Richie Grant NFL Draft Profile
With free agency coming to a close, the need for the Chargers to add talent in the secondary has only increased. They released Casey Hayward and re-signed Michael Davis, but they still need to add more playmakers to the group after also losing Rayshawn Jenkins to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The general consensus around the draft world seems to have the Chargers pegged as a team likely to take a cornerback in the first two rounds, but if they miss out on that second group of corners (Greg Newsome II, Asante Samuel Jr., Eric Stokes, etc.) in the second round they could pivot towards adding a safety instead.
This senior safety out of Central Florida would make a lot of sense. Grant brings three years of starting experience and 290 career combined tackles to the table and is arguably the best safety in this year’s class.
Richie Grant NFL Draft Profile
Top Three Player Traits
The biggest selling point for Grant on the Chargers (or on any other team for that matter) over a traditional cornerback is his versatility. At UCF he was able to line up all over the field as a versatile chess piece. In 2020, he logged 225 snaps as a deep safety, 236 as a box safety, 145 in the slot, and even 10 at the line of scrimmage as a rusher. Then he went down to the Senior Bowl and spent the week taking reps as an outside corner for good measure. Despite spending the majority of the week outside of his natural position, he was arguably the best defensive player in Mobile and really did himself a lot of favors with his play down there.
Must remind everyone @UCF_Football DB Richie Grant is a safety by trade, not a corner. Numerous reps like this one where @rgrant1525 blankets WR during Senior Bowl week. Probably the best finisher in this year’s game. There’s a reason why he’s a hot guy in the league right now.🔥 pic.twitter.com/j2iGGRxOcJ
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 12, 2021
When looking at how Brandon Staley uses his secondary pieces, versatility is the most important attribute. Troy Hill, John Johnson, Darious Williams, and even Jalen Ramsey spent time in their non-traditional roles last season. So while he is a safety, his versatility would allow the Chargers to be extremely flexible with how they move around their secondary.
Staley has talked about how they want to expand James’ role a bit and let him play as a deep safety more often, so they will need another safety who can play deep in the two-high shell, and in the box as well. Grant would allow them to do that. The Chiefs have unlocked Tyrann Mathieu because they move him around all over the field, and Grant has that kind of potential.
One of the most important things about playing in the middle of the defense (as a linebacker or safety) is their instincts. How quickly are they able to process information and react to that information. That’s one of the things that Nasir Adderley struggled with so much this year, which is surprising because that is not something that we saw as a potential weakness coming out of Delaware. It’s also one of the things that makes Derwin James so great because he couples his high instincts with elite athletic traits.
Grant isn’t the best athlete (although he did test at a very high level in the broad jump and three-cone drill) in the world, but he’s incredibly smart and processes information very quickly which points to him having great instincts. This attribute particularly shows up as a deep safety where he can read the quarterback’s eyes and go make plays. Obviously having elite athletic traits makes things easier for players but you can overcome athletic deficiencies at the safety position if you have great instincts, and I think that’s the case for Grant.
This last one was tough to pick between his ability as a tackler and his ability to track the ball and be a playmaker in that regard. I will choose his ball skills though because I do believe he has a very positive projection in the turnover department. Per Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 125 times during his career at UCF and he produced 10 interceptions and 19 pass break-ups. That is INCREDIBLE production for someone who was never a full-time free safety or outside corner. Chargers fans will always fondly remember the 2018 defensive secondary in part because it featured several members who were turnover machines. As it stands currently, they don’t have a ton of playmakers in that regard. Adding Grant to the group would greatly improve their turnover potential.
— Steven Haglund (@StevenIHaglund) March 24, 2021
In a relatively weak safety class, these three attributes make Grant a prime contender to be the first safety off the board.
Top Three Player Traits To Improve Upon
Overzealous In Run Support
All three of these traits are incredibly nit-picky because Grant is one of my favorite prospects in this class. The first area of slight concern is that he does have the tendency at times to be overzealous in run support. This is something Kenneth Murray struggled a bit within the early parts of his rookie season. Being that kind of athlete can lead to that sort of thing.
Again, Grant is not the kind of explosive athlete that Murray is, but there are times where he reacts too quickly and overshoots his gaps or takes himself out of the play. Despite not being the biggest safety in the world, he wants to play downhill and he wants to bring a physical element to the position. There’s a fine balance between letting a player loose and asking him to ease up, and I’d rather see them make mistakes going 100 miles per hour than reacting too slow. But I do want to see Grant be a little more patient when he’s lined up as a deep safety because that position is often the last line of defense.
This is where the limited straight-line speed does come into play. As I mentioned earlier, Grant can play multiple spots in the NFL, but the one situation he does not fit into is as a single high safety in a cover three scheme. Unfortunately for him, that will push him down the board for some teams, or potentially make them put him into a box that limits his versatility. If Gus Bradley were still the defensive coordinator in Los Angeles, that would likely take him off the Chargers board.
In a two-high shell, like Staley will be running, he will be a fit as an interchangeable safety. Limiting his responsibilities to one-quarter of the field will allow him shorter windows to play in, as opposed to being responsible for the middle third like he would be in Bradley’s scheme. That kind of defensive scheme would put way too much of a strain on his physical ability.
Another crucial aspect of the safety position is the ability to be a concise communicator. This is something that Staley spoke so highly about Johnson last year with the Rams. He was such an effective communicator that Staley let him call their plays last season.
Communication can take many roles, though, especially in the secondary. One of the things that made Eric Weddle so special for the Chargers is he always made sure that the rest of the secondary was lined up in the right spots and that included after the snap. Passing off coverages in a fluid manner is about communication. This is the area that Grant struggles with a bit. He falls prey to the “see ball, get ball” mentality a little too often. Again there’s a balance here, but in a scheme that will require him to play deep more often, that is something that he will need to clean up, and he should be able to accomplish that with NFL coaching. This particularly showed up in red-zone situations.
Ultimately, the positional scarcity of the safety position this year creates a wide window of variance for where Grant can go in the draft. It seems like right now the back end of the first round is going to be dominated by that third tier of offensive tackles, but I would not be surprised if Grant were the first safety off the board in the late first/early second. He could also fall victim to that run on tackles and be pushed down the board if TCU’s Trevon Moehrig or Oregon’s Jevon Holland go off the board before him.
In the world where the Chargers grab their franchise left tackle in the first round and are looking for a defensive playmaker in the second round, Grant would make a ton of sense. Whoever drafts him is going to get an incredibly versatile defensive playmaker.