Standing in at 5'10" and 192 pounds Bishard "Budda" Baker might not be the most intimidating player that walks out onto the field but he's going to make his presence felt. The heartbeat of one of the most talented defenses in the nation capped off his sensational Washington career by being named a consensus first-team All-American at safety.
Baker's physical and infectious style of play has led to extraordinary results from day 1. At Bellevue High School (WA), Baker was a state champion in track and field and a two-way star on the football field, leading his school to 3-straight state championships. Despite showing up to UW weighing only 167 pounds Baker acheived similar success. Baker was named All-Pac 12 each of his three seasons (HM in 2014, 1st Team in 2015 & 2016).
Games Watched: Arizona State (2016), USC (2016), Stanford (2016), Washington State (2016)
Baker has exceeded expectations at every stop along the way and I don't expect that to change in the NFL. So how does he do it?
Baker mainly makes his mark as an out-of-this-world rally defender. The term "rally defender" refers to a player's impact in run support and in the short passing game where your defense needs players to rally to the ball carrier. Baker flies around in pursuit like his hair is on fire, using his quickness to weave past would-be blockers to find the ball. Budda is a more than willing run defender who routinely blows up plays. One of Baker's most impressive qualities is his ability to change direction. It takes Baker a millisecond to diagnose a play, stop on a dime and attack downhill.
(Use arrows to scroll through more plays of Baker tackling in space)
The Huskies took advantage of Baker's versatility, often playing him in the slot which allowed him to get after the Quarterback by blitzing off the edge. Baker's impressive acceleration shows up again closing quickly in on the Quarterback. What I enjoyed most about watching Baker attacking off the edge is the aggressive yet controlled rage he blitzed with. In the GIF gallery below there are few instances where Baker comes in hot, takes on and sheds the running back, all while being under control and having his eyes on the Quarterback.
Due to his style of play, Baker will receive "Honey Badger" aka Tyrann Mathieu comparisons. While he wasn't quite the ballhawk and All-American return man, Baker had more impact than his box scores shows. Take the USC GIF in the gallery below for example. On this play, Baker bulldozes USC RB Ronald Jones and pressures Sam Darnold, causing him to hurry his progressions and in turn, throws an INT. This shows up nowhere in the box score for Baker.
(Use arrows to scroll through plays of Baker blitzing)
A "safety" by position title, Baker spends a lot of the time working out of the slot. In coverage, Baker shows good spatial awareness, recognizing his surroundings and acts on his instincts. In the play below, Baker honors the end-around motion by the WR and then immediately gets to his drop while reading the QB's eyes and eventually making a play on the ball. The only knock here is that this should have been an INT.
Due to his elite athleticism, Baker is also able to mirror a slot WR's change of direction during a route. Baker doesn't have any issues tracking, finding or playing the football when it's in the air.
Although I didn't see it much in the games I watched I do believe Baker has the range to play free safety at the next level. He's a true hybrid defensive back.
(Use arrows to scroll through more plays of Baker in coverage)
Baker doesn't back down from anyone but the reality is that he will be knocked for his size. In coverage, Baker struggles matching up with larger receivers in 1-on-1 situations. In the play below, the Stanford WR that Baker is covering is 6'3". Baker's lack of bulk also shows up here and there when tackling running backs. While he's still delivering a nice pop he needs to be more consistent with his leg drive and bringing his hips through the ball carrier so he's not always resorting to just swinging guys to the ground or knocking them over on initial pop. Baker's aggression can be a double-edged sword when he gets too overzealous in pursuit.
Another concern for NFL teams will be if Baker's body will be able to hold up for a full 16 games, considering his style of play. Baker was fairly durable in college, only missing a few games his sophomore year due to an ankle injury and concussion, but the collisions and punishment he'll encounter in the NFL can take quite a toll on someone his stature.
(Baker is excellent but not perfect. Use arrows to scroll through some plays that won't be on a highlight reel)
Baker's versatility is what teams will like most. He has shown the ability to play man and zone coverage as a slot corner, sideline to sideline range at safety and the ability to be an effective player near and attacking the line of scrimmage.
Baker would be best suited to be paired with a creative defensive coordinator that will maximize his hybrid defensive back abilities.
As for how I value Baker? I love the kid. His play in infectious and I want a game-changer like him in my secondary.
If a team has a defined role for Baker, I'm on board with him being a first round pick. An example of what I'm talking about is the Falcons selecting Keanu Neal last year as that bully strong safety in Dan Quinn's defense. What seemed like a bit of a reach doesn't matter because Neal was exactly what Atlanta needed. The Falcons got their Kam Chancellor. Baker can be that invaluable piece that changes the culture of a defense too.
What can Budda do for you? Well, we know he can do a lot.
NFL Player Comparison Spectrum: Earl Thomas, Bob Sanders, Tyrann Mathieu/(X), Micah Hyde, Lamarcus Joyner