Can T.J. Green become the cover safety for the Colts?

Nov 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Clemson Tigers safety T.J. Green (15) returns a kickoff against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Clemson Tigers safety T.J. Green (15) returns a kickoff against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts used a second round pick to hopefully get their safety for the future, but does he have the coverage skills to excel in the NFL?

The Colts opted to take speedy Clemson safety T.J. Green in the second round of the draft last Friday. The team has a clear need at the safety position as current starter Mike Adams is 35 and in a contract year.

The Green selection was met with mostly positive reviews. He is a bit of a project, but has all the tools you want in a safety. Green also checks the boxes on value and need, but not all of the reviews were favorable.

Pro Football Focus listed the Green selection as one of the 16 worst picks in the draft. Per their grading scale, he was one of the least effective safeties in coverage last season. From their breakdown:

"12. T.J. Green, DB, Indianapolis ColtsSome evaluators see Green as a cornerback, but we’re not sure his coverage skills are even good enough for safety in the NFL. Green didn’t just grade negatively, he had the seventh-lowest coverage grade in the FBS last year. He gave up 25 catches and 479 yards on 39 targets and didn’t get his hand on a single pass all season. If there is a silver lining, it’s that Green had the 28th-highest grade nationally against the run."

Alright, Green is atrocious in coverage but excels in run support. If we look at the grades other Colts safeties earned last season, Adams rated slightly higher in run defense than coverage. Clayton Geathers is expected to start, but he graded equally badly against the run and pass (but did receive marks for his pass rush skills). The impact plays that Geathers made all seemed to come against the run last season.

PFF’s Steve Palazzolo doubled down on this assessment, giving the pick a D- for the Colts.

"Another selection based on size and speed, Green did not play well last season, finishing 90th overall among draftable safeties. His -10.8 coverage grade ranked dead last as he often looked lost in space. There were pre-draft rumors that he might transition to cornerback, and while the size and speed are intriguing, he has to make immense improvements to be worth a second-round pick no matter which position he plays."

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So the Colts have another player who can potentially help stuff the run. Meanwhile Green can’t cover and the Colts have no pass rush. PFF grades aren’t the definitive source for talent, but one of many tools to separate the good from the bad.

But Green has a few things going for him. For one, he is blazing fast (ran a 4.34 forty), which means he’ll be an exceptional gunner on special teams (ensuring him snaps and a roster spot) and that he has great recovery speed in coverage. Two, he doesn’t have to start right away with Geathers being the presumptive starter next to Adams. And three, Chuck Pagano’s greatest strength is that he is at heart a secondaries coach.

PFF seemed to be the only ones with an unfavorable review of Green. Most scouting reports note that he had few opportunities to work on his coverage skills as he was used in the box often. They also note that he’s still developing his instincts (he’s only played defense for two years) and that Green has more than enough athleticism to excel in the NFL.

ESPN’s analysis implies that Green could supplant Geathers and lead to him starting in his rookie campaign.

"How he fits: Dwight Lowery lasted just one season in Indianapolis and has moved on to San Diego, creating a void at safety. Green has the size, speed and motor to push — and eventually supplant — Clayton Geathers at the starter opposite Mike Adams. He is also an excellent special teams player who should give the Colts some much-needed help covering punts. — Steve Muench"

Most analysis seemed to agree that Green was well worth the second round selection, and more often than not they didn’t even mention his speed. The Colts are banking on Green developing into a starting safety and just getting a great gunner out of a second round pick is not worth it.

Right now, Green has a ton of potential in a body that is perfect for the position. The Colts just need to develop him into that starter for the future.