Previewing the 2019 NFL Combine: Studs, starters and sleepers at Safety

Dec 29, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (23) intercepts a pass intended for Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Nico Collins (4) as Florida Gators defensive back Trey Dean III (21) is shown on the play during the third quarter in the 2018 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

A position-by-position look at the 2019 NFL draft class with historical perspective and personal favorites

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is now less than two weeks away and NFLDraftScout.com is taking a daily look at the top prospects at each position to help get you up to speed quickly.

Each day, a different position will be profiled and given a grade with three individual players featured:

· A First Round Prototype

· Second Day (Future) Starter

· Third Day Sleeper

Senior Analysts Rob Rang and Ric Serritella have nearly 40 years of combined experience professionally evaluating prospects for the NFL and after a year spent visiting campuses, watching tape, attending games, all-star practices and Combine training facilities, they have not surprisingly developed some favorites in this talented 2019 draft class.

Hundreds of their scouting reports are being printed for Lindy’s NFL Draft magazine right now (RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE) with a snapshot of each position and some of their favorite players to watch available complimentary of NFLDraftScout.com below.

Safety

Good news for teams looking for safeties - the 2019 crop looks even better than last year, which is saying something considering that Los Angeles Chargers rookie Derwin James was voted to the Pro Bowl and that several teams found quality starters throughout last year's draft, including the Miami Dolphins with first round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Cincinnati Bengals with second round standout Jessie Bates III, Justin Reid ranking among the Houston Texans' leading tacklers and interceptors after being drafted 68th overall and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finding a starter on Day Three nearly 50 picks later in Jordan Whitehead.

There are plenty of middle round sleeper candidates to be had in the 2019 draft, as well, but teams would be wise to invest early rather than hope for a bargain later given the top-shelf talent available this year.

Though he won’t be able to work out in Indianapolis due to undergoing surgery on his wrist just last week, rangy centerfielder Deionte Thompson keeps the pipeline from Alabama's secondary to the NFL's first round going strong. Fellow underclassmen Taylor Rapp (Washington), Amani Hooker (Iowa) and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Florida) are future top 50 picks and NFL starters, as well. After a terrific week in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, Delaware's Nasir Adderley checks in as NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior safety and arguably the best "small school" prospect in the 2019 draft.

Grade: B+

A First Round Prototype: Nasir Adderley, Delaware

Simply put, if Adderley had played his college ball at a Power Five school, he would be universally regarded as a top 20 lock by now. In reality, he may already be that in the mind of scouts, with Adderley already slaying the small school rap with a standout performance at the Senior Bowl. Other than level of competition, scouts can check virtually every other box with Adderley. A cousin to Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Famer Herb Adderley, this Blue Hen should fly in workouts, is a physical, reliable tackler with plus ball-skills and has proven durable, starting every game the past four seasons - the first two at cornerback, the final two at free safety, while moonlighting as one of the most disrespectful returners in college football.

Second Day (Future) Starter: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

NFL teams love playmakers and Gardner-Johnson certainly is that, recording nine interceptions over his three seasons in Gainesville and a taking a third of those back for touchdowns. Like Adderley, Gardner-Johnson spent time all over the Florida secondary, offering his future NFL team intriguing versatility, including the coverage skills to drop down and handle nickel duties. A heat-seeking missile who brings his hips as a tackler, Gardner-Johnson is just as aggressive in run support. A standout since his true freshman season – when he joined the legendary Emmitt Smith as the only players to ever be named MVP in a bowl game – Gardner-Johnson comes with a proven track record of starring when the lights shine brightest, making him one to watch in Indianapolis.

Third Day Sleeper: Malik Gant, Marshall

Former walk-ons at Marshall rarely earn the attention of NFL scouts - especially those who decide to give up a year of eligibility to join the draft early - but the team willing to invest a Day Three pick in Gant could get a handsome return. An instinctive, physical player who flies around the field like a bird of prey circling a meadow, Gant already plays the game with the chip on his shoulder needed to make an NFL roster as a Day Three pick. Gant can help himself in Indianapolis by running well and showing improved hands in ball drills, turning just two of his 13 career passes defensed into interceptions. Gant has the look of an immediate helper on special teams with the potential to develop into much more.

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