The 2023 NFL draft is dominated by top tier talent at the Cornerback position. There are very few top tier Safeties in the upcoming draft, and that is because the position has been taken over by underclassmen that are going to dominate offenses this upcoming season. The list I’m about to give you are just a few of the players at the Safety position, but I believe these are the players that will be household names just a few weeks into the season if they aren’t already.
The first player on my list may be seen as the “old guy” in the group as he could have gone pro 2 years ago and possibly been a first round pick then. This player is none other than Jalen Catalon from the University of Texas. In 2020 Catalon really burst onto the scene while at Arkansas, where he finished the season with 99 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 interceptions with one of those returned for a touchdown. However, Catalon was never able to rekindle that momentum over the next two seasons as he plays the game at an extremely physical rate which has led him to become frequently injured, including limiting him to only one game last year. With the move to Texas and playing in a defense led by Pete Kwiatkowski, who manufactured multiple defenses that led the nation in turnovers while at Boise State and Washington respectively, this may be the match to light a fire under Catalon and help propel him to back to the top of the list where I have him. It goes without saying that Catalon has the potential to be the best safety in the country; it just comes down to if his body will hold up and let him get there.
The second player on my list is none other than Calen Bullock out of USC. Bullock is just a freak athlete, and has an incredibly high football IQ. Over the last two years, including a true freshman season, Bullock has totalled 87 tackles, 7 interceptions (including 5 last year), and 1 touchdown. While having a very slight frame and weighing only 180 pounds, Bullock plays much bigger than that. He has the power to knock the cleats off tight ends and the speed to keep up with the elite talent at the wide receiver position across the Pac 12. Bullock has the ability to play anywhere on the field whether it’s safety, outside corner, or even in the slot. If Bullock continues the statistical meteoric trajectory that he has the first two years of his career, I think he’ll be the highest drafted safety in the 2024 NFL draft.
Third on the list is Andrew Mukuba out of Clemson. This kid is a firecracker. He is everywhere on the field all at once. In 2022 Mukuba finished the season with 53 total tackles and 1 interception. What I like about Mukuba is that his play style reminds me of a younger and smaller Harrison Smith. Much like Smith, Mukuba can change direction on a dime and immediately close on a player in order to make a play. Mukuba has the ability to play up towards the line and blitz off the edge or he can play deep zone and make a play. The physicality that Mukuba plays with is what drew me to him. He’s not one to try and take players off their feet but, he is the kind that you have to know where he’s at at all times because if you don’t he’ll jam you quickly at the line or he’ll come out of nowhere to break up a pass. If Clemson is to return to Clemson level they will need Mukuba to play at an elite level.
The next player on my list is Mike Sainristil out of Michigan. Sainristil took advantage of his opportunity once it was given to him without thinking twice. Being previously buried on the depth chart behind guys such as Daxton Hill, Sainristil exploded onto the scene putting up numbers like 58 total tackles, 7 pass deflection, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. Sainristil showed how high his football IQ is by constantly being in on almost every single play. What I love about Sainristil is how fluid his hips are and because of how quick his closing speed is. I watched him cover NFL prospect Parker Washington and he didn’t let Washington breathe. In that game Washington had one of the worst games of his career and it was mainly because of Sainristil. Another reason to get behind him is because he’s doing this all while playing both ways. Offensively he tallied 21 receptions for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns. Any player that can play both ways and be productive on each side has to be on any list like this. I personally hope that Michigan lets him focus on safety so he can really shine. In 2023 Sainristil will be a major factor in how well Michigan’s defense is, and if he performs well he will, in my opinion, have a late first round/early second round grade.
Other Safeties to look out for: Javon Bullard (Georgia), Sage Ryan (LSU), Malachai Moore (Alabama), Xavier Nwakpa (Iowa), Bryce Anderson (Texas A&M)