We can downplay the combine as much as we want to, but it truly weeds out the players who are supreme athletes and the guys who just don’t belong in the first two days of the draft. Whether running slowly in the 40-yard dash, having poor agility drills, or looking tight in on-field drills, the combine reveals important details which separate some players from others. Today we’ll talk about some of the best defensive backs in the draft. You can get some playmakers at the top, but you can also get solid value on Day 2 of the draft. Let’s start with safeties.
This has the potential to be a very good group this year. I expect to see three safeties taken in the first round. Each of them are deserving. While they’re all grouped together, I want to get away from the traditional “free safety” and “strong safety” designations. The positions are so interchangeable at this point. Teams are going to want a guy who can make an impact at multiple spots, whether in the slot covering, blitzing off the edge, or patrolling the middle of the field by taking away routes. Here are the three safeties who should go in the first round.
I have James a smidge higher than the next guy. He arguably has the best man-to-man cover skills in the draft. He can erase receivers in multiple ways, whether getting his hands on them and rerouting them, or beating them to the spot. He’s special.
— KP (@KP_Show) March 7, 2018
That’s him showing his range from center field. Here’s a bunch of clips of James in coverage.
Seems like Derwin James is underrated all of the sudden(that’ll change post combine.)
put together some clips of him in coverage. In man, he’s better than most cbs. He erases guys.
Working through this class, I can’t find 10 better. Surprised I don’t see him higher in mocks pic.twitter.com/0QvTMMedAC
— KP (@KP_Show) February 23, 2018
That did in fact change after the combine. James will go in the top 10 and has the ceiling of a star with the floor of a very good starter. Those aren’t the guys teams pass up.
Fitzpatrick is such a smart football player. His lone knock is his tackling. He can get overaggressive and miss. That’s what really separates him and James. Fitzpatrick ran well at the combine but didn’t test like an explosive athlete as many thought he would. Still, he’s so disciplined. You see that in coverage. I want him locking up tight ends and slot receivers. He can play free safety in my base defense. His usage rivaled Harrison Smith and I’m not sure I’m changing that at the next level. Teams know he can play because he doesn’t rely on his physical gifts to make plays. Where his athleticism does show up is when he blitzes — he’s very good at that. Fitzpatrick is a stud. He’s a top-10 player.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, *to me*, reminds me of Byron Jones today
not a unicorn athlete but he should wow. Ability to recover is rare. Instincts/ability to read well beyond Jones as a prospect
Like Jones, his aggressiveness/recklessness can get him in trouble
5 plays of Fitzpatrick pic.twitter.com/A40I4iZYL3
— KP (@KP_Show) February 6, 2018
Surprise, surprise. The 6-1, 204-pound safety tore up the combine. He ran the 40 in 4.40. His vertical was 36.5 and his broad jump was 10.6. His 3-cone was 6.65. He is a superb athlete. He was a first-rounder in my eyes before all this. Those numbers reaffirm everything I saw.
Reid’s range is obvious. He can cover ground whether moving backward or forward. Athleticism is obvious but it’s apparent in how he does his job. On top of all that, his effort is tremendous. Reid will occasionally whiff in the open field, but I’d say his tackling is consistently reliable. He leaves his feet and that’s where he gets in trouble. I do think he can be quicker to react from a single-high safety, but again, his athleticism hides that a bit. Reid will be a better pro than a collegiate player. He’s just scratching the surface.
Ohio State continues to churn out first-round corners. Ward is yet another talented, superior athlete. Ward didn’t do any agility drills. When watching him, I thought he was quicker than “fast.” I knew he was really fast. He ran a 4.32 40.
If James is the star of the defensive group, Ward is the “safest” defensive player teams can take. He might not be a stud like Marshon Lattimore, but he’s going to be disruptive. He is extremely quick out of his breaks. He seems small, but he has no problem mixing it up against the run. It seems Ward is always in position to make a play. He has quick hands and usually times plays well to break up passes. He’s so good at “squeezing to the receiver” when the ball is in the air. My only worries: off-coverage and strength. I don’t get a superstar vibe when watching Ward, but you can tell he’s going to be really good.
Confidence. It’s the first thing you notice. Alexander will make a play and tell you about it. I love that. The last two years he has had a knack for finding the ball. After running a 4.38 40 and having a 3.98 short shuttle with a 6.71 3-cone, it all makes sense. When the ball is in the air he beats receivers to it. Plain and simple. Alexander has really good route recognition — that’s not always something you can teach. I expect him to go late in the first; that’s a good spot for him. He should be on the Eagles’ radar.
There are a lot of tall, gangly press corners in this draft and Oliver might be the best. Last year, Colorado’s secondary was full of NFL players and I thought Oliver was the best. Once he gets his hands on a receiver that’s all she wrote. He ran a 4.5 at the combine. Heading into the combine there were concerns about his speed. I never really saw that. He has no problem turning and running with guys. Oliver needs to work on transitioning out of his breaks. When you look at his body of work and how he can take receivers away within seconds, I want that on my team.