NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Top-10 safety prospects if everyone in college football was eligible

• A 2026 prospect leads the way: Ohio State’s Caleb Downs is the only 2026 prospect who leads one of these lists.

• Six 2025 safeties in the top-10: The 2025 NFL Draft is loaded at safety with six of the top-10 players on this list.

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The NFL is unique to other sports leagues in that players cannot enter it until they are three years removed from high school. 

What if that rule changed and players could enter the draft after playing just one year of college football? Here’s how the top-10 safety prospects would shake out for the 2024 NFL Draft if everybody in college football was eligible to be selected.

(Please note: Only players eligible for the 2024, 2025 and 2026 NFL Drafts were considered. Incoming true freshmen were not eligible. Also, the 2024 rankings are how I view the prospects, not necessarily what’s reflected on PFF’s big board.)

Click below to view our other all-eligible prospect rankings

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB

1. Caleb Downs, Ohio State, 2026

Downs is the only 2026 prospect who leads one of these all-eligible position rankings.

He entered Tuscaloosa as the highest-rated safety recruit since Derwin James Jr. in 2015 and immediately showed why. The true freshman was named a first-team PFF All-American and was second among Power Five safeties with 16 coverage stops. His 88.9 PFF coverage grade was third among that same group.

Downs has no glaring weaknesses in his game, which is pretty ridiculous considering he’s not even a year removed from his senior prom. He’ll surely be joining his older brother, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs, in the NFL in a couple of years. In fact, he’d likely be the first safety off the board next month if he was in this year’s class.

2. Malaki Starks, Georgia, 2025

Like Downs, Starks lived up to the hype he had coming out of high school. As a true freshman in 2022, the former top-10 recruit led all Georgia defenders with 847 snaps during its national championship run. His eight combined interceptions and forced incompletions that year were tied for fifth among SEC safeties.

Starks built off his freshman year by earning an 84.8 PFF run-defense grade as a sophomore, which placed him seventh in the Power Five for his position. He was also tied for sixth in that same group with seven forced incompletions in 2023. 

The rising junior is an elite athlete who’s a standout run defender and tackler for the position while also consistently making plays in coverage. He’s the favorite to be the top safety off the board in 2025 and will likely end up being a first-round selection.

3. Dillon Thieneman, Purdue, 2026

Thieneman entered Purdue as the No. 90 safety recruit in the 2023 high school class according to On3 Sports. Just a year later, he’s a top-five safety in college football entering his sophomore year.

His 89.5 PFF grade trailed only Tyler Nubin among FBS safeties this past season while his 90.2 PFF run-defense grade was tied for fifth. The true freshman also tied for second among all safeties in the nation with six interceptions while only allowing five catches. While Downs is the favorite to be the top safety in the 2026 draft, Thieneman isn’t too far behind.

4. Kevin Winston Jr., Penn State, 2025

Winston has no such issues as a tackler. The sophomore posted just a 2% missed-tackle rate last year, which was second among all safeties in the country. His 90.6 run-defense grade was third among FBS safeties as well.

Winston was far more than just a safety who excelled at stopping the run. In fact, he was the only safety in the nation who posted 85-plus grades both as a run-defender and in coverage last year. His well-rounded game will likely evoke some comparisons to another great Penn State safety in Jaquan Brisker.

5. Tyler Nubin, Minnesota, 2024

The consensus top safety in the 2024 draft, Nubin was stellar for the Golden Gophers this past season. His 30% completion rate allowed was the lowest among all safeties in the country. In fact, the fifth-year senior had almost as many interceptions (five) as allowed catches (six). 

He has the athleticism and football intelligence to thrive as a free safety in a defense that utilizes a two-deep look. 

6. Xavier Nwankpa, Iowa, 2025

Nwankpa finished the 2023 season as the most valuable safety in the country according to PFF’s wins above-average metric. He did that by posting an 88.4 PFF coverage grade, which was tied for fourth among Power Five safeties.

The rising junior is an athletic player with great instincts who will be a major part of what should still be one of college football’s best secondaries.

7. Javon Bullard, Georgia, 2024

Bullard blurs the line between a safety and a slot cornerback, playing the latter in 2022 before becoming more of the former this past season. He projects best as a slot corner at the next level as a willing run-defender with experience in press coverage.

Bullard’s 85.6 PFF grade in the slot since 2022 is eighth among all FBS defenders. 

8. Xavier Watts, Notre Dame, 2025

Watts took home the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2023, given to the best defensive player in college football. While his underlying metrics didn’t necessarily paint the senior in the same light, there’s no denying that he was a big-time playmaker for Notre Dame’s defense. 

Watts led the FBS with seven interceptions last season and didn’t allow a touchdown into his coverage. His 37.8 passer rating allowed in 2023 was the eighth-best mark by a Power Five safety. 

To take his game to the next level, Watts needs to improve in the run game and as a tackler. He posted just a 62.5 PFF run-defense grade last year and missed 18% of his tackle attempts. The latter figure placed him in just the eighth percentile for the nation’s safeties in 2023. 

9. Rod Moore, Michigan, 2025

Moore had a relatively down junior season (71.3 grade) compared to what he did as a sophomore (83.9 grade). However, he still has been the sixth-most valuable returning Power Five safety over the past two years according to PFF’s wins above average metric. His six interceptions in that stretch are tied for third in that same group.

Unfortunately, he won’t have much of an opportunity to rebound in his senior campaign as he just recently tore his ACL in practice. He’ll still be a leader of Michigan’s defense from the sidelines until he can get back onto the field, which might not happen until later in the season.

10. Keon Sabb, Alabama, 2025

Sabb wasn’t even a starter for Michigan last season, but he made the most of his 360 snaps. The sophomore was one of six Power Five safeties who earned 80-plus grades both in coverage and as a run-defender. Despite only playing the 161st most coverage snaps among Power Five safeties (221), Sabb forced the third-most incompletions (eight).

While replacing Downs is nearly an impossible task, Alabama still picked up a top-10 safety through the transfer portal in Sabb.

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