1. Minkah Fitzpatrick – Alabama – 6’1” 201
Minkah Fitzpatrick had 171 tackles, 5 sacks, and 9 interceptions in three years at Alabama.
Fitzpatrick is one of the top defensive backs in this class. He has the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary, but will do best as a nickel corner or safety. He has the speed and range to play deep and the physicality to play in the box. He has extensive experience in man coverage and excels in zone. His versatility should be seen as a positive, but it may hurt his draft stock if a team does not have the vision to determine how he should be used in their system. Fitzpatrick makes great reads on the quarterback, but sometimes seems to be just a bit late to the play. He generally uses good tackling form, but he will miss at times.
Has position and scheme versatility
Reads the quarterback well and breaks on the ball with speed
Tenacious – runs down plays that go away from him
Displays the command of the defense to be a leader in the secondary
Misses tackles at times
Often a step later to a play than you would want him to be
2. Derwin James – Florida State – 6’3” 215
In his final season at Florida State Derwin James had 84 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions.
James is an incredible athlete who can break on the ball with explosive speed. He has the size to play in the box and the speed to play just about anywhere. He has excellent ball skills and the awareness to adjust and knock a ball down while blitzing full speed. At times he will be slow to transition. He has the speed to match up in man coverage and the awareness and tackling ability to be excellent in zone.
Excellent size/speed combination
Looks stiff at times
Transitions can be a bit laborious
A bit tentative when coming up to make a tackle
3. Jessie Bates – Wake Forest – 6’1” 200
Jessie Bates had 77 tackles and 1 interception in 2017, which was down from 110 tackles and 5 interceptions in 2016.
Bates has an excellent skill set that makes him stand out in this class. His game speed is better than his track speed. He changes direction extremely well and always seems to be around the ball. He has excellent his and can flip them quickly. He matches up well in man coverage with slot receivers. Bates has some issues tackling, but is certainly willing to get in there and mix it up. He undercuts routes at times, which has generally played out in his favor.
Hippier than other safeties in the class
Great speed on breaks
Reads and reacts to the play quickly
Willing tackler, but not great
Takes risks to play the ball in coverage
4. Deshon Elliott – Texas – 6’2” 205
Deshon Elliott had 63 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 interceptions for the Longhorns.
Elliott has great size, but lacks the speed that NFL teams look for in a free safety. Having said that, he always seems to get to the ball. He is an effective tackler and has excellent bal skills. He plays a little high which hurts his transitions, but he has an extremely fast backpedal. Elliott could be an impact player at the NFL level as either a deep field player or an in the box safety.
Great call skills
Always around the ball
Lacks ideal speed
Breaks forward a little slow
5. Ronnie Harrison – Alabama – 6’3” 214
Over the last two season Ronnie Harrison had 157 tackles,2.5 sacks, and 5 interceptions for the Crimson Tide.
Harrison is an excellent college player who projects well as a deep field safety. He has excellent range and ball skills. He also plays man extremely well, but his man technique will draw flags in the NFL so he will need to adapt. He seems a bit lost in zone. He plays a little high, which can slow him down. Harrison has the tools to be an excellent free safety in the NFL.
Rangy center field player
Very good ball skills
Times blitzes well
Good speed, can play man effectively
Is a bit more physical in coverage than NFL rules will allow
Plays a little high, which can hurt his transitions
Looks like he doesn’t know what his read is at times
6. Armani Watts – Texas A&M – 5’11” 205
Armani Watts had 87 tackles and 4 interceptions for the Aggies in 2017.
Watts is an explosive athlete who plays well in the deep field or as an in the box safety. He is undersized, but plays bigger than he is. He is a willing tackler, but dives at ankles too often and has other technique struggles. He understand when to go for the big hit rather than playing the ball. He has the athletic ability to match up with slots man to man.
Willing to go for the big hit instead of playing the ball
Plays well in deep coverage as well as rolled down
Willing tackler, but uses poor technique
Lacks desired size
7. Justin Reid – Stanford – 6’1” 204
In 2017 Justin Reid had 94 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 interceptions for the Cardinal.
Reid is a solid all around player who does not do any one thing in particular that jumps off the screen at you. He is fast and plays the ball well. He was used mostly as an in the box player even though his physical attributes seem to project well to a deep field player. This could give him the versatility to play a varied role in a defense.
Takes good angles when breaking on the ball in the air
Athletic enough to man up on slots
Effective in the box safety
Good ball skills
Could use his hands better to get off blocks
Used more in the box than as a deep field player
8. Quin Blanding – Virginia – 6’2” 215
Quin Blanding had the best of his 4 seasons at Virginia in 2017 with 136 tackles and 4 interceptions. Over the course of his career with the Cavaliers he had 492 tackles and 10 interceptions.
Blanding has great size, but limited speed. He is also limited in how effectively he can make transitions. He is an excellent run defender and plays the pass well underneath, He is not someone you want covering a speedy receiver vertically down the field. He has a ton of playing experience and has been super productive over the last four years. He has some limitations, but if put in the right situation he could be a productive NFL player.
Extremely productive and experienced
Excellent run defender
Effective in the box safety
Good underneath pass defender
Does not have speed to be a regular deep field player
9. Godwin Igwebuike – Northwestern – 6’ 205
Godwin Igwebuike had 78 tackles and 2 interceptions for the Wildcats in 2017 which was down from 108 tackles and 2 interceptions in 2016.
Igwebike is a versatile player who is effective in the box or in deep field coverage. He struggles in man coverage despite his speed. He was a three-year starter at Northwestern and played very well in each of those seasons. He can be a little stiff for a guy of his size. He has a lot of the desired physical traits, but may not have what it takes to develop elite coverage skills.
Has good ball skills
Struggles in man coverage
A little stiff
10. Damon Webb – Ohio State – 5’11” 195
Damon Webb had 61 tackles and 5 interceptions for the Buckeyes in 2017.
Webb is a good deep field safety, who can be counted on to stay on top of deep routes. He has good, but not great speed, but makes up for it by making excellent reads. He is effective in man coverage, but will struggle against better receivers. He has been very well coached and understand the defense that he plays in. Webb is a serviceable safety who lacks the athletic ability to be elite at the next level, but will not leave his defense out to dry either.
Effective, experienced deep field player
Decent in man coverage
Tenacious – sticks with the play
Has good range, but not enough to play the whole deep field
Does not use hands effectively to get off of blocks