Talented Safeties Could Intrigue Titans in NFL Draft

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan's Jabrill Peppers spent a good portion of his media session here at the NFL Combine convincing reporters he's a safety. And a darn good one, he said.

He felt it was necessary, probably because his workout shirt read "24 LB" and he spent time with the linebackers in meetings, physicals and the bench press. After all, he played at linebacker at the end of his collegiate career.

"The bottom line is I'm a ball player and I'm a hell of a ball player,'' Peppers said. "And I intend to run fast, I intend to look smooth doing whatever it is I'm asked to do. And after a couple of interviews I think these coaches pretty much know what they're gonna get. I'm just gonna keep improving to the best of my ability, stay grounded, ignore all the outside noise, nothing else matters to me, besides what they think and besides the way I play."

Peppers, for the record, is viewed by most NFL teams as a safety. He's part of a draft class that's very talented at the position, with two potential Top 10 picks in LSU's Jamal Adams and Ohio State's Malik Hooker. Peppers, also considered a first-rounder, is quite a gem himself.

The Heisman Trophy finalist switched to linebacker to help his team last year, and has been praised for doing so. But at 5-10, 213 pounds, his game is best-suited for the safety position at the next level despite playing strong-side linebacker, safety and nickel back and even on offense during his collegiate career.

"I don't have a lot of tape at safety,'' Peppers said, "but I'm a pretty damn good safety."

Without question, it's a good year for the safety position in the NFL Draft.

Could it be a year when the Titans do a safety dance in the first round?

A year after picking safety Kevin Byard in the third-round, at least some draft analysts believe that's a direction the team could go with pick No.5 in this year's draft. Adams and Hooker are both considered potential top five picks, game-changing type players who could make an immediate impact.

But, like Peppers, they are different.

"It just depends on what you are looking for," NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier, editor and publisher of Mike Detillier Draft Report, said of the 6-foot, 214-pounds Adams, and the 6-1, 206-pound Hooker.

Detillier has Adams, who he compares to Chiefs safety Eric Berry, as his 5th ranked player in this year's draft, and Hooker the 7th overall player. In a recent tour of mock drafts by Titans Online, five had the Titans picking Adams at No.5.

"If you are looking for that ball hawk, center fielder, Hooker is the guy,'' Detillier said. "If you are looking for a guy who can play up front, run support, strong safety type guy, then it is Jamal. It just depends on what type defense you are looking for and what type player you are looking for to fit your scheme.

"Jamal is downhill, a real physical guy that is great in run support. He takes fantastic angles to the ball carrier. He plays fast on the field, he is just real smart. I think he is a good cover guy in the short, intermediate area. He is going to need some work in the pass coverage part of the game … but he is one of my top five players in this draft class. He is an unbelievable football player.

"What you see in Malik Hooker, he is totally different. He is a cover guy. He can match up in the cover part of the field. Where Jamal is a strong safety, Malik is a free safety type guy. He covers the deep part of the field real well. He finds the ball quickly in flight. He gains a lot of ground fast when the ball is in the air."

Here on Sunday at the NFL Combine, the safeties all made a case for themselves.

Adams touted his leadership, and versatility.

"I feel like I am the best guy in the draft," Adams said. "I definitely feel like I should be a No.1 pick. Top 5, that is definitely in the range. On the field, I can play everything on the back end, whether that is covering the slot, whether that is playing man, whether that is being in the A and B gap, filling that hole, locking down tight ends.

"The game is changing and you need safeties that can do everything."

Hooker, who is recovering from surgery on a torn labrum in his left hip as well as sports hernia surgery, said he's friends with Adams. He said the two aren't competing to see which safety goes first. He thinks they're both worthy.

"I feel like I am a special player," Hooker said. "I am capable of doing a lot of things."

NFL Network's Mike Mayock called this year's safety class the best he's seen.

In addition to Adams, Hooker, and Peppers, Washington's Budda Baker and Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu round out Mayock's top five at the position.

Mayock believes the changing NFL makes the position as valuable as ever. He's especially high on Adams and Hooker, and he also likes Peppers, who he thinks will be a great "matchup player" in the NFL. Peppers ran a 4.46 in the 40 while working with the linebackers, which perhaps raised his stock even more.

The safeties are scheduled to go through drills on Monday.

"I think this is a year where we're looking at two safeties that are certainly Top 10 picks, and maybe even Top 5, and looking at the best talent in the draft,'' Mayock said. "Today's NFL is a pass-first league, and the safety position is changing. Playing against three wideouts and a tight end at a minimum, 65-70 percent of the time. So safeties that can cover are at a premium. That's a long way of saying that I think both these kids (Adams and Hooker) can cover. I wouldn't be talking about them as Top 10 picks if I didn't think they were complete safeties."

Titans GM Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Mularkey make their media rounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Photos: Gary Glenn)

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