Michael Cross remembers it like it was yesterday. He remembers his son and Maryland football safety Nick Cross sitting in front of the television as a child, watching Washington’s NFL team play on Sundays.
Michael recalls the joy on his son’s face as he watched former Washington safety Sean Taylor torment opponents and the tears that streamed from Cross’s eyes whenever they lost.
As Cross is days away from the 2022 NFL draft, Michael is filled with nothing but excitement and happiness, knowing his son’s dreams of playing professionally are close to reality.
“It’s right in front of him,” Michael said. “He’s fulfilling his dream.”
Michael said Cross’ decision to either enter the draft or return to Maryland for his senior season was a difficult one. He said Cross enjoyed the college environment and believed he had more to accomplish. But, after talking to agents, Cross realized it was best to play professionally.
“The opportunity is here now to seize the moment,” Michael said. “It was getting a lot of discussions, a lot of agonizing with him, in particular, [and] the family, just trying to make sure that the right decision was being made.”
Since declaring for the draft, Cross has kept an even-keeled approach. Even after impressing at the NFL scouting combine by running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, the fastest among safeties, he has kept the same calm and humble attitude he displayed while at Maryland.
“Millions of kids have a dream of going to the NFL, but only a select few people get the opportunity to play in the NFL,” Cross said during Maryland’s pro day. “I’m grateful and blessed to be one of those few.”
Cross, a three-time All-Big Ten honorable mention selection, played in 29 games for the Terps, totaling 134 tackles and five interceptions. Last season, Cross finished second on the team in tackles (66), including 3 1/2 for loss, while adding three sacks, four pass breakups and three takeaways. His stock has been on the rise ever since.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley believes Cross is a unique prospect because of his ability to play different parts of the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Cross played 281 snaps as a box safety, 420 at free safety, 53 as a slot corner and 24 out wide.
“He’s a combination guy that [can] play in the middle third of the field, but also come down and be a physical presence in the box,” Locksley said. “I think that’s what NFL teams that are evaluating him are excited about.”
Another trait that Cross has benefited from is that he is still relatively new to the game. He wasn’t allowed to play football until he went to DeMatha, but that never stopped him from studying Taylor and former Ravens safety Ed Reed’s highlights on YouTube.
At DeMatha, Cross played three different positions, starting as a defensive lineman before transitioning to linebacker and finally safety. Maryland running backs coach Elijah Brooks, who coached the Bowie resident in high school, said Cross’ commitment to mastering each position he played stood out more than anything.
[ Maryland safety Nick Cross learned football by watching YouTube. Now he’s thinking about the NFL. ]
“His commitment to learn the skill set so that he can be productive is going to take him a long way,” Brooks said.
NFL Network and draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah believes Cross can develop into a starter in the league. He said Cross is fluid on his feet and an effective tackler and blitzer. Instinct-wise, Jeremiah feels Cross is “a count late” compared to other safeties in the draft.
Jeremiah predicts Cross will be taken in the third round, but wouldn’t be surprised if he gets drafted in the second.
“The athleticism to be able to man cover is huge right now at that position,” Jeremiah said. “I think he is going to be a good player.”
ESPN and The Athletic have projected Cross going in the third round, while CBS Sports has the Cincinnati Bengals drafting him in the second round with the 63rd overall pick in their latest mock draft.
Even though Cross grew up a Washington fan, he is willing to play for any team that allows him to live out his lifelong dream.
“Any team that gives me the opportunity, I will be forever grateful,” Cross said.
Locksley said he had conversations with multiple NFL general managers, telling them that Cross has just scratched the surface.
“I think you’ll continue to see him develop the next few years, where he has a chance to have a big-time career in the NFL,” Locksley said.