Nick Cross is another Day 2 sleeper to keep an eye out for. He is the youngest safety in the class, turning 21 year old in September. Cross’s tested athleticism, moldability, and overall build provide an amazing platform for any organization to create their dream defensive back. Does the tape match up with the hype? If it does, there is a massive hole after the fifth safety in this class waiting to be filled. Will Cross fill it?
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Name: Nick Cross
Jersey: No. 3
Weight: 212 lbs
Games Watched: Illinois (2021), West Virginia (2021), Ohio State (2021), Virginia Tech (2021)
Major Injury History: None
Cross has a solid mental foundation. While he may not stack up to the other safeties in this class, the potential is there. Cross had a few high-level instinct plays, especially in the run game. The problem lies with consistency. From time to time, he will be extremely late to identify a play-action or misdirection. Luckily, Cross has phenomenal athleticism to make up for the lost time. Given his age, more experience may be the solution to his processing inconsistencies.
Range/Closing Speed (14/15)
With a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, Cross definitely confirms his ability to reach anywhere on the field. Single-high safety is a very plausible role at the next level. With a 37-inch vertical jump as well, the explosion is off the charts. The tape supports this as well, as he flies around the field. The upside is through the roof for Cross.
Man Coverage (8.5/10)
Cross shines in man-to-man coverage. He did allow for inside leverage against a tight end in the red zone for a snap, which will be very dangerous in the NFL, however. Cross’s speed and strength allow him to stick to a receiver’s hip while not being overpowered by tight ends. There is enough on tape to trust him one-on-one. Just beware of mental processing issues leading to big plays early in his career. This is a long-term investment: keep that in mind.
Zone Coverage (7.25/10)
Cross needs to develop his feel for zone coverage. He would consistently check behind him when not in a deep zone, showing a lack of field awareness. This grade mainly will be effective in non-deep zones. Cross can make up ground easily with his base speed, especially if everything is in front of him. That is why a single-high safety role (for example, the Washington Commanders are looking to fill this role, so watch out in round two) is the best-fit position.
Ball Skills (9/10)
Cross has a knack for interceptions and pass breakups. His awareness when a ball is tipped is lethal as well. Even better, Cross has a nose for the end zone. He scored three touchdowns last year, although just one came via an interception. Aside from that, the six interceptions (seven touchdowns) along with nine pass breakups are empirical proof of an elite ballhawk playmaker.
Change of Direction (8.5/10)
While Cross is an elite athlete, he lacks purely-smooth movement ability. Given the freakish speed, this will never be an issue at the next level. It only becomes a factor when the processing is slower than necessary to react properly to the play. In other words, Cross will negate this issue in time. Change of direction is a category that affects those who process slowly or cannot make up the ground they lose. The latter would raise far greater red flags than the former, so do not worry about it.
Tackling/Run Support (7/10)
Simply put, a 16.1 percent missed tackle rate this year is indicative of this score. Cross has solid enough play recognition in the run game. His pursuit angles are also dangerously off. There were a few missed angles that almost let up multiple touchdowns. This can be a major issue over Cross’s career. If there is one red flag, this is the one. Hopefully, with more experience and training, he can overcome this issue.
When factoring in the poor processing and tackling, Cross has a slightly limited role. While box safety might not be a day-one role, he can be molded into one. Remember, Cross is not even 21 years old. He has a ton of room to grow, so any team taking this prospect has an infinite amount of potential at their fingertips. The question will be whether they train Cross correctly.
While the combine speaks for itself, the play speed alone for Cross is phenomenal. His 4.34-second 40-yard dash is just the tip of his tested abilities. Cross has a 37-inch vertical jump and a 130-inch broad jump. For those who are newer to combine testing, those are freakishly athletic numbers. This very well could make the Maryland product worth a mid-second round pick. Cross certainly deserves consideration, at least.
Cross is extremely raw, yet extremely moldable. His flashes on tape make it worth it to consider him as a potential starting option on any team without a solidified safety room. The testing numbers certainly provide enough upside, but the tape gives enough of a floor to consider him early in the draft. Time will be Cross’s greatest friend. Have patience with his development, and the team who is willing to take that chance will prosper tenfold. The ceiling is sky-high.
Rookie Projections: Rotational Single-High Safety
Third Year Projections: Top-15 Single-High Safety
Final Grade (82.25/100): Late Second-Round Pick
Player Comp: Obi Melifonwu
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