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Draft on tape: Juan Thornhill a single-high safety for Seattle Seahawks

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NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In a past Draft on Tape on a different safety, I wrote that “there are only two prospects whose tape shows sideline to sideline potential in the pros.” I was wrong. After Virginia safety Juan Thornhill blew away the combine, I promised to re-watch his tape in more detail for single-high range. What I saw impressed me. It must have made an impression on the Seattle Seahawks too, given they are hosting Thornhill for an official visit per Andrew Di Ceccio.

Having previously said that Thornhill looks “slow”, his combine led to me re-evaluating my initial takeaways. He dominated proceedings, testing to a ludicrous 99.5 percentile NFL safety while meeting all of the Seahawks’ position thresholds.

  • Height: 6ft
  • Weight: 205lbs
  • Arm Length: 31 1/8 inches
  • Forty-yard Dash: 4.42 seconds
  • Ten-yard Split: 1.57 seconds
  • Vertical Jump: 44 inches
  • Broad Jump: 141 inches
  • Bench Press: 21 reps

Explosive stuff, although athleticism certainly doesn’t guarantee success at safety. Just look at the top-15 40-yard dash times for safeties at the combine from 2010-2018:

  • Troy Akpe 4.34
  • T.J. Green 4.34
  • Justin Cox 4.36
  • Natrell Jamerson 4.40
  • Obi Melifownu 4.40
  • Justin Reid 4.40
  • Dane Cruikshank 4.41
  • Josh Jones 4.41
  • Terrence Brooks 4.42
  • Montae Nicholson 4.42
  • Shamarko Thomas 4.42
  • Taylor Mays 4.43
  • Godwin Igwebuike 4.44
  • Earl Wolff 4.44
  • Budda Baker 4.45

However, Thornhill clearly combines his athleticism with cerebral aspects that are crucial to being successful at the position. He did it to such an extent that his twitch and speed doesn’t pop off the tape or in-person down at the Senior Bowl.

Covering shallow zones and matching, Thornhill looked to bait quarterbacks by not fully merging or melting on to receivers. Furthermore, in the deeper zones his football IQ led to what looked like one-speed and half-speed play. He almost over-anticipated routes. Hence the combine surprise.

Meanwhile, Thornhill’s showing against the Ohio Bobcats was so bad it almost has to be discounted as an anomaly:

Hurricane Florence would have disrupted Thornhill’s routine and he is also from Altavista, Virginia; so, family, friends and his home would have been affected. Preparations and mindset for Ohio cannot have been ideal. The Bobcats game still demonstrated Thornhill is not a fit in the slot though. He is slow to half-turn transition and sprint, which any decent slot receiver will expose.

There’s a reason Thornhill didn’t run a three-cone or short shuttle in Indianapolis plus he lacks flexibility and breaking-90-degrees ability on tape. Despite these factors, Thornhill still has the crucial single-high range thanks to his athleticism and instincts. Furthermore, he can locate the ball from a variety of positions and techniques. Ultimately, Thornhill’s traits project best as a deep, 1hi safety in the league.

He had six interceptions in 2018 and 13 in his college career, giving him a playmaker aspect. Yet his film is full of controlled discipline that makes him less of a “flashy” prospect, more of a sound footballer. The numbers and film combined will lead to him being taken no later than the second-round.

The need for a playmaker on the backend is something the Seahawks’ Front Office clearly acknowledges, with Darnell Savage and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson visiting Seattle too—per Jeff Zrebiec and Tony Pauline. There’s a theory that Thornhill is a potential cornerback conversion project. Yet his arms don’t meet the 32” threshold and his skillset doesn’t translate. Besides; Thornhill has the talent to excel at single-high safety in the NFL. If Pete Carroll and John Schneider pick Thornhill, watch out!