As New England Patriots FS Duron Harmon is set set to return, head coach Bill Belichick won’t have to start thinking about possible replacements- but maybe there should be some focus on the future. 2015 2nd round pick S Jordan Richards hasn’t panned out at safety and there is valid reason for concern around the nearly-30-year-old S Patrick Chung, who is coming off a rocky year after two stellar performances in 2014 and 2015.
Maybe the Patriots would be interested in a veteran like the Packers DB Micah Hyde, but NFL Draft Analyst Mike Mayock believes that the 2017 draft class could hold a few stars at safety.
“It's not sexy to talk safeties, and the only two we've really talked about are Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams,” Mayock said in his annual press conference. “Of my Top 5 safeties, Jabrill Peppers is the next one from Michigan, and he's more of an in-the-box nickel linebacker. He's just always around football, as is Budda Baker from Washington. Very similar. I think he's a nickel more than anything.
“I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut. He's 6'4, 219, and he's probably going to run sub-4.5, and if he runs in that range, I think teams are going to look at him as a corner and say safety.
“And the reason -- I think New England with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best match-up group in the league. You look at what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with Van Noy, two guys that were kind of castoffs, and they brought them there for match-up reasons. That's what they do. So I look at Melifonwu, and he's a guy that could cover tight ends one week and go out on a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.”
Both Hooker and Adams project to be top 10 picks, while Peppers is viewed anywhere from the top 10 to the second round due to questions of what position he’ll play in the NFL.
Baker is a solid second round option with experience as a single-high safety and in the slot as a cornerback- and at 21 years of age, he represents incredible upside. Melifonwu is one of the most impressive athletes in the draft at 6’4, 224 pounds, and he ran a 4.4s 40 yard dash.
Mayock also mentioned three more cornerbacks that could convert to safety and interest the Patriots.
“Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety,” Mayock said. “And I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit. I like Des King. I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety. And I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado who getting a corner I think might be better off as a safety. So there are a bunch of names for you.”
Desmond King is a 5’10, 201 pound cornerback with an incredible 6.67s three cone time and serious ball skills, and he’s a menace against the run. Questions with his straight-line speed and explosion are why some believe he might be a better fit at safety, but he actually compares pretty favorably to Logan Ryan from an athleticism and ball-awareness standpoint.
Kevin King is a different animal at 6’3, 200 pounds and might be as much of an athletic freak as Melifonwu. He compares well athletically to a taller Eric Rowe, who also received consideration from some teams about a move to safety.
Awuzie is player that Pats Pulpit’s Brian Phillips thinks could also replace Logan Ryan.
Personally, I think that Baker and either of the Kings would be incredible fits with the Patriots. All three players offer the ability to play multiple defensive back positions, in some combination of free safety, strong safety, sideline corner, and slot corner. All three players will likely come off the board in the second round.