4.77. No number means more to Rapp’s draft stock than the 4.77 time he clocked in the 40-yard dash at the Husky combine. Not his 171 tackles, seven sacks, seven interceptions, two All-Conference Teams, or one All-American Team. Not three New Year’s Day Bowls, and not two Pac-12 Championships. Rapp ran one of the slowest 40s on record for a top safety prospect, and everything else he has done has become something of a footnote to some draft analysts. Will NFL teams feel the same way on draft day? Let’s investigate.
Rapp came to the Huskies as a three-star recruit from Bellingham. When he debuts in the NFL, he will be the first NFL player from Sehome High School in Bellingham. According to my research, he will be the first professional athlete in any major league from Sehome. He still has a long way to go to be more famous than fellow Sehome alumni Hilary Swank and Glenn Beck (for better or worse).
At 6’0” and 208 lbs, Rapp has solid size for a safety, but he’s not so big that it’s a major advantage. In fact, Brock Huard speculated that Rapp’s added muscle in his Junior season contributed to his slower 40 time. Rapp ran a 4.57 40 at the Husky Combine a year earlier, and a repeat of that number would have allayed concerns about his speed and possibly pushed him into the first round. In addition to Huard, other draft analysts have speculated that Rapp might have been suffering through a lingering injury from the end of the season that slowed him down in that run.
Virtually every scouting report available on Rapp notes his speed or some variation of it as his biggest weakness. Walter Football says that Rapp, “does not have the range to play deep consistently.” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com says that he, “might be out-paced by NFL runners,” and that his “ability to range over the top appears to be just average.” Taken together, these assessments add up to mean that Rapp might not have the versatility at the pro level that he showed in college. Rather than an adaptable defensive back who can cover man-to-man in the slot, defend a tight end, play a deep zone, or move up against the run, Rapp might be more of a traditional strong safety who does most of his damage in the box.
The good news is that most analysts agree that Rapp can be very good at that job, even if it’s more specialized than the one he did at Washington. Everyone agrees that Rapp is an outstanding tackler and has great instincts and intelligence for the position. Those instincts might help Husky fans reconcile Rapp’s speed deficiency with the fact that he was involved in plays all over the field throughout his college career. Another point in Rapp’s favor has been his durability. In spite of his physical style of play, he started 13 or 14 games in every year of his Husky career. For someone who lays the wood that Rapp does with only average size, that ability to avoid major injuries distinguishes him from his peers.
Rapp broke out in the 2016 Pac-12 Title Game against Colorado, but he consistently improved his all-around play throughout his college career. Pro Football Focus tracks individual play more extensively than almost anyone and credit opposing QBs with a preposterously low 12.0 passer rating when Rapp was targeted and only 0.13 yards per coverage snap. PFF went on to explain Rapp’s overall production relative to his peers:
“The three-year Washington product played 79 defensive snaps at the line of scrimmage, 364 in the box, 528 at slot cornerback and 1,271 at free safety in his collegiate career. His combined grade over the past two seasons (2017-18) is 91.9, ranking tied for third in the FBS, and he earned the fourth-highest overall grade (90.1) among safeties in just his banner year in 2018.”
Prior to his disappointing 40 time, Rapp’s name came up as a player who could rise into the first round of the draft. Since then, most outlets have projected him to go somewhere in round two. ESPN’s Todd McShay recently projected him to San Francisco with the 36th pick. Zierlein, Huard, and the analysts at Fan Duel agree with that 2nd round projection. Walter Football offers a bit more upside with a late first round projection.
My opinion is that Rapp’s poor 40 time likely cost him a chance to be a first round pick. It’s still possible that a team talks itself into that time being an anomaly and focuses more on his tremendous body of work. Alternately, if his time was the result of a physical problem that will heal on its own, that explanation might offer a suitor more reassurance. Still, the players who tend to rise up on draft boards late tend to be the athletic outliers with crazy upside. Even if he doesn’t go in the first round, I’m confident that Rapp can be a solid NFL contributor. He has been an outstanding performer for the Huskies, and has matched his on-field production with a great work ethic and leadership.