This draft class is racking up a bunch of safety/nickel hybrid options, which is perfect timing for the Detroit Lions’ needs.
The 2023 Combine NFL is underway and on Friday the defensive backs had their on-field drills televised. As is tradition, one group started by running the 40-yard sprint and then moved on to positional drills, while another group performed agility drills and measured jumps.
Let’s take a close look at the safeties that stood out.
There were plenty of pure safeties that helped each other out in this group, but instead of highlighting all of the pure safeties, I kept the focus on the players I felt would best meet the needs of the Lions. especially ones that might fill a Detroit need in the slot.
Jartavius ”Quan” Martin, Illinois, 5-foot-11, 194
4.45/1.47 (40/10 yard dash), 44 inches (vertical jump), 11 foot 1 (wide jump)
In our preview of safeties, I made sure to note that Martin was one of “my guys” because I felt he wasn’t getting enough attention and expected him to show up very well at the Combine. Indeed, he exceeded my projections and he is surely on many radars now.
With a sturdy frame and tree trunks for the thighs, Martin has propelled this frame in all directions. His 4.5-under 40-yard dash was impressive, but his 1.47-second 10-yard yardage was the fastest of any defensive player in this draft class. His jumps were even more impressive with his vertical leap also the highest among any defensive player – the fifth highest ever recorded in Combine history – and his wide jump recorded as the fourth highest.
In the field drills, Martin was an easy mover, showing smooth transitions and a remarkable ability to tune his upper body regardless of his choppy lower base. This skill allows him to run at full speed while adapting his upper body to the traffic around him, be it a player or the ball. Martin showed excellent ball placement, a sharp high when needed, and had soft, reliable hands.
Overall, his powerful legs moved like pistons, but he kept full control of his body at all times. The “W-drill” – my pick for the best predictor of success in the slot – was a walk in the park.
In my opinion, the top three slot security hybrids in this class are Brian Branch, Martin, and…
Jamie Robinson, state of florida5 feet 10 1/2, 191
4.59 (40), 33.5 inches (vertical), 9 feet 8 inches (wide)
Robinson has a compact frame and is as quick as any defensive back in this class. His test numbers were average, and at times during drills he almost looked like he was focusing too much on being technically strong instead of staying loose, which led to some stiffness that probably played into these scores.
When Robinson was loose, he displayed incredibly fast feet, picking them up and down rapidly like a typewriter slashing its way across the page. His focus on technique helped him be efficient in the drills, but when he relaxed, his natural skills took over. One of the best examples of this was in the figure eight exercises towards the end of field workouts, when he moved with silky acceleration, accelerating, decelerating and accelerating again at an impressive pace.
Sydney Brown, Ill. (5-foot-10, 211, 4.48) looks like a muscular running back – which shouldn’t be a surprise given that’s what his twin brother is – and his power was evident in his movement during drills. He was both quick and fast, but the strength he generated in his movements is remarkable.
Christopher Smith, Georgia (5ft 10 1/2, 192, 4.62) is another slot security hybrid to watch out for in the draft. His transitions during drills seemed easy, and as the drills progressed, he looked more fluid and his hands got better.
Ji’Ayir Brown, Pennsylvania State (5 feet 11 1/2, 203, 4.65) is known to be a ballhawk and his skills have been on display in Indianapolis. His ability to track the ball through the air – even adjusting late – is on a different level than the rest of the safeties in this class. He drifted a bit on the fall, but he had quick feet and good hands.
Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M (6ft 2in, 198, 4.52) is tall and long, and its frame made many exercises easy. He was a fluid glider on the pitch and he swallowed the ball when it came within reach. He struggled with some of the faster agility drills, but it’s not really his game, and it was expected to be something difficult.
Chamari Conner, Virginia Tech (6ft 0.202, 4.51) improved his stock as much as anyone on my dash going into this combine. While I thought he had some defensive range, I was extremely impressed with what I saw and he delivered a “go back and watch the tape” performance. Smooth movements, easy coaster pedaling, silky tracking ability, ball placement and soft hands were all notes I noted on Conner during drills.