safety in college football, then maybe Caden Sterns has the most potential. As just a true freshman last year Sterns became a leader on this Texas defense. 62 tackles and 4 interceptions in one season are elite numbers – there simply hasn’t been a learning curve for Sterns in Austin. He’s a ball-hawking centre-fielder who has shown the potential to come down into the box but is truly at his best as a single-high safety.
Texas’ defense, and it’s secondary in particular, has struggled since Tom Herman came to town. But Sterns looks set to change that. Usually the biggest growth in a player’s game is seen between their first and second seasons on the field. If this applies to Sterns then the Big 12 better watch out. With the Longhorns having big ambitions at a conference title and a possible run at the playoffs they’ll be relying on Sterns to take the next step in 2019.
Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
If you have read Joshua Edward’s article on the service academies, you will know we are fond of Army, Navy and Air Force. And we were so close to having one of their football players on our lookout lists! Born in Hawaii, Alohi Gilman’s nomadic early life affected his recruitment and he committed to Navy. As a freshman he turned heads in Annapolis with 76 tackles, and decided to move on from the Midshipmen and focus on a potential pro career instead of signing his military contract. He entered the transfer portal and Notre Dame called. In the clip below he reminisces on his time at Navy and their epic 28-27 victory over his new team:
Gilman sat out his sophomore year but absolutely exploded onto the scene last year, recording 94 tackles (not a typo) 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. Gilman’s game, as you’d expect from a former Navy enrollee, is centred around his high football IQ and ability to diagnose everything in font of him. He’s a do-it-all safety who can line up anywhere – PFF gave him 90+ grades in all three major categories of run defense, coverage and tackling. Expect him to transform more into a box safety as he develops his game for the NFL.
JR Reed, Georgia Bulldogs
As a three-star recruit coming out of Texas, JR Reed has fought to have a prolific college career. He received just four division 1 scholarship offers and eventually signed for Tulsa. After starting every game for the Golden Hurricanes as a freshman, the big schools began to realise they had overlooked his blatant football talent. Reed transferred to Georgia and has been a fixture in the Bulldogs talented secondary for the last two years.
Reed is a productive centre-fielder who is competitive and loves to hit. He enjoys coming down into the box and blitzes with a relish that you can’t help but admire. Much like Delpit he has some work to do on his tackling – since he got to Georgia he has whiffed on 30 tackles out of a potential 167. That’s a staggering 18%. Heading into his final year he’ll want to corral the urge for a huge hit and wrap up better.
Xavier McKinney, Alabama Crimson Tide
Another lookout list, another member of the Crimson Tide. The depth of this roster is phenomenal – if anybody suggests Alabama aren’t back in the college football playoffs they need to be put in the concussion protocol. Xavier McKinney is a safety that, on any other team, would be getting a lot more attention. Playing in a hybrid slot/safety role alongside Shyheim Carter, McKinney played a whopping 924 snaps in 2018, recording 63 total tackles.
McKinney can be used in a multitude of different ways. His coverage skills are exemplary – when he comes into man coverage he gives the receiver no room to breathe. He’s just as proficient in the run game, where according to PFF he tied for 4th in the nation with 24 stops. I wouldn’t call McKinney a ‘swiss-army knife’ just yet – he’s very reliable but maybe not elite at anyone thing. I’d compare him to James Milner in soccer, an underrated asset to a team who can be trusted to complete any task asked of him.
Andre Cisco, Syracuse Orange
The turnaround at Syracuse under Dino Babers is remarkable. The only team to challenge Clemson in the ACC last year, The Orange look set for another strong season in 2019. Much of that is due to their strong defense, and in their secondary Andre Cisco is primed for a breakout year. Playing every game as a true freshman, Cisco racked up 60 tackles and 7 interceptions. Those 7 picks led the nation. As a freshman! Cisco earned All-America honours and was named the ACC defensive rookie of the year. And the best thing is he’s only just getting started. Watch the clip below and focus on the first and last interceptions. Note how Cisco effortlessly jumps the route, coming underneath to snag the ball in front of the receiver:
The truth is that we simply don’t know how much better Cisco can get. If he maintains this level all the way through his college career he’ll be considered one of the top safeties heading into the NFL. That’s his floor. If he can take his game up a notch each of the next two years, we could be looking at a generational talent. I cannot wait to watch this guy this season.
Richie Grant, UCF Knights
No doubt down to his elite speed, Richie Grant has been utilised predominantly as a deep safety for UCF in his first two years. And despite the success that the Knights have had recently, their suspect defense has kept Grant busy – he jumped from 32 tackles as a freshman to 108 tackles as a sophomore. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s too many. What this extra workload has done is help Grant become a better football player – his overall grade shot up from 64.9 to 89.7 in the space of twelve months.
Grant is exciting to watch because of how quickly he flies around the field and his playmaking ability once he gets to the ball. He’s a very savvy safety, quick to process misdirection and adjust accordingly. And as well as his speed he also has the quickness in and out of his breaks to attack the ball. He can get overexcited in pursuit sometimes, taking poor angles and leaving the cutback open for the ball carrier. But in this talented secondary we should see another productive year from Grant in Orlando.
Jordan Fuller, Ohio State Buckeyes
There’s always that one defensive back who likes to compete with guys twice his size, match their physicality with aggression and a sheer determination to compete on every play. Well Jordan Fuller is that guy – like a Terrier up against a Doberman he has no problem with going toe to toe with the big boys in the Big Ten. He’s been doing it for three years at Ohio State and as a starter for the last two, recording 143 tackles. At 6’2” and 205lbs he’s not small for a Safety, but you don’t often see match up opposite a Tight End. Whilst this is probably an egregious targeting call, here’s an example of Fuller not being afraid to take on a bigger opponent:
Fuller’s aggressive nature translates well to him playing more of a strong safety role, in and around the line of scrimmage and making plays. That being said, he has proven to be more than capable in pass coverage and has shown he can be sticky when in man. Playing as a single-high safety isn’t really his game, but Fuller continues to set the tone and play effective football for the Buckeyes. He’ll make sure the opponents are aware of his presence this season.
Greg Eisworth, Iowa State Cyclones
After bouncing around various levels of college football, Greg Eisworth seems to have found a home in Ames. Eisworth was a three-star prospect who chose to go to Ole Miss back in 2016, but things didn’t go right and he left after his first Christmas. From there he found his way to Trintiy Valley Community College in Texas and recorded 47 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. That was more than enough to get noticed by D1 schools once more, and Eisworth enrolled at Iowa State ready for 2018.
And what a way to re-introduce yourself to the FBS – Eisworth lit up the stats sheets with 87 tackles in his first year as a Cyclone. With those numbers you won’t be surprised to learn that he just loves to tackle, and routinely comes down to make plays in the backfield. He absolutely tortured Will Grier when they played West Virginia last season. He can still get lost a little in coverage, showing there’s plenty of strides to be made. But with this defense expected to be one of the best in the Big 12 Eisworth is in the perfect situation to make more plays in 2019.
K'Von Wallace, Clemson Tigers
As mentioned in my linebacker lookout list, the growth of the hybrid linebacker/safety has grown in recent years. Football teams at all levels are looking for that magic blend of strength and athelticism that allows them to shape-shift effortlessly when shown different formations and looks from an offense. Well K’Von Wallace is exactly that – a hard-hitting safety who is 210lbs of pure power with the speed to match. He operates solely in the box, loitering like an extra linebacker but with the quickness to get out and about if necessary.
Running backs have learnt to avoid Wallace for fear of being driven into the dirt. He manhandles blocks out of his way to get to the ball carrier, and once he’s there he might just be the surest tackler on all of this list. In fact PFF credits him with just four missed tackles in his career, against 84 tackles made. His quickness allows him to drop into coverage if necessary but don’t expect him to play free – he’s much more adept at locating the ball when it’s on the ground rather than in the air. Watching Wallace lets you reminisce of smashmouth football.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.