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While not the best safety in the 2020 draft class, Xavier McKinney still projects as a good prospect

I’ve been writing about the 2020 NFL Draft’s top prospects at safety this week, a position that is extremely important (if undervalued) in today’s NFL. We started with LSU’s Grant Delpit, moved to underrated Iowa superstar Geno Stone and followed that up with small-school standout Kyle Dugger. All three players look really good in our projection system, especially as coverage players.

Today, we take a look at Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney played everywhere for the Crimson tide — 323 snaps in the box, 227 in the slot and 271 deep.

He allowed just 50% of the passes into his coverage to be completed as a sophomore, getting his hands on nine of 52 such plays, though he was a little more lenient as a junior when he gave up three touchdowns and 353 yards on the 59 total passes into his primary coverage. However, he still came out of the scrum with an 89.2 coverage grade, adding 32 stops and 10 total pressures.

Before leaving the NFL Scouting Combine due to cramps, McKinney was not as impressive as his contemporaries in Indy, running just a 4.63-second 40-yard dash while jumping 36 inches in the vertical and 122 inches in the broad jump.

PFF’s college-to-pro projection system takes into consideration a player’s play-by-play data along with their performance at the scouting combine. Here we look at how McKinney stacks up.

[Editor's Note: PFF's college-to-pro projections are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

How McKinney Projects as a Coverage Player

This might change when (or if) McKinney is able to take part in a pro day at Alabama, but for now, we have him allowing a higher completion percentage and delivering a lower playmaker rate (rate of interceptions and pass breakups per primary or secondary coverage play) than most of his contemporaries.

That said, this could be more of a “styles make fights” situation than a poor projection for McKinney, as his statistical comps include players like Adrian Amos, Desmond King II, T.J. McDonald and Budda Baker, who have had various levels of success in the NFL despite giving up high-ish completion percentages and getting their hands on relatively few passes. 

Context is also important, because if McKinney plays more as an in-the-box player who occasionally roams into the slot, his projections get a bit better than in the context-free case, with comps like Kurt Coleman and Rodney McLeod.

Xavier McKinney’s projected completion percentage and playmaker rate during the first five years of his NFL career, assuming he plays 25% of his snaps in the slot, 50% in the box and 25% deep. The vertical dashed line is the league average for safeties during their rookie deal from 2015-2019.

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