2017 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Budda Baker
By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Over the past three seasons, Washington has fielded one of the best secondaries in college football with Baker being one of the program's most impressive players. As a freshman, Baker broke into the lineup with 80 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception. He recorded 49 tackles with seven passes broken up and two interceptions in 2015. In 2016, Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King dominated the Pac-12 as they led the Huskies to a spot in the college football playoff. Baker totaled 71 tackles with two interceptions and six passes broken up on the season.
For the NFL, there is a lot to like about Baker. He is a natural free safety who has exceptional instincts. Baker is very fast to read routes and quarterbacks' eyes, plus does a superb job of breaking quickly on the ball. He is a smart defender that never seems to be out of position. Baker's instincts and recognition skills put him in position to make a lot of plays as he was all over the field for the Huskies.
Baker is a real asset for pass coverage. As the deep center fielder, he can break on the ball well and is dangerous to pick it off or slap it away. Baker is rangy and is adept at making some big plays downfield because he is very instinctive. He covers a lot of ground in the deep part of the field and has the instincts to get in position to make big plays. Baker also has man-coverage skills as a nickel cornerback. He could cover slot receivers in man coverage as he has excellent speed, feet, and agility to run with wideouts. While Baker lacks size, he really competes hard and makes up for it with his grit. Baker could help defend against receiving tight ends, but could have issues with them and big receivers making catches over him.
In run defense, Baker flies around the field and doesn't hesitate to take on a back. He is a quality tackler who hits harder than one expects. However in the NFL, Baker could have issues with tackling bigger, physical backs as they are going to be a lot larger and more powerful than the backs he is used to going against. Baker won't fit at the next level as a strong safety or eighth man in the box. Thus, he is not an interchangeable safety and will be relegated to playing free safety. Still, as a free safety, he should be a reliable last line of defense.
If Baker was three inches taller and 15-20 pounds heavier, he would be a top-20 pick. Evaluators across the league really like Baker as a player; however, they have concerns about his size and him holding up in the NFL. Given his weight and style of play, they think he could have problems avoiding injuries and staying healthy. The size and durability concerns are the factors that push Baker to the second round.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, Baker is likely to be a second-round pick, and team sources don't expect him to slip to the third round. There is a chance he goes late in the first round, but is more likely to go in Round 2.
Player Comparison: Bob Sanders/Jimmie Ward. Baker is very similar to Sanders. Like Baker, Sanders was a versatile defender who could cover and also was physical in the ground game. Sanders (5-8, 206) was a phenomenal NFL safety for a time before injuries ruined his career. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be surprising if Baker had similar injury issues as he is even thinner than Sanders was. Injuries have also hurt Ward (5-11, 193) in his young NFL career. There is talk that Ward will stay as a nickelback in order to help him avoid injury.
NFL Matches: Tampa Bay, Houston, Seattle, Buffalo, New York Jets, Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh
There are a lot of potential fits for Baker on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bears, Chargers, Panthers, Bengals and Bills all have top-10 picks and could use a safety. Baker won't go that high, but at least three of those teams could be targeting a safety in Round 2 assuming that Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker go in the top 10. Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu and Michigan's Jabrill Peppers could also go in the middle to late portion of the first round.
At the top of the second round, Baker could easily go off the board in the first three picks. Cleveland needs improved safety play, and Baker would make sense for one of the team's second-round picks. San Francisco needs a free safety to play the Earl Thomas role in its change to the Seahawks' style of defense. Baker has been hosted by the 49ers on a pre-draft visit and would make sense for them. Chicago signed Quintin Demps to be its strong safety, but could use a free safety to pair with him. Baker could interest the Bears if they don't take a safety at No. 3.
The Jets could use an upgrade at free safety and could target Baker in Round 2. Staying in the AFC East, Buffalo could consider a safety as Aaron Williams has an uncertain future due to a neck injury. Elsewhere in the AFC, the Bengals really missed not having Reggie Nelson last year. Out west, the Chargers need a true replacement for Eric Weddle, and if they don't take a safety in the first round, Baker would be a good fit for them in Round 2.
There are a few options for Baker in the NFC South. Atlanta might consider him late in the first round as it needs a free safety to pair with Keanu Neal. Carolina needs a safety upgrade, too, while Tampa Bay needs an upgrade at safety. Baker would make sense for either team's second-round pick.
After losing Quintin Demps, the Texans have a huge need at safety. Baker could be a prime target for them in the second round. The Steelers could use a safety to pair with Sean Davis, and Baker could give them a gifted young tandem.
Sources say the Seahawks love Melifonwu, so perhaps Baker could be in play for them also. Earl Thomas has made some noise about retirement, so the Seahawks could start thinking of the future.
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