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2017 NFL Draft: Potential Panther? Budda Baker

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While the Panthers have two young corners on the outside, they could still use an upgrade at safety and at slot corner. What if one player could do both?

Stanford v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Budda Baker, FS/Nickel, Washington

Bio

A former five-star recruit, Baker collected 80 tackles, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one interception as a true freshman, earning freshman All-American honors in 2014.

His numbers dropped to just 49 tackles (1.5 for loss) and two interceptions in 2015. While only 5'10/184 pounds, Baker has missed only one start in his career. Ran a 4.35 during spring conditioning.

Over the summer, CBS Sports' Rob Rang discusses Baker bulking-up to 5'10/192. Rang sees a "legitimate center-field type at free safety, but admits some NFL scouts may project him to corner. He dissects potential comps in Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, and Damarious Randall, and points out that Baker missed "the better part of three games (in 2015) with a concussion and ankle injuries".

Meanwhile, CBS's other draft analyst, Dane Brugler feels Baker fits best as a nickel or hybrid defensive back. Brugler writes "His suddenness allows him to easily flip his hips and change directions without gearing down, sticking to receivers and covering both sidelines vs. the run. He breaks down well and strikes low as a tackler, but he lacks ideal build for the position and will be overpowered by blockers near the line of scrimmage."

Draftbreakdown

My pre-season thoughts

Baker looks very comfortable in the slot, with run-support and coverage responsibilities. An impressive collegiate player, athletic enough to play man on the inside receiver and physical enough to play close in the box. While ultra-quick, Baker has size limitations. Adding weight has been a "constant battle" since arriving at UW at 167. He started the 2015 season at 176, but dropped down to 170 during the season.

Update (Week Nine Risers)

Against Utah, Baker's man was targeted three times, but he broke up one pass and didn't allow a single completion. Earlier this season, Baker gave up Stanford's first touchdown, when he was out leaped in the end-zone at the end of the third quarter.

Update (Bowl Week)

Against Alabama, Baker finished with three tackles, including a sack, but dropped an interception early in the game. Overall, he did not make a big enough impact to boost him into round one.

In his NFL.com profile, Lance Zierlein compared Baker to Bob Sanders.

Undersized free safety with the heart of a linebacker. Baker plays with a competitive desire that leaps off the field when you watch him thanks to elite football character and above-average explosiveness. While he is undersized, he makes up for it with his football instincts and plus play speed. Baker has the talent to become a play-making safety with Pro Bowl potential if he can sustain his health.

What others are saying

CBS Sports' Dan Brugler tweeted "If there is a Honey Badger comp in this draft class, Budda Baker is the guy", and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah tweeted "Budda Baker is Earl Thomas lite".

Additional scouting reports by Steelers Depot, HogsHaven and BoltsFromTheBlue are worth the read, especially the later, where draft enthusiast Kyle Posey who writes "Baker is as good as it gets when you’re talking about coming forward. Not to mention, he’s the best blitzer in the class. The biggest possible compliment I can give to Baker is nobody on the field plays harder than him."

Conclusion

A former five-star recruit, Baker made an immediate impact, earning freshman All-American honors in 2014. While ultra-quick, Baker has size limitations. I see his best fit as a slot-corner in the NFL, where his quickness in coverage and aggressiveness in run-support will be a real asset.

That in itself would be useful to the Panthers, but what if he can be more. As you can see, other draft analysts have compared him to Seattle FS Earl Thomas, and Arizona hybrid defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. That is lofty praise, but it does seem possible that Baker could conceivably help the Panthers at two positions (free safety and slot corner) for the price of one. It also seems realistic that he could be available at pick #40.

What do you think?