While what happens on the field and how things finish at the end of the season is what really matters, preseason rankings give fans an idea of what teams and players they should keep an eye on. In this summer series, we’ll take the Top 25 approach and rank the best returning players at every position.
Next up are the safeties.
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Best Returning Safeties
Honorable Mention: Charleston Southern’s Hombre Kennedy, Eastern Illinois’ Jordan Vincent, Eastern Washington’s Anthany Smith, ETSU’s Mike Price, Jackson State’s Shilo Sanders, Marist’s Teddy Wright, San Diego’s Hunter Nichols
25. James Herring, Harvard
24. Noah Plack, Delaware
23. Clayborne Fields III, Marist
22. Jeffrey Manning Jr., Montana State
21. TyGee Leach, Lehigh
20. Anthony Sweeney, Northern Arizona
19. Malachi Buckner, North Dakota (Transfer from Gardner-Webb)
18. Cody Cline, Charleston Southern
17. Irshaad Davis, Alabama State
16. Myles Heard, Stephen F. Austin
15. Desmond Williams, Weber State
14. Kaleb Culp, UIW
13. Tyrese Wright, Monmouth
12. Morgan Vest, Northern Arizona
11. Deven Sims, UT Martin
10. Cole Coleman, Elon
9. Lance Wise, Mercer
8. Esaias Guthrie, Delaware State
7. Kyriq McDonald, Missouri State
6. Marte Mapu, Sac State
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The Top 5
5. Ty Okada, Montana State
Okada is a physical and emotional leader for a strong MSU defense. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is a mix of a safety/linebacker/nickelback, and his versatility was showcased last season. Okada totaled 78 tackles, six tackles for loss, two interceptions, and six pass breakups in 14 games. He was named on the All-Big Sky Second Team.
4. Benny Sapp III, Northern Iowa
Sapp looks like he can be the next in a long line of NFL Draft picks from UNI. A transfer from Minnesota, he started all seven games in the 2021 spring and was named to the All-MVFC Newcomer Team with 33 tackles and one interception. Last season, the 6-foot-1 and 205-pounder was a big part of an elite defense. Sapp recorded 52 tackles, four interceptions, and three pass breakups in 12 games, getting named to the All-Conference First Team.
3. Kedrick Whitehead, Delaware
Whitehead is a physical, hard-hitting safety at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. He is a three-time All-CAA selection and a three-year All-American dating back to 2019 when he led Delaware with 102 tackles. Last season, Whitehead was named to the All-CAA First Team and was a Stats Perform Third Team All-American after tallying 76 tackles and eight passes defended in 11 games.
2. Robby Hauck, Montana
Hauck has been a star on Montana’s defense since 2018. The three-year All-American plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10 and 185-pound frame. He totaled 95 tackles in 2018 and 129 tackles in 2019. Last season as a HERO Sports Third Team All-American and an All-Big Sky First Team selection, Hauck racked up 138 tackles, seven TFLs, and three forced fumbles in 13 games.
1. Michael Tutsie, North Dakota State
Tutsie is a missile that comes downhill hard defending the run. He’s also a ball-hawk in pass coverage. His breakout season came in 2019 when he totaled 105 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and seven interceptions. After a 50-tackle season in 2020-21, the 5-foot-11 and 189-pounder racked up 81 tackles, two TFLs, one interception, and four passes defended in 15 games last fall. Tutsie was named on the All-MVFC First Team and earned All-American honors from HERO Sports (First Team) and Stats Perform (Third Team).