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2018 NFL Draft S Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ranking the draftable safety prospects from the 2018 class, out of Southern Pigskin's coverage area.

These rankings are comprised of what are the draftable/PFA worthy prospects from our coverage area here at Southern Pigskin -- the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon.

These rankings include a basic rundown of strengths and weaknesses, from the pre-combine rankings, plus new round projections, player comparisons, and a more in-depth summation of my personal opinion on each respective player.

Starting with the quarterbacks, they will be released one day at a time until all of the position groups are up. After that, they will be easily found in a comprehensive database from a homepage that includes an updated mock draft.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S

SAFETIES

1. Derwin James, Florida State: 6’2, 215

Strengths: Exceeds every physical attribute one could ask for. Super versatile. Big and athletic enough to cover tight ends from the slot. Elite ball skills. High end run stopping safety coming up near the line of scrimmage, where he has added value as a pure pass rush option. Sure tackler. A natural at the position with great overall feel and instincts. Almost always in the right place and usually making the play.

Weaknesses: Has the tools but zone coverage skills need work, not reliable as single high safety.

Player Comparison: Draymond Green, but football

IMO: After being arguably the best safety in the country as a freshman, James suffered a moderate sophomore slump (he was still really good), before missing the latter half of the season with an injury. In 2017, he was back and better than ever, retaking his throne as college football’s best safety. He’s good at everything, his mockdraftable profile is basically just a perfectly blue nonagon, and he’s got the alpha dog demeanor that you just can’t teach. In the league, he’ll still be at his best near the line of scrimmage, playing the run, covering slot receivers or tight ends, and occasionally using what appear to be genuinely translatable pass rush skills. He can drop into a split safety role, as well. Here’s hoping that whoever gets James will appreciate his versatility and deploy him in ways that will torture offensive coordinators ad infinitum.

Round Grade: Early 1st

2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama: 6’0, 204

Strengths: A special athlete, as versatile as they come. Rangy enough to be left alone in single high, even as he continues to grow into the position. Upper echelon ball skills with the added bonus of being a weapon with it in his hands. Plenty of experience as a slot corner at Alabama, can step right in and defend tight ends or receivers from the inside better than most true corner prospects. Plus in run support and has even shown prowess as a pure pass rusher.

Weaknesses: Played all over the field for Alabama but never had the chance to fully develop as either a corner or safety -- still gaining awareness.

Player Comparison: peak Malcolm Jenkins

IMO: Lately, Fitzpatrick has started to slip down some draft boards because of the sort of positionless role he took on at Alabama. Yet, as versatile as Derwin James was and is, Fitzpatrick is right there with him. It’s not as if he was just good at everything, but not great at anything. He was great at everything. Admittedly, he’s still developing his awareness at each spot which could see him be more mistake prone, early on, but he has shown the ability to excel all over the field. Maybe he ends up as a true outside cornerback, but I think his greatest value lies within his versatility. Then again, if teams are patient with him on the boundary, he has high end shutdown corner potential. Picking between James and Fitzpatrick was a nightmare, but I went with James because of his experience in one role. Fitzpatrick moved all over the place and showed great adaptability which is another point in his favor, but I could see him taking longer to reach his full potential because of it. There’s still no good reason for him to fall further than the top quarter of the first round.

Round Grade: Early 1st

3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama: 6’2, 207

Strengths: An absolute physical specimen -- ideal size-speed combo. Experienced high safety with good feel for zone, closes well. Good ball skills. Physical, effective run stopper. Very reliable tackler with a penchant for laying down big hits. Has pass rush ability. Good general feel for the position, does his job and does it well.

Weaknesses: Not really an option to cover receivers from the slot, despite physical tools.

Player Comparison: D.J. Swearinger

IMO: Harrison may be underappreciated because he wasn’t even the best safety on his own team. In another draft, however, that didn’t have two super freaks like James and Fitzpatrick, Harrison would be the talk of the position group. Even at Alabama, because of how Fitzpatrick, and really that entire group of super versatile defensive backs, was used, Harrison may not have been as good as he can be, which is terrifying. In the NFL, where he can still play closer to the box in run support and cover tight ends, and not have to take reps as the lone safety, he has serious star potential. He can’t cover slot receivers like the other two, but he’s not far behind in any other respect. The league is moving more towards these multifaceted chess pieces, and everyone is taken with Fitzpatrick and James (with good reason), but Harrison fits that mold, too.

Round Grade: Late 1st

4. Quin Blanding, Virginia: 6’2, 207

Strengths: Great size and build for the position. Reliable deep safety, good feel and doesn’t beat himself, although range is a concern. Does a great job finding the ball carrier and making the play against the run. Superb tackler. High football IQ.

Weaknesses: Not particularly athletic. Won’t be able to man cover NFL pass catchers. Lack of range could overshadow his high safety technique.

Player Comparison: Barry Church

IMO: Blanding didn’t blow up the combine, but we already knew he had some athletic limitations. Don’t draft Blanding because of his upside or some false sense of what he can be, draft him because of what he is -- which is already really good. He doesn’t offer any pass rush value or possess the versatility of some of the top guys, but he fits cleanly into a more traditional split safety role. He’s at his best against the run, but has enough range in two safety coverages. There’s some room to improve, but Blanding is a plug and play guy in the right scheme.

Round Grade: Late 2nd

5. Armani Watts, Texas A&M: 5’11, 202

Strengths: Great all around athleticism, fluid in his movements. Rangy with good overall coverage ability. Comfortable as a high safety and an adequate slot defender with room to grow. Above average ball skills. Very good, if occasionally inconsistent, in run support. Very instinctual.

Weaknesses: Not as long as one would like. Bad tackler.

Player Comparison: Tre Boston

IMO: Watts had an incredible career at Texas A&M and got better every single year, largely because he showed consistent improvement against the run. That being said, we never saw him really improve in coverage. He was fine all four years, but last season may have even been his worst. Now, as a slot corner, he flashed a lot of promise as a junior and senior, on a pretty decent sample size. He can be good in traditional split or high safety roles, he just has to cut down on some of the big plays -- maybe tone down the over aggressiveness. I question Watts’ upside, but he’s a highly experienced player with some versatility that can be a useful piece of any defense.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

6. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest: 6’1, 200

Strengths: Good overall athleticism. Excellent deep safety instincts and ability. Versatility as a slot corner with the speed, change of direction, and man cover skills to stay with even the better slot receivers. Upper echelon ball skills and is always a threat to take it back the other way. Improved as a run defender from 2016 to 2017. Very reliable tackler in 2016 before some regression last year. Versatile.

Weaknesses: Can be overly aggressive -- will jump at play fakes, bite on double moves, and over pursue ball carriers (the root cause of the missed tackles last year). Thin frame and lack of ideal play strength.

Player Comparison: Jaquiski Tartt

IMO: Bates really should have gone back to college. He has all the tools to be a very good player in the right scheme, but there’s also a lot of stuff to clean up in the meantime. He’s great in one-on-one coverage already, which you will usually see younger players struggle with, but he missed too many tackles last year and is still developing feel for the position. Bates’ potential could get him drafted early enough to make it worth his having left Wake Forest, but he’s hardly a plug and play guy.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

7. Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech: 6’1, 217

Strengths: Big, explosive, physically imposing. A converted cornerback with the cover skills to prove it. Size and athleticism to defend tight ends from the slot. Good ball skills. Above average run stopper. Plays with a developed understanding of his role within the confines of the defense and handles his responsibilities.

Weaknesses: Not as comfortable in deep safety role as he is in man, closer to the line of scrimmage. Displayed marked improvement as a tackler in 2017, but the rest of his career  in that respect is hard to ignore.

Player Comparison: Eric Reid

IMO: To say that the Edmunds brothers come from good bloodlines would be the understatement of the century. He is an absolute freak of nature, checking every sort of athletic measurable box that anyone could even begin to dream of. Before last year, his actual performance never quite lived up to the potential, but he started to put some stuff together in 2017. His tackling got better, he really shined against the run, and he flashed solid ball skills. He may not have been as good in coverage, but that may be, in part, due to how he was used at Virginia Tech. Edmunds has starter potential as a box safety that could even moonlight as a dime linebacker.

Round Grade: Late 3rd

8. Kris Weatherspoon, Troy: 6’2, 190

Strengths: Extremely versatile. Experienced and capable slot corner with plus man cover skills. Good ball skills. Excellent feel as a run defender that makes a lot of plays at and around the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses: Overly aggressive, will get beat deep on play fakes. Poor open field tackler.

Player Comparison: Chris Conte

IMO: Weatherspoon may not be the high upside versatile superstar that James, Fitzpatrick, or Harrison are, but he could be a similarly useful chess piece for a creative defensive coordinator. He’s great around the line of scrimmage, against the run, man covering slot receivers or tight ends, or occasionally even bouncing outside as press corner, as he did on occasion at Troy. He may not have starter potential (I think he does), but he definitely has the potential to be a hyper versatile weapon in sub packages.

Round Grade: Early 4th

9. Jeremy Reaves, South Alabama: 5’11, 190

Strengths: Possesses great ball skills and playmaker traits. Attacks the line of scrimmage, high level run stopper. Great open field tackler. Excellent feel, instincts for the position. Always in the right place at the right time.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal long speed for the NFL. Not rangy enough to be left alone as deep safety.

Player Comparison: Jahleel Addae

IMO: I really loved what I saw from Reaves in 2017, but his pro day was pretty miserable. I’d like to say that his football IQ and feel for the position could help him overcome whatever athletic limitations exist, but there’s just not a good track record for guys that fit his athletic profile. Just looking at the tape, Reaves appears to have NFL starter potential, and I hate to grant that much credence to a pro day, but there are a lot more red flags now than there were a couple of months ago.

Round Grade: Late 4th

10. Tracy Walker, Louisiana: 6’1, 206

Strengths: Great length and top end speed. Sufficient range as deep safety. Excels in coverage from the slot. Soft hands attached to those long arms. Looks for contact and is quick to inflict a big hit.

Weaknesses: Physically capable, but needs to improve his awareness and route balance in single high. Average at best against the run and as an open field tackler.

Player Comparison: Eddie Jackson

IMO: Teams will love Walker’s length and foot speed, but he’s still developing his instincts as a safety. There’s actually been a lot of buzz about him as a potential cornerback, which I admittedly, love. He’s got great ball skills, impressive length, and is at his best in coverage, anyway, with limited upside in run support. He’s not the strongest guy, but he has adequate play strength to develop into a solid press corner, and has the speed to stay with deep threats on the outside. Plus, his experience at safety will offer some roster flexibility.

Round Grade: Early 5th

11. Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh: 5’10, 198

Strengths: Good top end speed for the position. Serviceable as a deep safety with adequate feel and positioning. Really good as a slot corner in 2016 although he did get beat for a couple scores last season. Sufficient tackler.

Weaknesses: Ball skills are a concern. Not much help against the run. Acceleration and lateral agility questions. Still developing feel as high safety.

Player Comparison: Patrick Chung

IMO: Whitehead won’t be an asset in run support, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a versatile option. He didn’t show great instincts as a single high safety at Pitt, but he’s got enough range to play in a split safety role and might actually be best utilized as a slot corner in certain packages. Whitehead will be pretty scheme dependent in the NFL, but could be really useful if they play to his strengths.

Round Grade: Late 5th

12. Tray Matthews, Auburn: 6’1, 205

Strengths: Nice size with a well put together frame and underrated initial burst. Prototypical run stopping box safety last year after underachieving in 2016 -- was one of the nation’s best in 2017. Reliable tackler that packs a punch.

Weaknesses: Overall athleticism is subpar. Can be a liability in coverage, not an option in single high.

Player Comparison: Johnathan Cyprien

IMO: It wasn’t his final collegiate season that Tray Matthews finally lived up to his potential, but boy did he put it together, and it was impressive. He may not be the best athlete, and his upside in the NFL may not look much different than his 2017 season at Auburn, but that’s still a useful player on the right team. If you’re looking for a hard hitting box safety on day three, Matthews could be your guy.

Round Grade: Mid 6th

13. Chucky Williams, Louisville: 6’0, 211

Strengths: Good size, athleticism. Solid coverage option. Big hitter.

Weaknesses: Misses too many tackles. Below average play recognition, instincts.

Player Comparison: Trae Elston

IMO: Williams has four years of solid tape on him, especially as a junior and senior. He didn’t play the run as well in 2017 as he did the three years prior, but that’s seems like more of an aberration. He’s been really consistent in coverage over the duration of his career and that’s his greatest strength. He has some versatility with the range to play as the lone safety or in a split role, and hopefully can get back to his old form as an option against the run. I would be pretty surprised if he didn’t see some playing time come the fall, especially because of his special teams work.

Round Grade: Late 7th

14. Dominick Sanders, Georgia: 5’11, 193

Strengths: Great instincts, technique as deep safety. Plus ball skills. Was much improved as a tackler in 2017. Good overall feel for the position.

Weaknesses: Questions about top end speed. Not a factor against the run.

Player Comparison: Deon Bush

IMO: Sanders might could have been a day two draft pick had he been able to leave after his sophomore year, but he failed to ever reach those heights again. The final play of his college career, frankly, allowed Alabama to win the National Championship. However, that’s not the player he is. Save that glaring example, he does have good instincts and feel for the position. The problem with Sanders is that he might already be as good as he’s going to get. His upside is capped by his limited athleticism and he doesn’t offer much in the way of run support. He could be a good, smart backup safety to have in a pinch, but that’s about the ceiling.

Round Grade: PFA

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP