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OAYP: 2019 Sun Belt Safety Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the Sun Belt's returning safeties.

In case you missed it, I’ve already released the marginal OAYP rankings for all the qualifying Sun Belt offensive players, front seven defenders, and cornerbacks. Those, along with a more comprehensive explanation (in the QB rankings), can be found here:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | EDGE | DL | LB | CB

Now we wrap things up with the safeties. As we’ve done with all the other position groups, we’ll tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1.0), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

There’s some high end talent in this position group, although the wealth is not spread very evenly. The entire top six hails from just three different schools, one of which also dominated the cornerback rankings. I feel like a broken record at this point, but I’ll say it again: if this group takes well to Zac Spavital’s more aggressive approach, watch out Texas State’s defense in 2019.

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*

Superstars

-Desmond Franklin, App State (2.12)
-Josh Thomas, App State (2.03)
-Jashon Waddy, Texas State (1.31)
-BJ Edmonds, Arkansas State (1.13)

Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes are gone, along with fellow safety Austin Exford, which makes it all the more impressive that App State will still be so formidable in the secondary. Those cornerbacks helped, but they weren’t the only reason that the Mountaineers allowed the third fewest receptions of 30+ yards in the country. According to Pro Football Focus, Desmond Franklin allowed just 0.31 yards per snap in coverage and his 38.4 allowed passer rating on throws into his coverage was the best in the Sun Belt, regardless of position. He also tallied four picks and nine total passes defended, while Josh Thomas added another four interceptions of his own, which ties the two atop the conference among returnees. If Waddy and Edmonds are superstars, with marginal OAYP scores above 2.0, these two are super-duper-stars, and the legion of Boone should be as strong as ever.

That being said, Waddy and Edmonds are superstars in their own right. Waddy is an absolute playmaker. He had an interception, seven pass breakups, and two forced fumbles last year in his first season playing safety, and his 36.2% havoc play per tackle rate was the highest on the team, among Texas State’s starters and key contributors. BJ Edmonds put up similar numbers, recording three interceptions, six total passes defended, and a forced fumble. Both will also benefit from playing alongside another upper echelon safety, as well…

Second Tier

-Darreon Jackson, Arkansas State (0.86)
-Josh Newman, Texas State (0.83)
-Kenderick Duncan, Georgia Southern (0.52)

Darreon Jackson was a tackling machine in 2018, totaling 15 more than any other returning defensive back in the conference. With Edmonds holding it down on the backend, he and Justin Clifton were free to roam closer to the line of scrimmage and it paid off. Jackson ended up with 6.5 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks, and 9 run stuffs. This attacking style of play from their defensive backs also helped Arkansas State to rank in the national top ten in passes of 10+ yards allowed. Almost a hybrid linebacker a lot of the time, Jackson needs to improve in coverage to crack the superstar threshold, but don’t be surprised if that happens this season.

Josh Newman, on the other hand, needs no help in coverage, as he posted PFF’s second highest grade in that respect among returning SBC safeties. He doesn’t have the raw production of some of the other guys on the list, but he thrived in Texas State’s more bend-don’t-break defense. That production could come with a presumably more aggressive approach under Spavital, which, correspondingly, could also vault him into the superstar threshold. In other words, if you could just combine Jackson and Newman into one player, you would have the ultimate defensive back… er, basically Justin Clifton.

Kenderick Duncan was, for the most part, a key reserve and special teams contributor for Georgia Southern last year, playing behind Sean Freeman. However, he did start four games, three for Freeman and one for Joshua Moon, with great efficacy. It’s a limited sample size, but in those four starts against Clemson, New Mexico State, App State, and ULM, he racked up 30 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Thick, long, and strong, Duncan looks like the sort of safety you would create on NCAA Football, if that still existed. And if those four games were any indication, he’ll play like that, too.

Potential Breakout Star

-Antonio Fletcher, Arkansas State (1.11)

With the aforementioned Darreon Jackson likely taking on more of that Justin Clifton hybrid linebacker/nickelback role, Antonio Fletcher should slide right into his departed slot without missing a beat. That’s a big ask, but he, albeit on a limited sample size, allowed a lower marginal efficiency and explosiveness rating than either Jackson or Edmonds last year. In fact, his marginal explosiveness allowed was even better than Clifton’s. Plus, playing alongside those two sure won’t hurt.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Sun Belt Safeties

1. Desmond Franklin, App State (2.12)
2. Josh Thomas, App State (2.03)
3. Jashon Waddy, Texas State (1.31)
4. BJ Edmonds, Arkansas State (1.13)
5. Darreon Jackson, Arkansas State (0.86)
6. Josh Newman, Texas State (0.83)
7. Kenderick Duncan, Georgia Southern (0.52)
8. Kyler Knudsen, Troy (0.29)
9. Melvin Tyus, Troy (0.17)
10. Deuce Wallace, Louisiana (-0.25)
11. Sterling Fisher, South Alabama (-0.8)
12. Jabari Johnson, ULM (-0.95)
13. Jaylon Jones, Georgia State (-0.98)
14. Terik Miller, Louisiana (-1.1)
15. DJ Daniels, South Alabama (-1.16)
16. Nick Ingram, ULM (-1.19)
17. Austin Hawley, ULM (-1.28)
18. Remy Lazarus, Georgia State (-1.55)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP