Already rising up draft boards, Ugochukwu Amadi can make a statement on Saturday

The senior is rated the nation's No. 11 free safety for the upcoming NFL draft

Draft Slant

-- Ugochukwu Amadi, S: Amadi entered the season on very few, if any, draft boards. But after a stellar start to the season, he’s finally getting recognition as someone who could potentially play on Sunday’s. He’s currently rated the No. 11 free safety by NFL Draft Scout.

On the season, Amadi has amassed 27 tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and five passes broken up. Already known for his coverage skills, he’s proven to be an “in-the-box” type of player this year. His sacks have often come on designed blitzes from the nickel position and his tackles for loss show that he’s capable of getting into opponents’ backfields to make the play.

“Just to see his improvement over the past couple years and him stepping up as a leader, taking over the defense, and it obviously shows on film,” defensive lineman Jalen Jelks said.

His three interceptions on the season rank ninth in the country — but of those three interceptions, he has taken two of them back for touchdowns. The touchdowns, combined with his 19.2 average on punt returns, has shown off his athleticism that some scouts say he lacked entering the season.

Not the biggest safety (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) in college football, Amadi has shown good physicality when playing in the box and excellent hip flexibility to get out of his breaks and run with receivers. On the season, he’s constantly defended bigger tight ends and hasn’t been bullied out of the way.

"In this league as we continue to go forward, our safeties are going to cover a little bit more, whether that be versus a good slot receiver or a good tight end," Oregon safeties coach Keith Heyward told The Oregonian. "The coverage skill set is going to be very much needed."

"When you're playing a big guy and he sees a little guy, he thinks he can just push you around," Amadi added. "You have to be just as physical as he is, knock him off where he wants to go.”

This weekend’s matchup with Washington State will be vital to his progress this season and to show NFL scouts he’s ready for the next level.

The Cougars employ a complicated passing offense with a lot of crossing routes and deep shots. Amadi will have to show scouts that he can ran with slot receivers on their crossing routes, while having the capabilities to roam free in the backend and make plays on balls in the air.

One of the things Amadi has going for him is that he’s still relatively new to his position at free safety. He spent the first two years of his career playing cornerback for the Ducks where he led the team in interceptions. But, he made the move to safety last year when Oregon lacked serious depth at the position.

"I liked the switch," Amadi said. "I started making more plays, being able to be in the middle of the field and make plays left or right."

Making more plays is right as you can see how much faster and more physical Amadi is playing this year compared to last. He was able to spend all offseason learning the intricacies of the position, and that time studying has shown that he’s only scratching the surface of how good he can be.

“He’s invaluable in a ton of ways and we’re certainly privileged and glad to have him,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “He’s another guy who knows his best football’s ahead of him.”