JACKSONVILLE – Secondary is among the 2022 NFL Draft's more intriguing areas.
That's true because of multiple really good cornerbacks, but it's perhaps most true because of a player many consider one of the draft's best players. That's Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.
"This kid is pretty unique," NFL Media Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
Hamilton, widely considered the draft's top safety, is considered by some analysts perhaps the best overall player in the '22 draft. He is projected by some analysts as a Top 5 selection, with others projecting him somewhere between Selection Nos. 10-25 – with the wide range of possibilities as much about positional value than Hamilton's ability.
"There's a real debate going on around the league about just how high you take safeties," Jeremiah said.
Another factor in the Hamilton discussion: A 4.59-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and between a 4.7 and 4.74 at his Pro Day, with each time considered slow for the position.
"He's a good player," NFL/Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks said, adding that while the 40 time will "scare you a ton" also said Hamilton is "really active. He has great range – high [football] IQ and understands concepts. He plays faster than he tests."
Whereas some analysts and NFL personnel officials believe the positional importance of safety makes it difficult to take any player at the spot in the Top 5, that's not the case at corner. And this year's cornerback class features two players typically projected in the Top 10 – with Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner often projected in the Top 5 and Louisiana State cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. often projected a few spots later.
"There are good players all through the class," Brooks said of the corner group. "You can get guys throughout the draft. It's a mix of stars and standout performers. It's a good class."
Brooks on the '22 safety class:
“I would say it’s solid – not spectacular. There are a lot of guys who are traffic cops: communication skills and an understanding of the game. They may not have the tools some of the previous classes had, but you can get one.”
HANDICAPPING THE JAGUARS
This feels like a potential Day 3 area for the Jaguars, with development for the future and depth the priority – particularly at corner. The Jaguars last month signed cornerback Darious Williams as an unrestricted free agent, giving the team three starting-level players at the position: Williams and 2021 starters Tyson Campbell and Shaquill Griffin. That figures to be the '21 corner trio, with the question being which of the three will start and which will play nickel. Safety figures to be a similar story, with three players who started extensively last season – Andrew Wingard, Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins – returning. The Jaguars likely will select multiple players in the secondary in the coming days, with franchises typically selecting young players here for depth and special teams in most drafts.
PROJECTED POSSIBLE FIRST-ROUND CORNERBACKS
|Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner||Cincinnati|
|Derek Stingley Jr.||Louisiana State|
|Andrew Booth Jr.||Clemson|
PROJECTED POSSIBLE FIRST-ROUND SAFETIES
|Kyle Hamilton||Notre Dame|
|Jaquan Brisker||Penn State|
CHANCE JAGUARS TAKE A CORNERBACK IN ROUND 1
CHANCE JAGUARS TAKE A SAFETY IN ROUND 1
CBs ON THE JAGUARS ROSTER
Ss ON THE JAGUARS ROSTER
BROOKS BREAKS DOWN THE CLASS
The 2022 defensive back class is a solid group from top to bottom. Despite lacking a premier "lockdown" defender at the top of the board, the class features a handful of players with the traits and temperament to develop into high-end CB1s as pros. Gardner and Stingley flash star power between the lines and their five-star talents could help them become top 10 picks. Booth, McDuffie and Gordon are rock-solid players with the capacity to play in any scheme. McCreary is a bump-and-run specialist with the talent, technique and tenacity to win as a junkyard dog on the island. At safety, Hamilton is a rock star with linebacker-like size and cornerback-like ball skills. He is a hybrid box defender built in the mold of All-Pro safety Derwin James. Hill is a combination player with the skills to play in the deep middle or slot as a nickel/safety prospect. He is a Day 1 starter with a diverse game that could enable him to play as a utility man in a multi-faceted defense.
Houston's Marcus Jones is an undersized ballhawk with explosive playmaking ability. As a cornerback/returner with outstanding instincts, awareness and ball skills, Jones is a big play waiting to happen on the perimeter. Despite his 5-feet-8, 174-pound frame, Jones is a natural nickel cornerback who displays the quickness to shadow shifty slot receivers in space. With the Houston standout also showing a knack for fielding punts and taking them to the house (nine punt return touchdowns), Jones is one of the hidden gems on draft boards around the league.
Gardner is a blue-collar defender with a flashy and flamboyant name. Measuring 6-feet-3, 200 pounds with long arms and ballerina-like feet, the Cincinnati product snuffs out premier pass catchers on the island. Although he excels at playing "bump and run" on the corner, he has a deep toolbox that enables him to vary his techniques based on his opponent and situation. As a tough, gritty competitor with excellent tackling skills and a high football IQ, it is hard to find many holes in the game of a five-star talent who plays like it between the lines.