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Crist | Budda Baker: The Next Tyrann Mathieu

SEP 24 Washington at Arizona
Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Crist | Budda Baker: The Next Tyrann Mathieu

In a loaded safety class, Budda Baker is the forgotten man. Malik Hooker is the ball hawking center fielder who makes incredible plays and gets people excited. Jamal Adams is the do it all safety with every tool in the tool shed. While Baker is every bit as talented as the top guys, he doesn’t get the same level of recognition. The first thing that people knock when they see Budda Baker is his size.

At 5’10”, 195lbs Baker is a smaller safety, but don’t let his size fool you, the man can play football. Two of the best safeties in the NFL showed up to the combine at a similar height and weight. Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks was 5’10” and 202 lbs while Tyrann Mathieu was 5’9” and 186 lbs. Baker’s game closely resembles Mathieu, and he tested as a superior athlete.

When you watch a Washington game live, Baker may be the first player who jumps off the screen. He is all over the field. He can play in the box, single high, and nickel corner for a defense. He makes plays in the run game, and can lock up in man coverage.

Baker has excellent change of direction skills and good closing speed to make plays on the ball and the receiver. Per PFF, his numbers back up his attributes.

What does Baker’s film say? Is it as impressive as his numbers and athletic profile? Yes. Baker has every attribute you want out of a safety, and his talent combined with his versatility makes him a top 15 talent in this draft class.

Justin Melo of Draft Wire asked Baker about his versatility: “I honestly feel like I can fit any type of scheme.”

Nickel Corner

Nickel corner is one of the hardest positions to play in the NFL. Not only do you have to play the quickest receivers and big tight ends in the slot where the entire field is open for routes, but you must do so while giving them a free release. On top of the difficulty of coverage, you are contain versus the run, and asked to blitz and get to the quarterback.

Baker has the quickness, ability to move laterally, speed and instincts to succeed in all of these areas.

Baker is excellent at understanding his responsibility and holding his contain. He doesn’t chase down plays that he shouldn’t and holds his back side contain. Having him on the field, he can single-handedly stop reverses from being effective. He can also beat blocks, and he is a good tackler despite his small frame.

Baker tackles with form and understands his size limitations; wrapping up a runner’s legs and brings him to the ground. He can also make plays behind the line of scrimmage, making 9.5 tackles for loss in 2016.

As a pass rusher, Baker is exceptional. He has phenomenal instincts at timing snap counts.

Baker doesn’t give away his intentions, and unlike most secondary players he shows an ability to use his hands to beat blocks. He had 3 sacks in his junior year at Washington. As a free blitzer he can create pressure in an instant, sacking the quarterback, forcing fumbles, and forcing rush throws for turnovers.

Obviously, the most important part of being able to play nickel corner is to be able to cover. Baker has excellent cover corner skills. He has great lateral quickness, and can change directions on a dime. He has good ball skills, and uses his ability as a tackler to ensure no yardage after the catch.

If he is beaten, he has the acceleration to recover and still make a play.

He also shows ball skills in coverage, with 18 career passes defenses and 5 interceptions. With his acceleration, he can make a break on the ball and within the first 10 yards of the line of scrimmage his trailing position is an advantage for him. He can make players look open who really aren’t and break on the ball.

Where Baker will struggle in the NFL at his size is covering 6’6” tight ends. The team that drafts him will be wise to adjust its scheme and not leave him on an island. While he will be able to have blanket coverage on these players, their sheer size will cause issues for him.

Strong Safety

Baker brings the same skill set to playing in the box, where he is extremely effective. He plays running lanes well, and is able to navigate around and behind blockers to make plays in the backfield.

Baker can come screaming in on a blitz and tackle the runner in the backfield, or hold his contain on the edge and force the running back inside into the teeth of the defense.

In passing situations a strong safety must often cover the flats. Baker does this extremely well. He has an excellent feel for the game and good play recognition.

Combining this with his closing ability and can drive, Baker can make a play on the receiver. He can close quick enough to stop short plays from becoming long ones, as well as at times knock the ball away from the receiver entirely.

While Baker patrols the flats extremely well, he can also drop into deep coverage. He uses his play recognition and ability to read the quarterbacks eyes to drop into coverage with a great understanding of how routes are developing as they happen and can cut off throwing lanes. He even has the ability to bait quarterbacks into bad throws, as seen here versus Alabama.

Free Safety

Baker wasn’t asked to play much free safety in college, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to. His instincts would allow him to thrive in this role as well. His reaction skills and play recognition would allow him to cover a lot of ground. He can track the ball well in the air and create turnovers as well.

A team may not play him here much in the NFL because of his talents at the line of scrimmage, but his ability to drop into deep coverage will likely be utilized.

On top of his ability to play multiple positions and play them well, Baker is a high effort player. He leaves everything he has out on the field on every play. He has the potential to change a locker room’s culture.

On the below play he rushed the passer, recognized he wouldn’t get there and proceeded to sprint full speed down the field to get in on the play 30 yards down field. That is something you don’t see out of most players.

Wgether its his film, his measurables, or the character he brings to the locker room, Baker is destined for big things. He will likely hear his name called later than he should, and he will spend his career making other teams pay for passing on him.

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Eliot Crist

Eliot Crist is a National Scout for NDT Scouting Services. He also works for Pro Football Focus as an analyst. He has experience in draft breakdowns, tendency scouting reports, and player evaluations. Eliot is passionate about breaking down film, showing the good and bad of players explaining what he sees in a player. He frequently appears as a guest analyst on football podcasts.

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