Metro Atlanta and the University of Georgia will be well-represented when the safeties are selected in the NFL draft, which is scheduled for April 23-25.
Alabama’s Xavier McKinney (Roswell High), Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger (Whitewater) and Georgia’s J.R. Reed are top-rated safeties projected to be drafted.
McKinney widely is rated as the best pick of all the safeties.
» MORE: Top 10 safeties in 2020 draft
“Xavier is a big, smart and physical player,” SiriusXM NFL Radio analyst Mark Dominik said. “Great, engaging personality that lights up a room. He’ll go in the first round.”
McKinney was a second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-SEC pick, and he led the Crimson Tide in tackles with 95 last season.
McKinney also has six sacks over his career and works on disguising his blitzes.
“I try to make sure that every aspect of my game is solid and make sure it’s polished,” McKinney said. “That’s something I actually work on a lot in the offseason. That’s something I try to make sure that I have in my toolbox.”
McKinney was fine with moving around within the defense.
“I’m the type of guy that I want to impact the game in every way that I can,” McKinney said. “If I think I’m able to have an effect in blitzing and covering or whatever it is, I’ll always mention it to Coach, and say, ‘Hey, I can do this. Maybe we should try this.’ There have been times where I’ve done that.
“But they also know what I can do and my ability, so they try their best to put me in the best situation and the best possible situation to have a good result.”
McKinney had a formal interview with Tampa Bay, which holds the 14th pick. Dallas, which picks 17th, also must revamp its secondary.
“He’s got great range,” said Dominik, who was Tampa Bay’s general manager from 2009-13. “Great instincts. He finds the ball and takes great angles.”
McKinney ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at the scouting combine, but didn’t participate in the short-area quickness drills, the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone drill.
“I just want him to be as physical as possible,” Dominik said. “That’s the one thing as much as he’s a free safety kind of a guy, just be physical on the football field and finish off plays. He puts himself in position. He’s a guy I would have loved to have do all of the shuttle work so I could see the short-area quickness.”
McKinney also is the signal-caller on defense.
“He’s a great communicator,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I had some scouting influences on me when I started that had come from New England. And coach (Bill) Belichick would always preach to those guys, you cannot win with a dumb safety. You’ve got to have an intelligent and good communicative safety.”
Some analysts project that McKinney could slip into the second round.
“He’s my 31st ranked player,” SiriusXM NFL radio analyst Gil Brandt said.
Dugger, who started high school at 5-foot-6, had a growth spurt and blossomed at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and held his own against big-school players.
“He worked out at the combine,” Brandt said. “He ran. It’s just a question of where you think he fits in. I think I have him in my top 100, which usually puts you within the parameters of the fourth round.”
Brandt, a former personnel man with Dallas and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, ranks Dugger as his 72nd player.
Dominik is much higher on Dugger.
“He’s a second-round type of talent for me because he can do so many things,” Dominik said.
Dugger, a physical player, can play close to the line of scrimmage on running downs and play coverage in passing situations.
“I’ve been thinking about this position for years,” Dominik said. “Honestly, that’s why I drafted Mark Barron (seventh overall in 2012) because (we) wanted that guy who could stay on the field in nickel and cover. I know they converted him more to the linebacker role (with the Rams). Because he could play in coverage, (I) saw him as a blend (between a linebacker and safety).”
Dugger fits that description.
“I think this is what the league is,” Dominik said. “That’s why I have a higher grade on him because this is what the league needs, players of his size, his strength who can play the run and cover in the pass game.”
Reed started the first 13 games last season and finished with 54 total tackles, fourth-best for the Bulldogs.
Reed also had seven pass breakups, ranking third among all defenders. He was the co-winner of the Vince Dooley defensive MVP award.
AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES
Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads class | Top 10
Running backs: Cam Akers' life lesson | Top 10
Tight ends: Harrison Bryant top prospect | Top 10
Guards/Centers: Solomon Kindley a late-rounder | Top 10
Offensive tackles: Austin Jackson's life lesson | Top 10
Wide receivers: Jeudy or Lamb | Top 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand out | Top 10
Defensive ends: A 'generational' talent | Top 10
Linebackers: Simmons a position-less LB | Top 10
Safeties: Loaded with Georgia talent | Top 10
Part 11: Special Teams
Part 12: Cornerbacks
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