A – Top Tier
B – Starter
C – Backup
D- Practice Squad
Recent Prospect Grade Comparison: Sean Taylor, A+
1. Derwin James – A widely hyped prospect since he first took the field at Florida State, James has the talent and elite athleticism to do nearly everything on the defensive side of the ball. He is a big and strong athlete with the size to play linebacker, something he can do routinely if needed. Additionally, he possesses the speed and explosiveness to be a roaming safety or even a cornerback. His best position is strong safety, where he can be used as a versatile playmaker all over the field. He is a crushing hitter, using his strength to power into ball carriers while remaining patient and disciplined in the run game. He is always around the ball and impacting the game, although he is much less instinctual in the pass game than he is in the run game. His movement and fluidity in the pass game is athletic but not great, although he is tremendous at using his length to play the ball in the air. While he could use some refining in coverage, he has all of the traits needed to cover most offensive players. He is a sure tackler, using his long arms and strength to finish nearly all of his tackles. His skill-set also translates exceptionally well as a pass rusher, where he is a dominant force off the edge who knows how to use his hands in pass rushing moves. However, it is intangibles that combine with his athleticism to make him a truly special talent. He is an outstanding leader who can motivate a defense with both his hard play and character. He is also said to be studious and a great learner, giving him even more upside to improve as a player.
2. DeShon Elliott – One of the most well rounded safeties in the draft, Elliott has the talent to play either safety position well, although he has a better chance to be a stud at free safety. He has outstanding intangibles and technique, which compensates for his average athletic ability. He has great football awareness and instincts, showing a knack for reading plays and rarely getting caught out of position. He also reads and jumps routes exceptionally well, resulting in a good number of interceptions and pass deflections. In particular, he has a natural feel for playing zone in the middle of the field, showing the range to blanket that area. He is reasonably fast, but he needs more urgency when tracking deep balls as he is often bailed out by his football intelligence. He is fluid making speed turns and uses good technique when shadowing in man coverage. He does a good job jamming receivers at the top of their routes, and similarly takes on blockers effectively. His good length helps him be a good and consistent tackler, even as he has good pop in his hits. Elliott has great potential to be a top free safety early in his career, especially if he continues to emerge as a leader.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick – Considered by some to be the best defensive player in the draft class, Fitzpatrick is a position versatile defensive back. He was the leader of the Alabama defense, high credentials that would be important in an NFL locker room. Although he mostly played in the slot as a nickelback this past season, safety appears to be his better position. He is an excellent blitzer and run defender, showing the aggressiveness to take on blockers and wreck plays in the backfield. He has outstanding football intelligence, allowing him to diagnose plays quickly and sort through traffic efficiently. While he is fluid making turns and moving his hips, he is not very good at breaking on cuts. Additionally, it is extremely rare that he is beaten for big plays, regardless of his flaws. This is largely due to his outstanding acceleration and above average tackling ability, which enables him to recover from the few mistakes he makes. His ball skills aren’t what would be expected for a player of his caliber, but he still has good hands. He is a twitchy athlete as well, showing the ability to play fast and make big plays. He lacks elite playmaking ability when the ball is in the air, but he makes up for it with the size and twitch to jump for balls with bigger recievers. He wouldn’t play slot cornerback full time, but he has room to develop at either safety position or as a matchup player in the slot.
4. Kyzir White – More of a linebacker or nickelback, White is a high energy player who would be an excellent hybrid player in most NFL defenses. He combines good tackling form with hard hits, making him a tone setter in the middle of the field. He is an above average athlete for his stature, and his intense play style and relentless energy allow him to compete as if he were a more physically talented athlete. While he is not particularly good at escaping blocks from linemen or tight ends, he shows enough physicality to not get blown back at the point of attack. He is a hard hitter who sets the tone for the defense, and he displays good tackling form in the alley and open field. Although he has a relatively slow reaction time, his instincts and football intelligence always keep him around the ball. He is very disciplined and focuses on completing his job first, part of the reason for his slow reaction. He is not especially good in zone or tight man coverage, but he has a fluid drive on the ball. Additionally, he is good at playing the ball in the air using his arms or shoulders to disrupt the pass. Although he lacks a full time position, he could be a very good starter due to his ability as just a purely good football player.
5. Godwin Igwebuike – Although more of an under the radar prospect, Igwebuike is a very good player with the necessary athletic ability for today’s NFL. He had a great combine with regards to the speed and agility drills, and he has the short, strong build of a running back to match. He displays good leadership, as well a developed football IQ. He is an excellent tackler, knowing when to be either patient or aggressive against the run, sometimes flying out of the secondary to make plays. He shows the ability to take on blocks with power, but he will try to dive past the blocks rather than hold them at times. He doesn’t have great hip fluidity to play shifty slot receivers close to the line, but he makes quick turns that enable him to cover running backs or tight ends in space. He can sometimes get beat deep due to his lack of elite cover ability, but it is still rare that he blows coverages. He can play the ball adequately in the air. Additionally, he has good burst to make plays on the ball by reading the eyes of the quarterback, something he does well. He is an explosive and smart player who could immediately start at strong safety, but he still has the upside to develop more and improve.
6. Marcus Allen – A stereotypical strong safety, Allen is a big, strong player who is effective as an extra run defender in the box. He is an attacker in the run game, taking the fight to the blockers and aggressively going after the ball. He is a good physical tackler who can deliver blows, albeit inconsistently. Although he attacks the ball, he is also disciplined in containing the edge and not overcommitting. He has solid instincts for finding the ball, being able to sort through traffic and follow cutbacks. He lacks the long speed to be a sideline to sideline defender, but he is still adequate in coverage. His size allows him to matchup on tight ends in the slot, and he has fluid hips that enable decent transitions into coverage. He can be slow moving his feet at times, limiting his ability to cover slot receivers, but his instincts allow him to be solid in zone. Additionally, he has decent ball skills, capping off a good set of skills that allows him to be of some assistance in the pass game. He lacks the quickness to make consistent plays in the backfield. However, he routinely uses his size, aggression, and long arms to force turnovers. While he lacks the versatility that many teams covet, he is a very good prospect at his position.
7. Jesse Bates – An explosive player and popular sleeper candidate, Bates has the skill-set of a pure free safety. He flies to the ball in both the run game and pass game, a product of his good speed and top tier instincts. A baseball player in high school, his centerfield ability translates well onto the football field. He does a tremendous job tracking the ball deep and has incredible instincts undercutting balls. He also does a great job playing the ball in the air, using his length to deflect passes that seem out of reach. He is also capable of playing in the slot, although his talent lies more in closing on the receiver quickly than pure coverage. Although he has good size, he is missing bulk and strength that he must now hope to acquire in an NFL weight room. This leads to too many broken tackles in which he will be beat physically by the ball carrier. He has good form tackling in the alley, but he mainly relies on grabbing legs to make tackles. Additionally, he lacks aggression and can be too patient when going to make tackles. Another significant flaw in his game is his inability evade traffic in the box, greatly limiting his ability to be a force close to the line. He is also an explosive returner, tending to be more of a finesse player. He is a tremendous roamer in coverage, and should gain more weight and aggression in the NFL.
8. Armani Watts – Although short for a safety, Watts is a physical player who is also quite capable of playing nickelback. He doesn’t have particularly great strength, but he makes up for it with great speed, instincts, and movement. He has a knack for ruining plays by jumping into passing lanes or getting behind blockers on run plays to the outside. Additionally, he is a good slot cornerback in both man and zone. This is due in large part to his quick changes in direction and outstanding ability to drive on the ball. He also exhibits natural movement skills in zone coverage, as well as the ability to read the quarterback in order to make plays on the ball. He is extremely aggressive in trying to force turnovers, and is exceptionally good at ripping the ball away from the ball carrier to force fumbles. He also displays turnover ability in the pass game, showing solid hands and ball skills. However, he is a major liability as a tackler due to his bad form. He doesn’t keep his head up or wrap well, causing him to miss or blow way too many tackles. This prevents him from being an above average box safety, which would be his most natural position. Still, he makes big plays and has talent to be a solid starter.
9. Ronnie Harrison – Although overshadowed by Fitzpatrick at Alabama, Harrison is talented but flawed player at strong safety. He has good length for the position and is a good athlete, showing the raw ability to be a good player. However, he lacks some of the technical skills needed for the position, a major reason for the absence of big plays in his game. His instinctual problems occur mainly when he is a high safety, but he does much better reading the quarterback or playing the run when he is closer to the line. He can be a physical player at times, but his tackling is sloppy and uses bad form. Additionally, he fails to be aggressive when trying make plays, as he doesn’t challenge blockers in the run game. He does much better as a cleanup player, and is effective when put as an outside linebacker. However, he can be very good in pass coverage when used in certain ways. He has smooth and fluid transitions and turns, making him ideal playing underneath on a running back or in the slot against less shifty receivers. He also has enough speed to take most receivers deep, even though he lacks the driving ability to cover intermediate routes effectively. He is an effective starting safety with reasonable versatility, but could greatly improve with fixed tackling.
10. Terrell Edmunds – A former cornerback, Edmunds is a better nickelback than a safety, although he has the ability to play the latter. He is not strong, but he is fast and physical enough. He has good hips to mirror receivers, and has very good lateral agility. However, he isn’t a very good turn and chase player from behind, due to his lack of talent with speed turns. This is also shown when he overcommits on play action fakes, something that occurs frequently. He doesn’t have great instincts inside the numbers, and lacks the ability to read the quarterback well on deep balls. He excels as a slot cornerback, where his suspect tackling is more than enough and his cornerback skills are more useful. Additionally, there is less of a focus on defending the run, giving him a better opportunity to not overcommit and blow coverages. He possesses very good size and length, allowing him to be a good matchup player. He is outstanding playing the ball in coverage, utilizing his length and explosiveness to deflect and make plays on balls. He uses textbook cover techniques to play the ball in the air, although his hands are inconsistent. While commonly classified as a safety, Edmunds would do well to make the switch back to cornerback.
11. Justin Reid – A typical jack-of-all-trades, Reid is more passable than exceptional. He is merely and average athlete, but he has the versatility to play press or off coverage from the nickelback position. He is good at changing directions fluidly, and has a solid backpedal. He also is good at transitioning into coverage, although he tends to overcommit on run fakes. Although he generally has a good enough football IQ to read plays well, he still makes too many costly mistakes that he can’t recover from. Additionally, there are many instances of blown coverage due to his inability to stay with his man athletically. However, he uses good technique when in range of the receiver, doing a good job being physical and making contact. He does a great job playing the ball, with good hands and ball skills. He is also good at challenging receivers in jump ball situations. He has good reaction times, showing the ability to respond quickly to running plays or receiver fakes. In the run game, he shows considerable talent in eluding blockers in order to make the play, as he is too small to challenge blockers head on. Although he is a solid tackler in the alley, he misses many tackles in space because of his small size and imperfect form. He is a flawed prospect with starter potential, but he could easily improve with more experience.
12. Troy Apke – After an amazing athletic showing at the combine, Apke put himself on the maps of many NFL teams. He is extremely fast and explosive, showing great range on deep balls and the speed to stick with any NFL receiver. He is also effective at converting his speed into power when delivering hits and making tackles. He also makes fluid turns with his hips, although he remains bad in man coverage due to his lack of technique and shadowing ability. He has great timing when making contact with a receiver in the process of a catch. However, he has extremely limited experience as a starter, and was used badly when he was used at all. This is partially the result of his slow reaction time and suspect instincts, as he is more of an athlete than a football player. As such, he lacked impactful splash plays even though he has quite a highlight reel. He has the skills to have a place in the NFL as a standout special teamer, and can be developed into more with good coaching. A very raw prospect, Apke is talented enough to become a high level starter, but will need many years of good coaching to do so.