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Chris Trapasso Breaks Down 2023 Safety Prospects for Chargers

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Welcome to Part 11 of our 2023 draft preview series, which will be a position-by-position look at key prospects and where the Chargers roster stands ahead of the NFL Draft. This series will include a look at which prospects could be options for the Chargers later this month.

We chatted with CBS Sports draft analyst Chris Trapasso to break down the safeties in this draft class. Trapasso can be found on Twitter @ChrisTrapasso for his analysis.

Chargers status at safety

Trapasso noted the Chargers secondary — and perhaps their defense and team as a whole — is led by Derwin James, Jr.

A team captain and the Bolts emotional leader, James shows up each and every week on the field.

"I think he is the best overall safety in football," Trapasso said. "What Derwin James can do for your defense — blitz, stop the outside run, play that quasi-linebacker position, in the box and beat blockers, guards and centers getting to the second level — and obviously can match up with the elite tight ends in the NFL, can make plays in zone.

"I think what the Chargers have, they can certainly use some depth around him, but they have a focal point at safety that can do anything that any defensive coordinator asks of him," Trapasso added.

Nasir Adderley was the main starter next to James for the past three seasons, but he was a free agent this offseason and then chose to retire.

Alohi Gilman, who made a handful of starts in 2022 — including in the playoff game — could be in line to start at the other safety spot at this point.

But Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley likes to use three-safety packages at times, too, so that could mean a bigger role for JT Woods or Raheem Layne.

Woods, a 2022 third-round pick, spent most of his rookie season inactive on game days, but still has plenty of athletic tools to be a contributor. Layne, meanwhile, flashed on special teams late in the 2022 season.

The Bolts also have Mark Webb on the roster.

Is Safety a position of need?

As mentioned above, the Chargers could be set at starter with Gilman lining up next to James.

But with how Staley likes to deploy his defense, Trapasso believes even more depth could be needed behind Woods and Layne.

Trapasso said safety could be a strong need later this week, and that he wouldn't be surprised if the Bolts went that direction as early as Day 2.

"They have JT Woods, who they picked last year, but I think it's a pretty big need because in today's NFL, even if you have someone like Derwin James that is a true game-changer, you kind of need two, or maybe even at times three, quality safeties," Trapasso said. "With all the receiving tight ends that are out there, the running backs that are getting better as receivers that are coming out of the backfield a lot. Obviously just the slot receivers, every team has got at least one good slot receiver.

"I think safety is not a super sexy position in the draft, but I certainly think to compliment Derwin James and to add someone else that can be relied upon at the safety spot is actually a pretty big emphasis for the Chargers early in the draft," Trapasso added.

Key draft questions

1. Is Alabama's Brian Branch the clear No. 1 safety prospect?

"Yeah, I think so. Some teams might really like Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M, but I'm a lot lower on him than most because he misses so many tackles and I don't think he's really great in coverage despite his size. Brian Branch, not the traditional safety in that he's more of a slot defender and is better closer to the line of scrimmage, but tremendous tackler. The best tackling defensive back that I've ever scouted. Like, he does not miss a tackle. It doesn't matter who he's facing, and then he has that great zone awareness or savviness in zone to make plays there as well."

2. How do you view the positional value of safety in early rounds?

"It's kind of the same deal [as linebackers]. A lot of the times safeties, the Johnathan Abrams of the world who go in the first round, teams had prioritized the wrong stuff. They would see big hits, they would see sacks when he's a free rusher and then, 'Oh, he can't really cover.' You have to be amazing in coverage. Safety and linebacker are almost interchangeable positions in today's NFL which is why I kind of view them similarly. I wouldn't pick one necessarily in the Top 10. I don't think a team that is picking that high is a safety away from being really good. But, Round 2 to Round 4, you can certainly get a quality player at that position. So it's good when you have one that's an elite player but in terms of positional value, it's probably a little bit lower on the list."

3. Who's an early Day 3 prospect that could land with the Bolts?

"Daniel Scott from California. Four years of quality production there, ran in the mid-4.4's at the combine and just has the feet of a slot defender. He looks like a slot cornerback on the football field. Tackling reliability is good, not great, but in terms of that old school free safety-esque range which is why I know the Chargers picked Nasir Adderley a few years ago because he had that range, that's pretty hard to find. I think Daniel Scott is up there with any of other safeties in this class in terms of being able to range from the deep middle and make plays on the football.

"I really like him and Ji'Yair Brown from Penn State is someone that plays a lot faster than his measured workouts. I don't think he's going to be picked very early because he didn't test very well, but made a ton of plays on the football when he was targeted. Didn't matter if it was intermediate level, down the field, whatever the case was, you saw him around the football in coverage and he's very twitchy and active getting downhill as a run defender. Those two kind of stick out to me as they feel a little bit underrated at this point and will probably be available on the third day of the draft."

Expert rankings's Daniel Jeremiah currently has one safety in his overall Top 50: 31. Brian Branch.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., has zero safeties in his overall Top 25.

Rankings for safeties by Jeremiah, his NFL Media counterpart Bucky Brooks, Kiper, analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler are listed below.

Potential Chargers options

Note: Heights and weights are from each player's profile on (linked for each player's name).


School: Alabama | Year: Junior | Ht: 6-foot-0 | Wt: 190 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
S1 S1 S1 S1 S1

2022 stats: 13 games; 90 tackles (58 solo), 3.0 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 9 passes defensed

Quick fact: Branch was a force on the Alabama defense and ranked third on the team in tackles, second in tackles for loss on his way to First-Team All-America honors by multiple outlets.

A. Johnson

School: Texas A&M | Year: Junior | Ht: 6-foot-2 | Wt: 198 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
-- S2 S4 S2 S2

2022 stats: 9 games; 71 tackles (35 solo), 1.0 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles

Quick fact: A 2022 First-Team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press, Johnson ended his collegiate career forcing a fumble in each of his last three games.


School: Illinois | Year: Senior | Ht: 5-foot-11 | Wt: 194 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
-- -- S3 -- S3

2022 stats: 13 games; 64 tackles (51 solo), 1.0 sack, 3 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 14 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles

Quick fact: Martin started every game for the Fighting Illini in 2022 and was voted onto the All-Big Ten Second-Team by the media. He also led the team with 51 solo tackles.


School: Alabama | Year: Senior | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt: 209 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
-- S3 S9 S4 S5

2022 stats: 13 games; 71 tackles (34 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed

Quick fact: Battle was a First-Team All-SEC honoree by the coaches in his final two years at Alabama, as he made on impact in the secondary and in special teams as a returner.

Trapasso's Take: "He is big, he is thick, he is very assignment sound. Being assignment sound in Nick Saban's defense, I think, is a good thing when you're coming into the NFL. It's a pretty pro-style defense. With Jordan Battle, I didn't see kind of splash plays, he kind of seems like an extremely high-floor player that in like 5 to 10 years we'll say, "Good safety, not an All-Pro safety.' Does everything well, doesn't do anything amazingly, but not really a liability in any area."

Ji'Ayir 1

School: Penn State | Year: Senior | Ht: 5-foot-11 | Wt: 203 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
-- S4 S2 S9 S4

2022 stats: 13 games; 74 tackles (56 solo), 4.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 7 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

Quick fact: Brown was voted a team captain for the Nittany Lions and knew how to take the ball away, tallying 15 takeaways in his three years at Penn State.


School: Florida State | Year: Senior | Ht: 5-foot-11 | Wt: 191 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
-- -- S7 S5 S8

2022 stats: 13 games; 99 tackles (46 solo), 1.0 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 6 passes defensed

Quick facts: After transferring from South Carolina for his final two seasons, Robinson became the first Florida State defensive player since Jalen Ramsey in 2014-15 to earn First-Team All-ACC honors in consecutive seasons.

Trapasso's Take: "Another really good tackler. Not as good as Brian Branch, but very reliable tackler, very energetic, more of that slot corner, strong safety type than a free safety. I'm just a little bit concerned about his size ... pretty small for the safety position and he looks kind of small on film. As a blitzer, manning up against quick slots at the next level, I think that's where he'll ultimately thrive. Might get overwhelmed by bigger blockers at times, but he plays like in his head he's 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, but he's a lot smaller than that."

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