New Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is known for deploying multiple safeties, but the team doesn’t have a lot of depth at the position. That makes Nick Cross from Maryland a viable option for the Raiders in this year’s NFL Draft.
S | Maryland | 6’0 1/8” and 212 lbs | Bowie, MD | September 10th, 2001 (20.6)
Nick Cross came to Maryland as a four-star recruit and the No. 4 safety in the country for the 2019 class, per 247 Sports. He mixed in the Terps’ defensive back rotation for his first six games on campus and was a starter in all but two games after that. In three college seasons, the Bowie native racked up 134 total tackles, six interceptions and nine pass breakups. He also allowed a 65.4 percent completion rate, 469 receiving yards and a 94.2 passer rating when targeted, per Pro Football Focus.
- Excellent weight and speed combination, weighing in at 212 pounds and running a 4.34-second 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine
- Speed allows him to take away the deep middle in one-high coverages, and to start in a one-high look pre-snap and roll to two-high post-snap with no issues getting to his area
- Has the range to go from the middle of the field to the numbers and at least be in a position to make a tackle and limit YAC
- Accelerates well to come from a free safety alignment (8-12 yards from the line of scrimmage and between the tackles) and make a play on flat routes shortly after the catch
- In man coverage, he’s comfortable playing from a trail position and his speed allows him to cover deep routes
- He has the strength and balance to stay upright and in phase when wide receivers get physical at the top of the route
- Against tight ends in coverage, he uses his hands well to stay attached and can hold his own near the goal line
- Impressive ball tracking to put himself in a position to make a play on balls in the air, PBUs or INTs
- With his back to the quarterback, he turns to locate the ball when in phase and not a second sooner to avoid slowing himself down
- Excellent timing to play the hands at the catch point, facing the quarterback or not, and he has the strength to knock the ball out of tight ends’ hands
- Has average arm length for the position — 31.5” — but uses them well for PBUs
- Can force incompletions with a big hit against wide receivers
- Solid hands for a defensive back to get interceptions
- Better in run support as a free safety where he can take a step back and see everything unfold in front of him, that gives him more time to think and thus be more aggressive and play faster
- Stays under control when coming downhill from a free safety spot to fulfill his frontside gap responsibility and play cleanup on the backside
- Has the strength to get extension and shed against wide receivers
- Tackles with good pad level, aiming for the ball carrier’s thighs
- Understands when he needs to wrap up and when he can take the shot for a big hit, and he can lay some wood to knock receivers backward and limit running backs' yards after contact
- In pursuit, good effort, speed and open-field tackling to prevent touchdowns
Areas of Improvement:
- Questionable instincts overall, he seems slow to read plays and looks like he’s thinking too much post-snap
- Also, isn’t great at reading the quarterback’s eyes and anticipating throws
- He didn’t run the three-cone drill at the combine — 40-yard-dash, vertical and broad jumps only — and had trouble covering ins when playing man, suggesting his change of direction skills are sub-par for the position
- Doesn’t use leverage steps to maintain his spacing when receivers attack his leverage, giving them a two-way go and he isn’t good at reading routes either, a bad combination
- Pretty reliant on his ball skills in man coverage, he will sacrifice body positioning and just try to make a play on the ball
- In zone coverage, his eyes will get caught in the backfield, especially against play action, and he’ll miss potential threats to his area or opportunities to help teammates in coverage
- Not a quick processor to see and make switches when playing pattern match coverage
- He’s more passive against the run when playing in the box, it looks like it takes him too long to read and react to the offense’s play call and get to the right spot
- Lacks the strength and physicality at the point of attack to take on run blocks from tight ends, and he will work around/avoid blocks, leaving his gap responsibility when in the box
- Needs to sure up his angles, can be too deep, too shallow and overrun ball carries, his depth perception appears to be off
- Doesn’t use the sideline as his friend when tackling near the boundary
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 121st overall, 4th round
Cross’ stock has taken a significant dip recently. On March 26th, he was ranked 100th on NMDD’s board, then fell down to 130th just four days later and is now floating around the 120-mark. I can agree with the late Day 2 to early Day 3 slotting that seems to be his sweet spot, but I do think he has top-100 potential and would be a steal in the fourth round if he’s still available.
As far as fit goes, I think the Maryland product would be best for a team that’s looking for a deep safety and plays a lot of one-high coverages. That way he can see everything develop in front of him and have more time to react, and he has plenty of speed to cover ground in a hurry. He could play in a two-high system too, but his struggles when playing in the box would make it hard to disugse coverages.
What do we need to know?
How long is it going to take for his instincts to click, or will they? One of my biggest fears with Cross at the next level is that he doesn’t play as fast as he is because he’s thinking too much. A player’s play speed is what really matters in the NFL, and play speed is the intersection between mental processing and athletic ability, and to me, he only has half of that equation right now.
Fit with the Raiders:
I wouldn’t be surprised if Cross ends up being the 86th overall pick of the draft. As mentioned above, Graham loves his safeties and Cross is an easy one to fall head over heels for. Especially if the coach thinks he can work with the former Terp on the mental aspect of the game. Based on the projections above, the third round might be a little rich but the Raiders’ 126th overall selection would be a great value.
Schematically, my only hesitation is that Cross might not be as versatile as he was in college since he could struggle playing in the box. However, bringing him in would help take some of the pressure off Tre’von Moehrig, and allow Moehrig to take on a more versatile role like he did at TCU.
Nick Cross (FS) comes downhill in a hurry & with some power to force a fumble pic.twitter.com/IvRL7O7WAV— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 7, 2022
Nick Cross (SCB bottom screen) playing man & gets his hand in at the catch point to force an incompletion pic.twitter.com/uMytxoWhG6— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 7, 2022
Solid play vs the run from Nick Cross (FS):— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 7, 2022
-Comes downhill quickly but under control
-Breaks down to avoid over pursuing & force the RB to bounce
-Wraps up the legs & forces a 3rd & 7
Play action & once Nick Cross reads pass, he gets on his horse, takes the post away & turns to locate the ball & avoid PI pic.twitter.com/QpxtVPm4Yx— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 7, 2022
Nick Cross has some damn good ball skills & he uses his hands here to stay in phase vs the Big TE on the goal line, ends up forcing a FG pic.twitter.com/A4Tyv24m2C— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 7, 2022