BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jamal Adams is well aware of the history. He thinks he was a junior in high school when he first looked it up.
No safety has been selected among the top four picks in the NFL draft since Eric Turner at No. 2 in 1991. And the guys who have been picked at No. 5 since then -- Sean Taylor, Eric Berry and Jalen Ramsey, who played safety as well as cornerback at Florida State -- form a pretty exclusive list.
But Adams has a good chance to soar past them after he ran a scorching 40-yard dash Wednesday at LSU’s pro day. He was unofficially timed at 4.33 seconds by LSU’s strength and conditioning coach, and sources from two teams agreed that he ran in the 4.3s.
“There’s tons of talent in the draft, so hopefully I make history," said Adams, who said that he exceeded even his own expectations with his 40 time. "Hopefully I go top-four. ... It’s [whatever is] in God’s plan. But that’s definitely my goal."
But don’t mistake that for any lack of confidence. Adams said his next goal after being drafted in the top four is to earn himself a “yellow jacket.”
"That’s my main goal, to be a Hall of Famer," said Adams, who is the son of former NFL running back George Adams, who was picked 19th by the New York Giants in 1985. "But as a rookie coming in, I just want to earn the respect of my teammates and my coaches and do whatever they ask me to do, whether that’s running down on gunner on kickoff, taking water, taking helmets. Whatever they need, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Forty times aren’t everything when it comes to NFL draft prospects. But it was huge for the hard-hitting, 6-foot, 212-pounder, because his uninspiring time of 4.56 seconds at the NFL scouting combine was one of the few knocks against him.
One of the biggest hurdles Adams will face, however, is that Ohio State safety Malik Hooker could leapfrog him.
ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both had Hooker going in the top five ahead of Adams in their latest mock drafts on Wednesday -- before LSU’s pro day.
One way or another, there’s a great chance that some safety will make history.
“The game is changing to where tight ends are more like receivers,” Adams said Wednesday, making a case for himself as well as the position group as a whole. “They’re running receiver routes. They’re coming out of the spread. ... They’re making the safeties come out of single high and come down and cover. Come in the box, bang a little bit. The game is definitely changing.
“I feel like I’m versatile, I can play everything in the back end, I can blitz, I can cover in the slot, I can sit at 20 yards and go sideline to sideline. So I feel like that’s what separates me.”
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said he is surprised that safeties haven’t gone higher in the past quarter century -- partly because he remembers being with the Seattle Seahawks when they drafted a pretty special one, Kenny Easley, back in 1981, and partly because he agrees with Adams’ assessment of how the passing game has overtaken the NFL.
“I don’t know [if the league is more ready to draft a safety that high now], but I’m surprised at the fact,” Loomis said. “Given the passing game and how it’s evolved over the last 10, 12, 15 years, it’s surprising.”
Adams is known as more of an in-the-box safety more than a cover safety. He had only five interceptions in three years at LSU. But he earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press and first-team honors from other media outlets as a hard hitter, tone-setter and team leader of one of the nation’s most dominant defenses.
Kiper listed Adams' original 40 time and his lack of superior ball skills as knocks against him. But he still offered high praise in a recent mock draft, saying, "This might be a high pick for the traditional version of a safety, but Adams is more than that. He's a true hybrid who never has to come off the field, because he can run and cover but also is a beast as an in-the-box defender."
ESPN analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety himself, believes that Adams is worthy of a top-five pick and possibly that No. 3 pick in his home base of Chicago despite the interception totals or the combine 40 time.
“Honestly, that [pro day 40 time] is going to check off a major box for scouts, but doesn't change my opinion on him. He’s a top-five guy at 4.5 speed, too,” Bowen said. “I see his game speed on tape. Natural instincts, high-level football IQ, versatility to play multiple spots. He can be a special player in the NFL -- a guy that comes in and changes the identity of the secondary.
“Does that equal a top-five grade? Based on the tape, yes. Some will argue that he doesn't have the athletic measurables [testing numbers] to warrant that type of grade. My perspective? Give me a physical DB that plays tough, finds the ball and sets the tone in the back end. Can the Bears pass on him at No. 3 given their need for an impact player at safety?”
Or will they have to make history?