Name: Budda Baker
Pro Team: Arizona Cardinals
Draft Status: 32nd overall, (2nd round)
Weight: 195 pounds
Arm Length: 30 3/4”
Hand Size: 9”
40-Yard Dash: 4.45 seconds
Vertical Jump: 32.5”
Broad Jump: 115.0”
Bench Press: 15 reps
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- Big Hitter
- Good coverage skills
- Good change of direction
- Good route anticipation for a safety
- Since he’s a safety by trade, his technical coverage skills are not top end
Baker landing in Arizona couldn’t have been a better match. His versatility matches perfectly with the Cardinals’ mix-and-match approach to defense, especially in the secondary. On top of that, he’ll get to play alongside Tyrann Mathieu, who has a similar skillset. Between the pair Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher has two players who can cover the slot, hit any receiver foolish enough to wander over the middle, and can generate those much-coveted turnovers.
NFL teams don’t draft a player like Baker without a plan in place. Since Arizona already has Mathieu on the roster, adding Baker is no big leap. He should see plenty of snaps and be a main cog in the Cardinals defense.
His early snaps might come at nickel corner though as that’s the easiest path and it allows Mathieu to freelance more, which is what he’s best at. Patrick Peterson has the left side locked down, but across from him has been a bit of a crapshoot and nickel is no different.
His opportunity at safety might be limited early on, as will be explored later on.
Baker does have plenty of competition for playing time, but he’s still the best of the bunch. Antoine Bethea and Tyvon Branch are both listed as the free safeties according to ourlads.com. They also list Mathieu as being ahead of Baker at the strong safety position. While I don’t think Baker is a free safety, I do think he’ll be the getting most of the snaps next to Mathieu.
However, both Bethea and Branch are both veterans, with Bethea coming over from San Francisco this off-season. He rang up 110 tackles last season when he was 31.
Baker’s versatility should mean snaps early in 2017. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get burned in nickel coverage in the first few weeks against some of the more complex route combinations, but his best trait is playing the run and that should transition nicely.
Even if Baker only gets limited snaps, for whatever reason, I can easily envision a role for him on early down in probable running situations. Baker can roll up, fill the hole and stick a runner. If the opposition tries something like a reverse, Baker then has the speed to catch up and then bring the ball carrier down.
Baker and Mathieu is an excellent combination going forward. They can swap back and forth and should not need to come off the field. If Mathieu would happen to get hurt, Baker’s snap count should go through the roof.
Independent of anyone else, Baker has the skills and instincts to play a long time in the NFL. He has a clean injury history and was a starter since he was a freshman at Washington. NFL.com‘s Lance Zierlein compared him to former Iowa and Indianapolis safety Bob Sanders. For my money, Baker is faster and has more athleticism than Sanders. Sanders was always looking for the big hit. Baker will knock you out too, but he’s cerebral enough to wrap up or look for the turnover too.
Rookie Draft Advice
Look, I said all these glowing things about Baker, and they are all true. But, let’s be honest, at the end of the day, he’s a defensive back. Even as good as I think he is, the earliest I’m thinking about taking him is probably late third, and most likely he’s my fourth-round target.
That said, that’s about where you would normally take a good, in-the-box safety. Jabrill Peppers and Jamal Adams should be the first two safeties off the board, but Baker most definitely should be the next man up.