theScore’s 2017 draft prospect rankings are compiled by NFL editor Dan Wilkins. Check back every Monday and Friday leading up to draft week for a new positional breakdown of top talents and potential sleepers.

Top Talents

Rank Player School
1 Malik Hooker Ohio State
2 Jamal Adams LSU
3 Budda Baker Washington
4 Jabrill Peppers Michigan
5 Marcus Williams Utah

Malik Hooker


Hooker is an absolute game-changer on the back end. Making the jump to the NFL with an elite skill set in terms of instincts, range, and ball skills, the former Ohio State star is arguably the top defensive playmaker in the entire draft. Anything he leaves to be desired as a tackler is more than made up for with his ability to cover the deep centerfield and roam sideline to sideline in making plays on the ball. A hip injury that prevented him from pre-draft testing will make for an interesting factor, but there wasn’t much to question about the athleticism he showed on tape. Hooker racked up seven interceptions in his final season in Columbus, taking three of which back for touchdowns.

Jamal Adams


Strong safeties don’t typically generate top five hype heading into the draft, if for no other reason than the relative lack of positional value. Adams is just a different breed. His impact against the run and in underneath coverage should seamlessly translate to an in-the-box role at the next level. The LSU product also has the athleticism and instincts to cover the deep middle, though, giving him the versatility to be deployed in a number of different ways. Further solidifying his draft stock is the endless praise Adams receives for his leadership. All indications are that he has the makings of a true cornerstone defender.

Budda Baker


In the mold of Tyrann Mathieu, Baker is a versatile defensive back who can win all over the field. Much like the Arizona Cardinals star, Baker will face questions about whether his size will hold him back at the next level. But with high-level athleticism, instincts, and tackling ability, he’ll have every chance to be a dynamic player at the next level. Baker can play in the box, deep in the secondary, and cover the slot. In an ever-evolving NFL where five defensive back sets are becoming the norm, having a playmaker who can be moved to all of those spots, depending on the matchup, is invaluable. Baker is right on the tails of the consensus top-two safeties in this class.

Jabrill Peppers


It’d be easy to dismiss Peppers as a player who doesn’t really have a fit on the defensive side of the ball at the next level. He’s far too small to play linebacker and moving to a full-time safety role remains something of a projection. But perhaps we should actually be considering him as a player tailor-made for today’s game. His athleticism is, of course, undeniable. The explosiveness is evident in the way he finishes tackles, and the quickness shows up with his ability in space. Much like Baker, a team that brings him in with the intention of moving him around between safety and the slot should come away pleased with the result. Factor in the elite return skills, and Peppers could end up sneaking into the second half of the first round.

Marcus Williams


In a safety class filled with incredible athletes, Williams is right up there with the freakiest of them all. That profile was put on full display at the combine where, at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, the Utah standout posted a 4.56-second 40 time, a 6.85-second 3 cone, a 43.5-inch vertical, and a 129-inch broad jump. He’s not just a workout warrior, though. With the instincts and ball skills to complement that rangy athleticism, Williams is another high upside sideline-to-sideline playmaker on the back end. Recording 10 interceptions across his final two seasons at Utah demonstrated the type of impact he could have in the NFL.

Best of the rest

Rank Player School
6 Josh Jones NC State
7 Obi Melifonwu Connecticut
8 Marcus Maye Florida
9 Justin Evans Texas A&M
10 Tedric Thompson Colorado
  • Josh Jones is another top athlete who tested off the charts at the combine. That ability shows up with his fluid movements and coverage range, making him a logical fit as a deep center fielder. He also brings it as a downhill tackler, though, either adding to his value at that spot or versatility to contribute closer to the line of scrimmage. Either way, Jones should be locked in as a Day 2 pick.
  • Flying somewhat under the radar, perhaps because of the attention Florida’s star cornerbacks drew, Marcus Maye will be a steal if he ends up available in the middle rounds. Physicality and sound tackling ability, most notably, allows him to excel closer to the line of scrimmage. With a combination of athleticism and awareness in coverage, he also has the potential for a far more extensive and wide-ranging role.
  • Shortcomings in the run game will have Tedric Thompson poised almost exclusively for coverage duties in the NFL. As much as the limitation may end up hurting his draft stock, the passing game is the clear priority in this era, anyway. Be it as a sub-package player or starting free safety, Thompson’s range and playmaking ability – he tallied 7-of-13 career interceptions as a senior – will be a major factor on the back end.

Potential sleepers

Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville

Harvey-Clemons will be limited, and thus knocked down plenty of draft boards, due to a lack of speed. The position may be trending in the wrong direction from a value perspective, but there’s still room for box-only safeties in a number of defensive schemes. Harvey-Clemons is a big-bodied, physical presence that can make an impact in the running game and match up with tight ends in the red zone.

Dallas Lloyd, Stanford

Athleticism will be the knock on Lloyd, presumably taking him out of consideration for any sort of deep safety role in the NFL. At a time where offenses are continuously trending toward the spread, however, his coverage ability would remain valuable underneath. The potential as a key sub-package player and special teams contributor can give him value in the late rounds or as a priority free agent.

Prospect Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Guards/Centers
Interior defensive line
Edge defenders
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

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