Top Five 2018 NFL Draft Prospects- Safety
These guys are he last line of defense and will be required to both play up at the line and cover receivers down field. Today I rank the top five safety prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Bio: Unlike most Alabama stars who have to sit and wait behind upperclassmen, Minkah Fitzpatrick got on the field right away. In three seasons, he set the school record for most career interceptions returned for touchdown with five and helped Alabama to two National Championships.
Strengths: Loves the game. Extremely competitive play demeanor with a history of showing up big in the biggest games. Versatile defensive back with experience all over the field. Can step right in and cover the slot, play high safety, or handle nickel linebacker responsibilities. Good feet with ability to transition back and forth smoothly around the field. Gets to top gear quickly. Can become centerfield safety. Able to stick a foot in ground and speed to the ball. Plays with the vision of an off ball defender in basketball. Has awareness from zone coverage to make tons of plays. Has nine career interceptions and five pick-6's. Has downhill mindset as a hitter. Plays off of blocks and into tackling position. Dangerous blitzer off the edge. Attacks line of scrimmage from high safety look in run support and is open to physical challenges. Special teams ace with 22 career coverage tackles.
Weaknesses: Plays with some stiff hips that limits lateral agility in coverage. May not have pure cover talent to play cornerback fulltime. Allows too much separation out of breaks. Feet are more quick than explosive when chasing receivers from the top of the route. Still needs to improve his awareness when asked to play deep safety. Has to learn to slow down urgency and play with more patience at the pro level. Comes in hot as tackler and will run himself out of position against athletic skill position players.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Tyrann Mathieu
Possible landing spot: Cleveland Browns
2. Derwin James, Florida State
Bio: As a freshman, Derwin James recorded 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five pass defended, two forced fumbles. As a junior, he earned second team All-American and first team All-ACC honors with 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, 11 pass defended, and a blocked kick.
Strengths: Undisputed locker room leader. Spends his weekends and free time studying game film. When he talks, teammates and coaches listen. Hits all the height, weight, and speed marks you want for a first round safety. Extremely versatile weapon. Can be placed anywhere on the field on any given play. Rangy with ability to chase throws from deep middle. Quick to squeeze routes approaching his area. Doesn't just look to hit, he looks for the football once he charges to the spot. Used in hybrid role near the line of scrimmage. Reliable in his assignments and standing up to the run or peeling off and covering tight ends. Smart blitzer with speed and athleticism to get to the backfield. Fluid, loose movement allows for coverage potential against bigger slot receivers. Careful to leverage ball carriers to the sideline and won't allow an inside cutback. Pursuit pace is fluid and powerful. Solid open field tackler with reactive athleticism to handle elusive ball carriers.
Weaknesses: Has tunnel vision in high safety role. Needs eyes to focus. Gets locked in on receiver routes and loses sight of quarterback going through progressions. Slow diagnostics lead to slow reactions. Waits a step too late to support over the top and can allow deep plays downfield. Needs better anticipation in coverage. Can be too hesitant in run support allowing runners to get up to him rather than taking it to them. Often absorbs contact flat footed rather than initiating contact. Pursuit angles need improvement. Despite his intensity, will still coast on some snaps. Has limited experience. Has played in just 26 college games. Missed most of his sophomore season with a torn ACL.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Eric Berry
Possible landing spot: Los Angeles Chargers
3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
Bio: Although he played quarterback and safety in a high school sponsored by Florida State, Ronnie Harrison graduated a semester early to join Alabama. In three seasons for the Crimson Tide, he registered 177 tackles, 17 passes defended, and seven interceptions.
Strengths: Outstanding combination of size and speed. Quick pedal with easy transitions in two deep zones. Is comfortable and experienced playing high or low safety. Good makeup speed. Doesn't get overly focused on routes. Finds time to read quarterback's eyes. Capable of quality man coverage in certain situations. Plays with route anticipation and ability to transition quickly to mirror. Plays under the route and uses his length to knock down passes. Physical hitter with pain as his default setting. Takes rapid downhill approach as high safety in run support. Rang with ability to leap into a long distance tackles when pursuit angle goes off schedule. Quick to punch and disengage blockers. Handles work near the line of scrimmage with desired level of intensity. Talent as a blitzer.
Weaknesses: Overreacts when he gets inpatient. Will lose leverage with pursuit angles and allows athletic running backs to beat him back inside. Needs to play under control and with better patience in open field. Complex routes can bait him into jumping on breaks early. Has the necessary speed to play over the top but doesn't always use it on consistent basis. Can be too sluggish when rolling from one spot to another pre-snap. Could draw a lot of penalties at pro level. Has too many lead shoulder hits as a tackler. Has to become more willing to wrap rather than strike to prevent some of his missed tackles. Tackling style could lead to injuries.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Adrian Wilson
Possible landing spot: New England Patriots
4. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest
Bio: After redshirting his freshman year to bulk up, Jessie Bates came into his own in 2016. In two seasons at Wale Forest, he recorded 179 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, and two touchdowns.
Strengths: Impressively smooth for a safety with fluid hips and quick feet. Swift in coverage transitions. Can line up over top slot receivers. Has pattern recognition to cover the breaks. Instinctive player. Processes quarterback at same speed quarterback is reading the field. Instant trigger to the ball. Sprints to potential pass target after recognizing play action. Excellent route balance from zone coverage. High school outfielder and basketball star with above average tracking and ball skills. Can take it away and take it to the house. Big tackler who is drawn to the football. Runs the lane and finishes with power. Has versatility to be utilized in a variety of coverages and positions.
Weaknesses: Probably could have afforded to stay in school another year. Just two years of game experience. Needs more muscle mass. Plays bigger than his frame raising durability concerns. Needs to play with better discipline in deep coverage assignments. Sniffs around on misdirection and will allow routes to get behind him. Doesn't have a great acceleration in his closing speed. Angles to the ball in coverage and as a tackler need improvement. Inconsistent tackler due to leverage issues. Over-pursues and allows runners to cut back across his frame.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Byron Jones
Possible landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
5. Kyzir White, West Virginia
Bio: After spending a year in junior college, Kyzir White joined West Virginia in 2016. In two years as a safety/linebacker hybrid, he recorded 152 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, nine passes defended, three interceptions, and four forced fumbles.
Strengths: NFL-ready frame with good length and well distributed muscle mass. Expected to carry more weight and transition to hybrid role. Comes from athletic family. His brother, Kevin, was a first round pick by the Bears in 2015. Team captain and true team leader. Plays every down with the same level of grit and urgency, even when he's away from the ball. Quick to diagnose the play. Supports run with intensity along the edge to contain. Forceful hitter. Thumps and swallows targets while running his feet to finish. Quick to diagnose play action and get into coverage. Very physical with tight ends in man coverage. Has the movement, size, and hands; making it hard for quarterbacks to get throws over him without risking a pick. A runaway train as a blitzer who looks to leave a mark on the quarterback.
Weaknesses: Average play speed could limit him at safety. Better playing downhill than in centerfield. Limited in man coverage and may need to be managed according to the matchup. Sluggish to open hips and transition smoothly from off coverage. Lacks smooth change of direction. Could take time to adjust to more weight and a more physical role. Needs to get stronger and better with his hands. Average at best athleticism. Lacks explosiveness. Some inconsistencies as open field tackler.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Mark Barron
Possible landing spot: Minnesota Vikings