NFL: Five Breakout Candidates at Safety in 2018
Whether through the draft or free agent signings, the NFL is flooded with talent every year. For some players, they have an immediate impact on their team and the league in their rookie season. But for most, their breakout doesn’t come until 2, 3 or even 4 years into their careers. In this article, I will look at the top 5 young safeties that could have a breakout year in 2018 and move into the upper echelon at that position. This will include both Free and Strong Safety.
Jamal Adams – SS
Coming into his 2nd season in the league, look for Jamal Adams to make the leap from talented safety to pro-bowl worthy safety. Drafted with the 6th overall pick by the Jets last year, Adams proved he was a very good tackler, especially against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, Adams was one of the leaders in run stops (26) among all safeties last season. If there is one knock against him it’s his ability to play ball in the air. However, this season, Adams will benefit from the new additions to the Jets secondary and should become more of a ball hawk along with his big hitting. With better talent and his dynamic duo partner Marcus Maye alongside him, look for Adams to have a breakout in interceptions and pass deflections.
Kevin Byard – FS
Kevin Byard’s 2017 season was one of the best among all safeties in the league. He ranked 12th among all safeties with 87 combined tackles, 62 of which were solo. One of the biggest bright spots about last season was his interception total. He was tied for the league lead in interceptions with 8 and had 24 pass deflections. Although last season could be considered his breakout year, it may be a stepping stone for him to go into the upper level of safeties in the league. Byard, out of Middle Tennessee, will be entering his 3rd in the league so this is right about the time he should be hitting his stride. Coupled with a secondary with some quality talent on the corners, Byard could become a household name this season.
Keanu Neal – FS
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Florida, Keanu Neal showed a nice performance increase last season. Neal was a tackling machine last season as he was second in the league among safeties with 116 tackles, of which, 83 were solo. Neal also had 100+ tackles his rookie season. He also had 7 pass deflections as well as 3 forced fumbles last season. Neal. As good athletically as he is in coverage, Neal has all the tools defensive coordinators look for in a safety. The Falcons already have a pretty good secondary and with Neal patrolling the airspace back there, it may be tough sledding for the quarterbacks of the NFC South.
Sean Davis – SS
For the majority of the 2000s, the Steelers secondary was patrolled by Troy Polamalu. Once he left, there were big shoes to fill at that safety spot. Not to say Sean Davis is the second coming of Polamalu, but he has the potential to be very good. Davis totaled 92 tackles last season which was a 20 tackle improvement from his rookie season. Last season Davis also tallied 3 interceptions and 8 passes defended. With the quarterback play not as strong in the AFC North this season, Davis could see a significant jump in chances to play the ball in the air and score some easy interceptions.
Malik Hooker– FS
Drafted with the 15th pick in last year’s NFL draft, Malik Hooker showed a lot of promise. Hooker displayed his great range and ball-hawking skills in the field by intercepting a pass in 3 of his first 4 games. His rookie season was unfortunately cut short due to a torn MCL and ACL. However, the 7 games in which he played in was enough to show Hooker has the ability to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he was drafted. At only 21 Hooker’s upside is huge. Look for him to be a man on a mission next season and make up for the time he lost last season.
How do you feel about these five breakout players at safety? Leave a comment below.