National Football League
2024 NFL Draft safety rankings: Pac-12 prospects make up half of the top 10
National Football League

2024 NFL Draft safety rankings: Pac-12 prospects make up half of the top 10

Updated Apr. 18, 2024 9:11 a.m. ET

With the passing game never more critical than in today's modern NFL, quality safety play is essential. Unfortunately for NFL defenses, however, college football has not produced the bumper crops needed to keep up, with just one safety – Kyle Hamilton – earning a first round selection since 2020. 

This year's class looks like a repeat of a 2023 crop that didn't see the first safety come off the board until the Detroit Lions made Alabama's Brian Branch the 45th overall selection. Whereas Branch was almost universally regarded as the best at the position a year ago, there is no such consensus this year. Unless you are counting Iowa's Cooper DeJean, a first-round lock we covered with the cornerbacks, no one should be expecting the top safety this year to be selected until the midway point of the second round, though there could be a mini-run at the position once the seal is broken.

While perhaps lacking the top-end talent to warrant first round consideration, there are several worthy Day 2 candidates who project as early NFL starters and some intriguing developmental prospects (who might first excel on special teams) expected to land on Day 3.

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1. Cole Bishop, Utah — 6-2, 206, Junior

Overview: It isn't often that talented football players leave prime SEC country to land at Utah, but that is the route Bishop — who played his prep ball in Fayetteville, Ga. — took as a three-star recruit. Bishop immediately outperformed his recruitment, recording 54 tackles, including nine for loss and three sacks while starting just six games (playing in 10) in 2021, earning Honorable Mention All-PAC-12 honors. He led the Utes in tackles a year later (83) and appeared well on his way to doing so again this past season before injuries limited him to just 11 games. Nevertheless, Bishop earned second-team All-PAC-12 honors from league coaches and an invite to the Senior Bowl (where he starred), before a terrific workout at the Combine.


  • Light feet and flexibility to handle man-to-man coverage duties, showing the ability to stop, start, change direction and accelerate fluidly for a safety of his size.
  • Lined up everywhere in the Utah secondary, including deep middle, in the box and at nickel.
  • Clearly the leader of the Utah secondary, lining up teammates and making pre and post-snap adjustments on the fly.
  • Voted a team captain as a true Junior.
  • Strong showing at the Combine, ranking third among safeties tested in the 40-yard dash (4.45) fifth in the vertical (39") and seventh in the broad jump (10'4) despite measuring taller and heavier than most at the position.


  • A bit frenetic in coverage with "happy" feet, appearing unsure of himself at times.
  • High and choppy backpedal with some stickiness in his hips and losing a step in his transition (though he accelerates well).
  • Occasionally takes reckless angles to the ball and will drop his head and rely on his knockdown power rather than wrapping (he has relatively short 29 ¾" arms), leading to some missed tackles.
  • Lacks ideal experience on special teams with most of his work done on punt and punt return,

Summary: Bishop played virtually everywhere for the Utes but is at his best facing the quarterback. One can pick nits with his game but Utah's track record for developing quality defensive backs is well known in the NFL and Bishop's combination of size, range and playmaking ability suggest he will be a longtime NFL starter. 

Grade: Second round

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2. Tyler Nubin, Minnesota — 6-1, 205, Senior 

Overview: Nubin signed with Minnesota as a celebrated four-star recruit after starring at both receiver and safety for Saint Charles North High School in Illinois, guiding the North Stars to their first state title game. He first cracked the starting lineup in 2020 and only missed two games over the next four seasons (broken hand), starting 43 of 55 games overall while earning All-Big Ten honors after each of the past three years, including first-team accolades in 2023. Nubin's production during that time speaks for itself with 207 tackles and a school-record 13 interceptions, as well as three forced fumbles. While durable at Minnesota, it was discovered that Nubin had knee tendinitis that needed minor surgery after the season, which kept him out of the measured testing at the Combine and may have impacted his performance at his Pro Day. 


  • Looks the part of an NFL safety with a well-built, v-shaped torso, broad shoulders and long (32") arms.
  • Rare five-year starter who shows savvy in reading the eyes of quarterbacks, as well as good route anticipation.
  • Closes downhill quickly and aggressively, trusting his instincts.
  • Very soft hands for a defensive back, turning more than half of his career PBUs (24) into interceptions (13).
  • Generally a reliable open-field tackler, showing some pop on contact, as well as the discipline to wrap his arms effectively for the secure takedown.
  • Passionate special teams performer who was typically the first Gopher downfield on kickoff duties.


  • A bit high and choppy in his backpedal and lacks ideal recovery speed.
  • Underwent a meniscectomy on his right knee following the 2023 season, which may draw concerns from NFL teams.
  • Characterized himself at "90%" recovered from the surgery at his March 14 Pro Day, which included a 4.62-second time in the 40-yard dash and a 31.5" vertical jump that would have ranked 17th  and 18th respectively among safeties.

Summary: Despite the disappointing Pro Day workout, Nubin's tape shows a traditional free safety with the range and ball skills to handle deep coverage duties, as well as the comfort near the box to drop down and play the run. He isn't elite in coverage but is reliable, projecting as a starter early in his NFL career. 

Grade: Second round

3. Javon Bullard, Georgia, 5-11, 198, Junior

Overview: Bullard may have signed with home-state Georgia as just a three-star recruit but once he cracked the starting lineup, he emerged as the lead ‘Dawg, earning Defensive MVP honors in both the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Ohio State and national title win over TCU to cap the 2022 season. Bullard collected the first two interceptions of his college career against the Horned Frogs but otherwise was at his best near the line of scrimmage, racking up seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks among his 46 overall stops. Playing deeper more often in 2023 Bullard earned second-team All-SEC honors with a career-high 56 tackles with five passes broken up and two more interceptions before heading early to the NFL.


  • Has the best feet of any safety in this class.
  • Former starting nickel back and possesses the coverage skills to return to this role in the NFL.
  • Impressive route recognition and aggression, attacking downhill like he's shot out of a cannon.
  • Smooth hip turn and acceleration out of his backpedal, allowing very little room for quarterbacks to fit the ball in.
  • Punches above his weight class as a tackler when dealing with would-be blockers, playing with ideal aggression.


  • Smaller than preferred at safety.
  • Highly aggressive, taking almost reckless angles to the ball.
  • A bit of a duck-and-swipe tackler, too often lowering his head and resorting to lunges at the feet of ballcarriers.

Summary: Bullard played more of a complementary role at Georgia but his agility and aggression are NFL starter-caliber. I see an ascending player with the nickel and center-field talent to warrant a Day 2 investment. 

Grade: Second-to-third round

4. Calen Bullock, Southern Cal, 6-2, 188, Junior

Overview: Bullock seemed destined to star for the Trojans, growing up in nearby Pasadena and graduating high school a semester early to enroll at USC, where he immediately saw time at free safety, cornerback and nickel back in 2021, playing in all 12 games and starting six times. He earned some Freshman All-American honors for his production (39 tackles, three PBUs, two interceptions) and ascended to true national accolades a year later, exploding for five pickoffs — the most from a USC defender since future first-round pick Adoree' Jackson also had five back in 2016. Bullock set a career high with 63 tackles in 2023 and continued the big plays, intercepting two more passes before declaring early for the NFL draft as a two-time First Team All-PAC selection. 


  • Gifted athlete for his size, showing impressive flexibility, agility and acceleration for man-to-man coverage.
  • Easily changes directions and shows an intriguing burst to close on the ball.
  • Lanky frame with long arms (32 ½") with plenty of room for additional muscle mass.
  • Good hand-eye coordination and timing to disrupt passes, breaking up seven in 2023 while drawing just one penalty.
  • Three-year standout at USC, playing in every game of his college career.
  • Good vision and agility with the ball in his hands, returning two of his seven career interceptions for touchdowns.
  • The youngest player on this list, not turning 21 until the week after the NFL draft.


  • Significantly underweight for safety and plays run defense with a cover corner's passive mentality.
  • Unreliable pursuit angles and open-field tackling skills, lunging at ballcarriers and failing to wrap effectively.
  • Beaten for four touchdowns as a nickel cornerback in 2023 alone.

Summary: Bullock's lanky frame and inconsistencies in run support could lead some NFL teams to try him at cornerback, but I don't think a position switch is necessary. Sure, his occasional missed tackles are frustrating but the traits are undeniable. With a little polish, Bullock could prove the best free safety of this class, warranting a Day 2 gamble. 

Grade: Third round

5. Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, Texas Tech, 5-10, 197, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Taylor-Demerson starred at running back for Carl Albert High in Oklahoma City, being recognized as the 5A Player of the Year as a senior before signing with the Red Raiders and making the switch to safety. He became a regular on defense and special teams as a true freshman, playing in 11 games and starting two in 2019 — the first of five seasons in which he started for the Red Raiders. With 59 career game appearances (37 starts), Taylor-Demerson is the most battle-tested of this year's top safeties, entering the NFL with 224 career tackles and terrific production in coverage, including 33 breakups and 10 interceptions. He enjoyed a strong week of practice at the East-West Shrine Bowl and Combine, registering the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.41) of any safety tested there. 


  • Quality athlete with the agility and acceleration to handle nickel and deep coverage duties.
  • Good field vision, as well as excellent hand-eye coordination and timing as a pass thief, intercepting 10 passes over the past three seasons.
  • Durable player despite below-average size for the position.
  • Selfless teammate willing to take out oncoming blockers and funnel runners back to his teammates.
  • Team captain with five years of starting experience in a pass-heavy conference.


  • Troubling number of missed tackles in the open field, calling into question his reliability as the last line of defense.
  • Undersized for the position and lacks the knockdown power to intimidate across the middle.
  • Limited special-teams experience, with most of it coming on the field goal block unit and early in his college career.

Summary: Taylor-Demerson plays with more finesse than some NFL teams might prefer but his production speaks for itself. He's cat-quick and possesses the ball-skills to make quarterbacks pay for throwing in his direction but may have to prove his reliability as a tackler on special teams before a pro team trusts him enough to start. 

Grade: Third round

6. Jaden Hicks, Washington State, 6-2, 215, Redshirt Sophomore

Overview: Perhaps it is appropriate that Hicks played his high-school ball in Las Vegas, as the NFL could see him as the ultimate roll of the dice at the safety position in this year's class with just two seasons of starting experience under his belt before leaving the Palouse for the pros. Hicks signed with WSU as a three-star recruit and saw little time on the field as a true freshman in 2021, but he certainly turned heads a year later, starting 11 games (playing in all 13) and finishing second on the team with 76 tackles – leading all PAC-12 freshmen. The prototypically built Hicks left college football with 155 tackles, including eight for loss and 3.5 sacks, as well as 10 passes broken up, three interceptions and a forced fumble scoring touchdowns on a pick-six and a fumble recovery. 


  • Imposing frame for the position with good overall musculature.
  • Has the size and speed to handle coverage duties against the big tight ends/slot receivers so popular in today's NFL.
  • Showed playmaking ability at the line of scrimmage and in coverage, with 3.5 sacks, a blocked kick and three INTs in two seasons as a starter, returning one of them for a touchdown.
  • Impressed in the measured drills at the combine and his pro day, clocking in at 4.48-4.52 in the 40-yard dash at 215 pounds.


  • Often played more of a ‘rover or box safety role at WSU, which won't make him a fit for some NFL teams.
  • High, choppy backpedal with some stickiness to his hips that makes him a bit slow in his transition.
  • A bit high-cut and gets too far over his skis as a tackler, leaving him off-balance and lunging, resulting in missed tackles.
  • Limited special teams experience, with most of it coming on the field-goal block team.

Summary: Hicks will be a polarizing prospect in the NFL, as optimists will see a player just scratching the surface of his potential and critics will see a jack of all trades who capitalized off a highly aggressive WSU pass rush that put him position to make big plays. There are traits worthy of a mid-round investment, but Hicks may require some patience and a clean schematic fit. 

Grade: Third-to-fourth round

7. Kamren Kinchens, Miami, 5-11, 203, Junior

Overview: Much to the delight of the locals, Kinchens opted to stay close after a stellar prep career at powerhouse Miami Northwestern, with the four-star recruit turning down the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and many others. He saw action in all 12 games as a true freshman and started the final five (44 tackles, including one for loss) but it wasn't until his sophomore season that Kinchens really made an impact, stealing an ACC-high six interceptions (third in the country) to earn First Team all-conference honors from league coaches and All-American accolades from many media outlets. Kinchens proved that his breakout 2022 campaign was no fluke with five more interceptions as a junior before heading to the NFL early. 


  • Plays faster than he timed due to his awareness, often getting an early jump on the ball because his ability to see the field and read the eyes of quarterbacks.
  • Has a knack for arriving near the intended receiver just as the ball does, delivering some eye-popping hits that can knock the ball free and send messages to opponents crossing the middle.
  • Strong hands and excellent hand-eye coordination to pluck the ball outside of his frame, as well as adjust to tipped passes.
  • Productive special-teams player with experience in every unit.


  • Interception totals inflated by some poor throws by opposing QBs that essentially served as thrown punts.
  • Ran too hot and cold as an open-field tackler in 2023, surrendering big plays on whiffs against North Carolina, Louisville and Florida State, among others.
  • Poor performance at the Scouting Combine, including a 4.65-second time in the 40-yard dash and 9'2" broad jump that ranked among the least explosive of all safeties tested.

Summary: Kinchens' tape is not for the faint of heart, with a virtual roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. NFL teams will have to weigh the undeniable instincts and ball skills he offers with the ugly broken tackles in the open-field. Given the poor showing at the combine, it is possible that Kinchens is still waiting to hear his name called deep into Day 3. 

Grade: Fourth round

8. Kitan Oladapo, Oregon State, 6-1, 216, Redshirt Senior

Overview: The folks in Happy Valley, OR were ecstatic with Oladapo helping lead Central Catholic to a state title in 2017 and remaining in the state, signing with the Beavers. He spent time as a reserve his first two seasons on campus, cracking the starting lineup for the first time in 2020 (26 tackles, including two sacks) before three consecutive years of earning All-PAC-12 honors, including second-team accolades from the league coaches in 2023. Over the past four seasons, Oladapo has compiled very impressive numbers, leaving Corvalis with 249 total tackles, including 15 for loss and 6.5 sacks, as well as 23 passes broken up, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. 


  • Has a prototypical frame including good overall musculature, broad shoulders and long arms (32 3/8").
  • Has the bulk and speed combination to handle one-on-one cover duties against tight ends and big receivers.
  • Smart, selfless defender willing to take on blockers and free up teammates to make tackles.
  • Played multiple roles at OSU, including the deep middle, nickel corner and in the box.
  • Team captain in 2023.


  • Lacks ideal agility and range for deep coverage duties, clocking a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the Combine and choosing not to re-run it at his Pro Day.
  • Too often reliant on his size and collision power as a tackler, failing to properly take advantage of his long arms to wrap for the secure stop.
  • Gets flat-footed at the moment of impact, leaving himself struggling to adjust to last-second jukes by ballcarriers.
  • Despite a size and speed combination that screams special-teams demon, Oladapo lacks experience there, seeing meaningful time only on the field goal block unit in college.

 Summary: Though he played multiple roles at Oregon State, Oladapo projects best in the NFL as a classic "box" safety who can help in run support and in intermediate coverage. 

Grade: Fourth-to-fifth round

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9. Dominique Hampton, Washington, 6-2, 215, Redshirt Senior

Overview: For all the fireworks the UW Huskies enjoyed last year in a run to the national championship game, most of the attention has understandably been heaped upon the offense. Hampton was among a handful of Husky defenders who enjoyed breakout performances, however, pacing the Dawgs with 109 overall tackles — more than double his previous career-high he'd set a year earlier while starting 11 games. Given that he spent six seasons at Washington, Hampton's career stats pale in comparison to some of the others on this list but his prototype size and athleticism suggest that his best football still lies ahead of him. 


  • Boasts a prototypical frame with excellent height, a v-shaped torso with impressive musculature and long arms (33 ¼").
  • Turned heads at the Combine, including a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, a 10'2 broad jump and fastest shuttles of any safety tested there (6.83 3-cone and 4.14 short shuttle).
  • Can generate impressive closing speed and collision power when he has a lane.
  • Quality special-teamer who excelled as a gunner on punt coverage.


  • High-cut and stiff, struggling to break down in tight quarters with ballcarriers routinely slipping by him (PFF charged with him a position-high 19 missed tackles in 2023, alone).
  • Takes aggressive pursuit angles that can leave his teammates out to dry.
  • Can get a bit grabby downfield in man coverage, losing his technique with the ball in the air and showing just fair ball skills, intercepting just two passes in 46 games (both in 2023).

Summary: It is easy to get excited about Hampton's traits and given that he ended his time at Washington on such a high note, perhaps he's a late bloomer. I see a terrific straight-line athlete but one who currently lacks the reliable open-field tackling skills to trust on defense. He could, however, become quite a weapon as a gunner on special teams, justifying an early Day 3 investment. 

Grade: Fourth-to-fifth round

10. Malik Mustapha, Wake Forest, 5-10, 209, Junior

Overview: After a brilliant senior season that helped Weddington High win a 2019 state championship (North Carolina), Mustapha began his college career at Richmond, collecting 17 tackles as a freshman. Mustapha "graduated" to the ACC a year later, transferring to Wake Forest, where he played immediately for a Gator Bowl-bound squad in 2021 and started all 23 games in which he was healthy the last two years. Along with steady stopping power in space and near the line of scrimmage (175 total tackles, including 15 for loss and four sacks), Mustapha showed a real knack for creating turnovers with four forced fumbles and three interceptions during that time, earning an invitation to the Senior Bowl. 


  • Sports a powerful bowling ball-like frame and can generate impressive collision power to knock down ballcarriers like pins, forcing four fumbles over his career.
  • Instinctive defender who sees the play developing and isn't afraid to attack.
  • A legitimate NFL-caliber athlete, as evidenced by a terrific Pro Day workout, including a 4.54-second time in the 40-yard dash, as well as a 41.5" vertical jump and a 10'6" broad jump.
  • Voted a team captain at Wake Forest in 2023.


  • Short, stubby frame with below-average arm length and grip strength, giving Mustafa a limited tackle radius with ballcarriers too often able to bounce off his hits.
  • Attacks the line of scrimmage but too often overruns the play, allowing easy cutback lanes NFL ballcarriers will be able to exploit.
  • The lack of height and arm-length show up in coverage too, where Mustafa typically played the man, rather than the ball, recording just seven PBUs (and three interceptions) in 35 games

Summary: Mustafa is an easy player to like, as he's worked hard in the weight room to maximize his frame and offers plenty of highlight reel-worthy hits with seven turnovers caused in three seasons at Wake Forest. His lack of length and inconsistent open-field tackling, however, will push him into Day 3.   

Grade: Fifth round

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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