Five-Star Geography: Breaking down five trends at safety
There have been plenty of five-star safeties in Rivals history dating back to 2002. Today, we ask Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell five questions about the position after analyzing some surprising numbers and breaking down the states.
1. Has Alabama or Florida State done the best with safeties?
Overview: Both the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles have had nice runs during the Rivals era at safety and both programs have produced a lot of NFL talent. More could be on the way. Arguably the best safety in the whole group, Derwin James, picked Florida State along with Karlos Williams, Pat Watkins, and now Jaiden Woodbey is a star player for the Seminoles’ defense. At Alabama, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Minkah Fitzpatrick were all phenomenal players before heading to the NFL.
Farrell’s take: While James is the best safety I’ve ever scouted, you have to give the hat tip to Alabama here, as all three of its five-star safeties became first-round draft choices. Nick Saban’s reputation as a developer of defensive back talent is not overrated.
2. Who have been some of the top performers from California?
Overview: The state of California has produced some huge hits at safety (some who later moved to play linebacker in the pros) and then also a couple misses, probably led by Max Redfield, who was a fantastic player in high school but never panned out at Notre Dame and then left South Bend. Su’a Cravens was one of the best high school players in California in the last decade, Shaq Thompson was dominant on both sides of the ball and JuJu Smith-Schuster (then John Smith) was arguably a better safety than receiver, where he now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those three arguably lead the way in the California rankings.
Farrell’s take: Thompson was the best I’ve seen of the bunch because he was so big and rare and was a huge hitter, followed by Cravens and then Smith-Schuster, who was the best two-way player of the bunch. They were all great players and it’s no surprise to see them have some success in the NFL, with JuJu obviously leading the way.
3. Is Derwin James the best of this bunch?
Overview: There are a lot of outstanding five-star safeties who have backed up their rankings but maybe no player at that position has been better than James through high school, to college and now in the NFL. James was rated as the top safety (right ahead of Fitzpatrick) in the 2015 class and fifth overall. He then went to Florida State, where he had an impressive showing in Tallahassee before being the No. 17 pick in the 2018 draft, six picks after Fitzpatrick was taken by the Miami Dolphins.
Farrell’s take: Yes he was and is the best I’ve ever seen at the position. His instincts, motor, aggressiveness and athleticism are unmatched by any other safety I’ve seen. It will take a special player to supplant James as my top guy.
4. What do you remember about Keenan Allen’s recruitment?
Overview: Alabama, Clemson and Oregon were the original front-runners. Allen picked the Crimson Tide, and his brother - who was transferring out of Buffalo - and he became a package deal to Cal, and it worked out in a huge way for the Golden Bears. Allen flipped from defense to offense, and the rest is history. But how much of a factor, really, was Tosh Lupoi in Allen’s recruitment, and why the ranking at safety if he has moved exclusively to offense?
Farrell’s take: Allen was a better safety than a wide receiver out of high school, if you can believe that. It simply came down to a package deal with his brother. Lupoi is a great recruiter, but this was a family deal and Cal pulled the right strings. Allen played defensive back at almost every event we saw him at and he was amazing, but he was a great receiver as well. He was a special talent.
5. Can you figure out why NFL teams didn’t draft Quin Blanding?
Overview: Quin Blanding played all over the field at Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside and dominated on the high school level, landing two dozen offers and turning down some of the nation’s best programs to play at Virginia. He was ranked fifth overall in the 2014 class behind only Da’Shawn Hand, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and Leonard Fournette. In Charlottesville, Blanding became the first freshman to start the opener since 1976. He then finished with nearly 500 tackles and he had 10 interceptions during his college career. But Blanding went undrafted, was signed by Washington in May but waived in September. He’s since been picked up by the Carolina Panthers.
Farrell’s take: Nope, I can’t understand it. I know he didn’t test that well, but his football IQ and ability to anticipate the play are excellent. I think he ends up being a longtime NFL player. His college film speaks for itself.