NFL Draft 400: Top Safeties for 2018 NFL Draft

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 5, 2018

NFL Draft 400: Top Safeties for 2018 NFL Draft

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    Scouts and general managers have called the 2018 NFL draft class average, but we still have questions. Who is the best overall player? How about the best at each position? 

    The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to figure that out.

    The top 400 players were tracked, scouted, graded and ranked, with help from scouting assistants Marshal Miller, Dan Bazal and Jerod Brown. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player—the same standard NFL teams use.

    Oftentimes, we saw every play from a prospect over the last two years. That led to the grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.

    Players were graded on strengths and weaknesses, with a pro-player comparison added to match the prospect's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 players will be broken down position by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the April 26-28 draft.

    In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.

35. Chris Hawkins, USC

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Could be a moveable player who lines up at boundary corner in a zone-heavy scheme.

    —Slot defender with enough athleticism to carry intermediate routes.

    —Quick to diagnose inside runs and fill downhill.

    —Was a two-time Pac-12 all-conference honorable mention safety.

                         

    NEGATIVES

    —Poor tackling form that results in too many missed tackles at the second level.

    —Routes to the ball in-flight are often too flat and leave him struggling to make plays downfield.

    —Cornerback frame but lacks agility to be boundary player.

    —Limited athletic profile that doesn't have any above-average trait to rely on.

    —Thin upper-body that struggles to handle contact and remain balanced in open field.

              

    OVERALL

    The 6'0", 187-pound Chris Hawkins will struggle to make anything more than an NFL practice squad. He'll have to put bulk on his frame if he's asked to play safety. He can quickly diagnose what's happening on the field, but a lack of true top-end traits often leave him struggling to compete. Ideally, Hawkins lands on a practice squad and spends time developing as a press corner with minimal man-coverage responsibilities.

                

    GRADE: 4.99 (Camp Body)

    PRO COMPARISON: Terrence Brooks, New York Jets

34. Troy Apke, Penn State

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Blew up the combine with a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical jump and 6.56-second three-cone.

    —Height, weight, speed prospect teams will hope can develop.

    —Doesn't get scared in run support.

    —Has ability to match up with tight ends at the line.

    —Works like a smaller linebacker against the run and is active.

                             

    NEGATIVES

    —Inconsistent producer and gets lost in space.

    —Lots of missed tackles on tape from poor technique (dipping head).

    —Football IQ appears low based on timing, angles and alignment.

    —Stiff through transitions and moves more like a sprinter than a safety.

    —Has added weight in the past, and his frame is maxed.

    —Small hands (8 ⅜"); under the NFL threshold.

                    

    OVERALL

    The 6'1", 200-pound Troy Apke made a name for himself at the NFLPA game and then again at the NFL Scouting Combine, but we're still talking about a player who was an afterthought on film. Unless he can quickly improve his diagnosing skills and football IQ, he'll just be a track guy in pads.

                        

    GRADE: 4.99 (Camp Body)

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Clemons, retired

33. Max Redfield, Indiana (PA)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Former top prep recruit who signed at Notre Dame out of high school.

    —Aggressive, in-the-box-style safety.

    —Can shed blocks and live in traffic.

    —Locates the ball well and closes in a hurry with short-area burst.

    —Big hitter who can separate the ball from backs and receivers.

                  

    NEGATIVES

    —Dismissed from Notre Dame after suspensions for missed meetings and a marijuana-related arrest.

    —Slow mover who might not be able to keep pace with NFL speed.

    —Sat out the 2016 season.

    —Never dominated against better competition.

    —Doesn't have fluid, smooth movements in coverage.

                  

    OVERALL

    Max Redfield is a name many will remember if you follow high school recruiting or Notre Dame football, but he's not the same player he was in his early seasons in South Bend. The issues that led to his dismissal from Notre Dame are still there, and he's not athletic enough to get more than a late look.

             

    GRADE: 4.99 (Camp Body)

    PRO COMPARISON: Deon Bush, Chicago Bears

32. Sean Chandler, Temple

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Fills downhill at full speed once he's confident.

    —Special teams experience with fearlessness as a returner.

    —Four years of experience at Temple with cornerback competitiveness in a safety frame (6'0", 190 lbs).

    —Played all over the field for the Owls in varied alignments/assignments.

               

    NEGATIVES

    —Tackles high and with lunge, which will become an issue in the NFL.

    —Tight hip that struggles to open and run against even adequate speed.

    —Range and awareness to track ball in flight at deep safety is underwhelming.

    —Easily manipulated with backfield action.

    —Wastes time as open-field tackler who is more reactive than proactive.

                              

    OVERALL

    Sean Chandler compensates for a lack of true deep speed and athleticism at safety with competitiveness. While he's a willing tackler, his form is inconsistent and is susceptible to punishing hits from skill players who leave him on the wrong end of a highlight. Chandler's fearlessness as a closer in the run game will entice teams to reserve a practice squad spot for him as a developmental prospect.

             

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Nat Berhe, New York Giants

31. Van Smith, Clemson

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Experience in competitive SEC and elite program at Clemson.

    —Good anticipation of angles in space as a run defender.

    —Frenetic pace filling downhill helps him avoid second-level blocks in space.

    —Played all over the field and was utilized as a slot defender to press and run or drop underneath route concepts.

    —Gunner on special teams and may provide value as versatile sixth defensive back.

                      

    NEGATIVES

    —The 5'11", 186-pounder is undersized as a strong safety and doesn't have the long speed or range to be a true free safety.

    —Tackling technique will be an issue. He doesn't wrap and drive but dips his head and tries to run through guys with his shoulder.

    —Recovery speed on intermediate routes is poor and will be exploited by adequate slot receivers.

    —Explosiveness in all ranges of motion is concerning.

    —Lacks physicality at catch point against receivers with physical frames to body him for possession.

                        

    OVERALL

    Van Smith doesn't have the requisite NFL size or speed to be an effective every-down safety. He's a developmental prospect who should have an opportunity to make a roster as a core special-teamer, as he has experience in an elite college program that will make the NFL transition less daunting. He'll struggle with pro contact and has to clean up his tackling to be considered a legitimate option.

               

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Xavier Woods, Dallas Cowboys

30. Trey Marshall, Florida State

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has experience playing free safety and nickel.

    —Tough tackler who loves to stick his nose in against the run.

    —Unloads well when attacking a ball-carrier and packs a punch.

    —Comes downhill with speed and closes well in the open field.

    —Can balance himself and mirror a ball-carrier for the tackle.

                        

    NEGATIVES

    —Didn't flash ball skills at FSU (zero interceptions in four years).

    —Ducks his head when tackling and will let runners bounce off him.

    —Is a liability in coverage. He mostly shows up against the run.

    —Isn't a stack-and-shed player and needs clean lanes to operate.

    —Plays tall with tight hips in transitions.

                     

    OVERALL

    Trey Marshall is a fun prospect if you're watching him come downhill to take on college runners. But once you realize he'll have to play in coverage, you see why he projects as an undrafted free agent. He could carve out a niche as a backup and special teams player.

                      

    GRADE: 5.10 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Jordan Richards, New England Patriots

29. Joshua Kalu, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Well-built 6'0", 203-pound frame that looks the part of an NFL safety's.

    —Converted cornerback who has experience as press corner.

    —Physical downfield and willing to use contact to disrupt the catch point.

    —Downfield patience to remain in phase with receivers.

    —Ideal special teams player with physical frame and enough athleticism to be effective in all phases.

                        

    NEGATIVES

    —Can be blocked against inferior competition.

    —Bounces inside, while watching, and loses leverage to the boundary too easily.

    —Doesn't seem to understand his athletic profile. He seems to believe he has more natural change-of-direction skills than he does. He takes chances, thinking he can recover and, as a result, loses reps.

    —Hesitant, as if he's been beaten on double moves. He's routinely late to fill and often gives up more yards than necessary.

                      

    OVERALL

    Joshua Kalu's transition from corner to safety will require patience. He may be considered for a role in a press-heavy scheme similar to those in San Francisco, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Seattle. He's at his best when he can get physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt timing and remain in phase downfield. He'll have to be a special teams standout early on to provide enough as he develops elsewhere.

                

    GRADE: 5.10 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Sean Davis, Pittsburgh Steelers

28. Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Timed at 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine and shows that speed on film.

    —Won the East-West Shrine Game defensive MVP award and was a 2017 All-Big Ten honorable mention.

    —Played wide receiver, cornerback and safety at Wisconsin.

    —Has the speed to stay with receivers in coverage and is good in the slot.

    —Has experience as a kick returner.

    —Will wow as an athlete on the field and in drills.

              

    NEGATIVES

    —Lacks instincts and is late to the ball.

    —Is lean (6'0", 198 lbs) and doesn't have power as a hitter.

    —Finesse safety prospect who has to win with speed.

    —Non-factor in the run game when in traffic.

    —Was a one-year starter.

              

    OVERALL

    Natrell Jamerson is a case study in evaluating traits over production. He's fast, completed 25 repetitions on the bench and looks the part. But his film is disappointing when judged against his combine numbers. He could just be coming into his own, or he could be a workout warrior.

                 

    GRADE: 5.25 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Kelcie McCray, Buffalo Bills

27. Marcell Harris, Florida

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    STEVEN CANNON/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —NFL body (6'1", 216 lbs) and has muscular definition and thickness. He won't need time to develop there.

    —Willing hitter who comes with thump.

    —Drives downhill with good leverage on out-breaking routes.

    —Was a major special teams player at Florida while sitting behind top-tier prospects.

    —Excellent at running alleys and cleaning up in the run game.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Achilles injury ended 2017 season before it began.

    —Limited college production and playing time.

    —Average athlete and small range as a deep safety.

    —Doesn't have the lateral agility to be effective downfield in coverage against even adequate competition.

               

    OVERALL

    Marcell Harris' limited production and season-ending injury in 2017 make his evaluation a major guess. Teams will be taking a risk on a prospect who has an underwhelming athletic profile and is almost solely a sub-package dime linebacker. He will have to earn a special teams role and hope franchises are willing to invest a year or two in his development.

                

    GRADE: 5.29 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Morgan Burnett, Pittsburgh Steelers

26. Chucky Williams, Louisville

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Experienced playing both free and strong safety.

    —Athletic with the burst to jump routes and accelerate in coverage.

    —Has the traits to be scheme-versatile.

    —Active, willing tackler who will tag ball-carriers.

    —Has flashed ball skills and coverage IQ and had nine career interceptions.

                        

    NEGATIVES

    —Doesn't have loose hips through transitions.

    —Misses tackles with poor leverage and eye discipline.

    —Slow to diagnose against the run and can be baited on misdirection or play action.

    —Has good size (6'0", 211 lbs) but a maxed-out frame.

                 

    OVERALL

    Chucky Williams is a nice combo safety with the speed to play over the top and the size to mix it up in the box. However, he's inconsistent. He will wow you with instincts and tools and then disappear or make mistakes that a senior shouldn't make. He's likely an NFL backup.

                

    GRADE: 5.30 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO COMPARISON: Don Carey, Jacksonville Jaguars

25. Dane Cruikshank, Arizona

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Athletic, active safety with legit speed (4.41 40-yard dash) and good strength (25 bench press reps).

    —Rangy and a good, willing hitter.

    —Can line up at either safety spot or cornerback and run with receivers.

    —Isn't afraid to mix it up in the box and has played nickel linebacker.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Decent sized (6'1", 209 lbs) but has small hands, arms and wingspan (8 ¾", 31", 74").

    —Inconsistent in coverage.

    —Lives off athleticism and not technique (leverage, timing, footwork).

    —Has to learn to trust his eyes more and not guess as often.

    —Looks the part but was an average college player.

              

    OVERALL

    Dane Cruikshank is a legitimate athlete with impressive numbers, but his play hasn't benefited from that—at least not yet. Teams will likely take a flier on him late with the hopes he can be developed into a third safety and/or special teams stud.

                          

    GRADE: 5.40 (Round 7)

    PRO COMPARISON: Josh Shaw, Cincinnati Bengals

24. Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    Tested well across the board at the combine and is a solid, fluid athlete.

    —Is an active, willing hitter.

    —Plays bigger than his measurements (6'1", 206 lbs).

    —Great length (33 ½" wingspan) and uses that as a tackler and ball hawk.

    —Ball skills popped off tape and in drills.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Looked lost and too high in deep coverage.

    —Might be a zone safety only. He struggles in man-to-man.

    —Instincts were average at Louisiana-Lafayette, a small-conference school.

    —Struggles to drop his hips and sink when changing direction.

    —One-speed kind of guy who can be beaten in that area.

                    

    OVERALL

    Tracy Walker, who also goes by Trey, is a polished safety prospect who fits the bill as a run defender and an intimidating hitter in coverage. He has upside and could become a standout special teams player with his length and aggressive mentality.

                

    GRADE: 5.40 (Round 7)

    PRO COMPARISON: Morgan Burnett, Pittsburgh Steelers

23. Tre Flowers, Oklahoma State

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Recovery speed in a straight line shows a level consistent with his 4.45-second 40 speed.

    —Willing hitter in space and limits yards after the catch with a lengthy 6'3", 202-pound frame (33 ⅞-inch arms) that allows him to get his hands on receivers before they've transitioned from receiver to runner.

    —Productive for four years at Oklahoma State with double-digit games played each year.

    —Length may be seen as a positive in a scheme that relies on zone coverage and downfield ball skills.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —High-cut frame that doesn't look like typical NFL safety's.

    —Underwhelming aggressiveness as a run defender and is more of a gang-tackler than individual run-stopper.

    —Tight hips in transition cause him to lose a step in downfield coverage, which NFL-caliber talent will exploit.

    —Length, frame and tackling style don't look like they'll hold up against NFL competition, and his transitional fluidity isn't smooth enough to be a legitimate centerfield safety.

    —Flowers will struggle in man coverage underneath against bigger competition who can body him up.

                      

    OVERALL

    Tre Flowers doesn't have the body type or athleticism to match what the NFL looks for in safeties. He's too gangly to be a legitimate strong safety and lacks the hip fluidity to be a centerfield defender. His best hope is to land in a Cover 2-heavy scheme that allows him to stay over the top of routes and rely on length and straight speed to compensate for a lack of agility in open space. He may be a developmental candidate in schemes such as those in San Francisco, Jacksonville, Seattle and Atlanta thanks to his length and speed that may allow him to be a press corner with underneath responsibilities.

             

    GRADE: 5.45 (Round 7)

    PRO COMPARISON: Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

22. Tray Matthews, Auburn

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Rocked-up physically with body type (6'0", 207 lbs) that looks more like a dime linebacker.

    —Loves contact and has no problem playing late.

    —Nastiness in finishes that extends beyond the whistle.

    —Fights through contact in the box with enough agility to beat offensive linemen in the gap.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Change-of-direction skills are underwhelming and will be abused by NFL skill players.

    —Angles to boundary are often too flat and expose the sideline easily.

    —Lackluster open-field tackler who grabs and reaches despite a top physical profile.

    —Question marks off field after being dismissed from Georgia for arguing with professor and being arrested for theft. He also had shoulder surgery in 2015.

    —Thick athlete who'll struggle in man coverage against solid or better competition.

           

    OVERALL

    Tray Matthews is a quintessential strong safety, with enough thickness and physicality to be an aggressive in-the-box player. He'll have to answer questions about the off-field issues that led to his dismissal from Georgia after a promising freshman season. Defensive coordinators won't want to rely on him in space, but he's a bulldog in small areas and has tenacity and a desire to hit everything.

                          

    GRADE: 5.55 (Round 6)

    PRO COMPARISON: Morgan Burnett, Pittsburgh Steelers

21. Damon Webb, Ohio State

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Willing tackler who drives downhill in run support.

    —Understands angles to the boundary and leverages outside runs well to limit gains.

    —Above-average mental processing to direct defensive alignment and diagnose concepts before the snap.

    —Had five interceptions in 2017 and has ball skills that are useful when he diagnoses plays before the snap.

    —Has good play strength and is an active tackler.

                     

    NEGATIVES

    —Webb will bite on backfield action and leave the deep boundaries of a Cover 2 scheme unprotected.

    —Has limited speed and athleticism that will cause struggles in man coverage and in the open field.

    —Has to rely on instincts to deal with above-average speed. When he makes a mistake or solid quarterback play manipulates him, he's exploited easily.

    —Too small (5'11", 209 lbs) to be an in-the-box strong safety and too limited athletically to be a free safety. He also has a limited skill set that won't be adaptable for every team.

    —Awkward mover in space who lacks lower-body flexibility to compete with shifty skill players in and out of breaks.

                           

    OVERALL

    Damon Webb is a scheme-specific player who will have to land in a Cover 2 that has a sub-package linebacker already capable of manning up tight ends. Webb will struggle in space against solid or better competition, as he lacks the athleticism to be a true free safety and the size to be a box player. He's at his best coming downhill, understanding angles to the boundary and as an alley player in run support.

                           

    GRADE: 5.55 (Round 6)

    PRO COMPARISON: Calvin Pryor, free agent

20. Dominick Sanders, Georgia

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has NFL-caliber instincts that put him in the right place as a centerfield defender while he drives on underneath throws.

    —Showed high production with double-digit games played for all four years in the SEC with Georgia.

    —Recognizes route concepts in motion and baits quarterbacks into tight-window throws.

    —Is a fluid lateral athlete with good body control and spatial awareness.

                     

    NEGATIVES

    —Is an inconsistent tackler at best and, in some cases, a liability as a force player against the run.

    —Lacks the range to be a centerfield free safety who opens and runs sideline to sideline.

    —Is undersized (5'11", 193 lbs) by NFL standards and will struggle with in-the-box contact.

    —Will jump in the box but won't bring power into contact and often looks to make glancing blows instead of driving through players.

    —Once he's beaten, his recovery speed is lacking against even adequate talent.

                     

    OVERALL

    Dominick Sanders is a fluid athlete who has years of experience in the competitive SEC. Unfortunately, his lack of size and range is a major hurdle as he looks to find an NFL fit. He's too small to be an in-the-box safety and lacks the speed or range to be a true centerfield defender. Sanders' best bet is to latch on as a Day 3 flier who can entice teams with his ball skills and ability to drive on underneath throws for potential turnovers.

                                

    GRADE: 5.60 (Round 5)

    PRO COMPARISON: Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers

19. Cole Reyes, North Dakota

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Well-built, physical, in-the-box strong safety.

    —Smart, quickly processing, attacking downhill player.

    —Lived around the ball with one interception and two forced fumbles in 2016.

    —Can switch between free and strong safety and matches up well athletically with tight ends.

    —Plays well off the line of scrimmage.

    —Immediate asset on nickel packages.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Triceps injury limited his season to four games and kept him from competing at the pro day bench press.

    —Has been beat up throughout college with multiple injuries.

    —Aggressive nature hurts him against breaking routes and double moves.

    —Played against low level of competition.

                              

    OVERALL

    Cole Reyes was a standout at the position heading into the 2017 season, but injuries limited him to four games. That's been the story of his career, too. He's a good athlete and instinctive, but can he stay healthy?

           

    GRADE: 5.70 (Round 5)

    PRO COMPARISON: Miles Killebrew, Detroit Lions

18. Jordan Whitehead, Pitt

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Is an undersized safety (5'10", 195) who isn't afraid to play in the box.

    —Played and excelled at multiple positions at Pitt while showcasing athletic ability on special teams.

    —Can play slot corner or lock up in man defense from the safety spot.

    —Is aggressive against the run and pass.

    —Played some offense and was effective with the ball in his hands.

                  

    NEGATIVES

    —Lacks instincts. Leaves the area the play is in, gets pulled in by play action.

    —Over-pursuit killed him at times against the run and pass.

    —Relies on being the best athlete on the field and lets technique get away from him. 

    —Fails to shed blockers and find ball-carriers.

    —Small frame and hitter mentality can lead to a lot of injuries.

    Suspended three games to start the 2017 season (team-rules violation).

                 

    OVERALL

    An undersized, athletic safety, Jordan Whitehead will draw interest for his ability to play slot corner and dominate special teams. He has experience as a return man and ball-carrier. Whitehead elected not to run at the combine, but he posted a 40-yard dash time in the low 4.5s at his pro day, according to scouts.

            

    GRADE: 5.70 (Round 4)

    PRO COMPARISON: Kurt Coleman, New Orleans Saints

17. Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii

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    POSITIVES

    —Has ideal size (6'0", 200 lbs) and NFL-caliber athleticism.

    —Can play either safety position but projects best to strong safety.

    —Has a clean backpedal and good burst coming out of it.

    —Flashed ball skills at the Senior Bowl with one-handed catch.

    —Stood out as a hitter during all-star practices.

                       

    NEGATIVES

    —Doesn't have ideal speed in the open field.

    —Showed a surprising lack of strength on the bench press at his pro day (10 reps), per Draft Scout.

    —Tape and productivity dropped off in 2017.

    —Is overly aggressive and goes for kill shot over a solid tackle.

    —Can be stiff/tight coming out of breaks in reverse.

                          

    OVERALL

    Trayvon Henderson impressed at the Senior Bowl and did time better than expected at his pro day (4.58 40-yard dash) when compared to his film. He is super-aggressive and loves to fly around the field, which could intrigue teams that are willing to look past his lack of playmaking speed. Henderson wasn't invited to the combine, which is usually a bad sign.

          

    GRADE: 5.70 (Round 5)

    PRO COMPARISON: Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

16. Siran Neal, Jacksonville State

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    POSITIVES

    —Measured at 6'0" and 206 pounds and has a chiseled chest and the thickness to handle run support.

    —Played safety and linebacker. Converted to corner last season at Jacksonville State.

    —Is physical from a press alignment and is willing to harass receivers downfield.

    —Competitive toughness and confidence isn't lacking. He prides himself on being the alpha dog on the field and in training with Oklahoma State wide receivers.

    —Can fight through traffic as run defender with balance and lateral agility. Is willing to jump into the box as a run defender.

                          

    NEGATIVES

    —Aggressive hands and grabby nature routinely put him on the borderline of pass interference.

    —When beaten, he lacks the recovery speed or instincts to recover down the field.

    —Doesn't have the downfield range to play in a single-high scheme. He's a Cover 2 safety or press corner with zone responsibilities.

    —His level of competition causes concern for a player who can play linebacker, safety and corner all within three years. He often physically overwhelms competition. What happens when being physical doesn't immediately win the rep is worrisome.

    —He struggles in press coverage against slot receivers who have quick feet and the ability to get on top of him in a hurry. He'll cross up his feet and open his hips earlier than necessary, offering multiple options for receivers with spatial awareness.

                

    OVERALL

    Siran Neal is an aggressive, physical player who prefers to disrupt routes before they begin. He's best when pressed, as he uses a strong upper body to punch and bait receivers in their release. He'll likely be a matchup piece in the NFL, as he lacks the elite traits of specific positions but has the requisite athleticism to do a little bit of everything.

    Where he lands and the scheme used will be as critical to his latching onto a team as anything. At worst, he's a core special-teamer who can land on a practice squad and gain time to identify a position to grow into.

                       

    GRADE: 5.75 (Round 5)

    PRO COMPARISON: Jabrill Peppers, Cleveland Browns

15. Quin Blanding, Virginia

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Legitimate strong safety prospect with the willingness to be a relentless hitter in the box.

    —Tallied over 115 tackles each season as a four-year starter at Virginia.

    —Technically proficient in coverage and relies on a plan instead of instincts.

    —When he's reading correctly downfield, he attacks the ball with energy and can cause turnovers.

    —His angles to edge runs are dynamic, and he has the ability to time the speed and leverage of runs to limit cutback lanes at the boundary.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —His long speed is a problem and won't stand up to NFL competition when he's a deep safety.

    —Doesn't have the natural instincts to be a downfield playmaker. He can be manipulated by NFL-caliber schemes that put him in direct conflict.

    —Explosiveness and acceleration is below average and becomes an issue when he isn't in phase with receivers and needs to demonstrate recovery speed.

    —Prefers a shoulder tackle rather than bodying players in gap-scheme runs and can be susceptible to additional yards as he slows his feet when going into contact. 

    —Is an underwhelming man-coverage safety who will struggle to remain in phase with downfield option routes.

                

    OVERALL

    Quin Blanding is as consistent a player as an NFL team can get in this draft. He'll primarily be a strong safety, as he lacks the agility and long speed to be a deep defender. He'll excel in a zone scheme that relies on him as an underneath option who can match routes across his face and be an effective run defender in the box and to the boundary. He's a candidate to play every special team and can latch onto a squad while refining his downfield coverage techniques.

                   

    GRADE: 5.90 (Round 4)

    PRO COMPARISON: Barry Church, Jacksonville Jaguars

14. Stephen Roberts, Auburn

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Tape shows a fluid, agile athlete.

    —Looks the part of a nickel safety and can match up in the slot.

    —Quick and has excellent feet.

    —Aggressive tackler despite a small frame (5'11", 186 pounds).

    —Has punt-return experience.

    —Has speed to carry receivers downfield.

    —Has good on-the-fly diagnosing skills.

                

    NEGATIVES

    —Shoulder injury kept him from testing at the bench press during the combine or his pro day.

    —Undersized for a safety and will get washed out in the run game.

    —Didn't produce the interceptions one would want from a coverage safety (two in four years at Auburn).

    —Does not have the frame to add weight to.

    —Shoulder injuries on a small safety should scare teams.

                 

    OVERALL

    Stephen Roberts has traits that make you think he could be a nice player in the NFL from day one. He could at least contribute in sub-packages, on special teams and maybe as a punt returner. If franchises can get comfortable with his lean frame and shoulder injury, his speed and aggressive nature may make Roberts a steal.

                       

    GRADE: 5.99 (Round 4)

    PRO COMPARISON: Kurt Coleman, New Orleans Saints

13. Kameron Kelly, San Diego State

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Ideal size (6'2", 204 lbs) and length (31 ¾-inch arms) for an NFL safety.

    —Attacks the ball at its highest point better than some receivers.

    —Shows tremendous value in man coverage. Played every position in the secondary and contributed on special teams.

    —Efficient blitzer.

    —Tracks and finds the ball in a crowd.

              

    NEGATIVES

    —Plays like an aggressive corner in the run game, not an in-the-box safety.

    —Was expected to run better than a 4.66 40-yard dash.

    —Is heavy-footed in coverage, and comebacks and slants beat him.

    —Is a tweener prospect. He's too slow to play outside corner and lacks tackling ability at safety.

             

    OVERALL

    The biggest "knock" on Kameron Kelly might be the fact he doesn't have a true position. That sounds like a negative, but it's a good thing. He has amazing ball skills and high-points the football at impressive heights with his lengthy frame. He's not an overly athletic corner, which is why many teams will look to play him at safety.

                  

    GRADE: 5.99 (Round 4)

    PRO COMPARISON: Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs

12. DeShon Elliott, Texas

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Is an aggressive downhill player who shows enthusiasm for making hits at or behind the line of scrimmage.

    —Has NFL-caliber instincts that flash in intermediate coverage. He also has a willingness to jump routes and create turnovers.

    —Played off the edge at Texas at times and showed sure tackling, both in traffic and in the open field.

    —Often redirects other players on defense and shows the mental processing skills to diagnose offensive formations moment to moment and counter with new defensive alignments.

    —Was impressive in getting to the ball, as he nabbed six interceptions and had three forced fumbles in 2017.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Has a tendency to get grabby downfield rather than trust his technique to open and run with players.

    —Will bite on play action and leaves seam routes susceptible to completions.

    —Is better playing downhill and struggles to open up and run with NFL-level talent.

    —Body control looks clunky, even when he's in phase with receivers. This may lead to increased pass-interference calls.

    —Shows wasted lower-body movement, largely as centerfield defender. That leads to an awkward running style and a lack of true sideline-to-sideline speed.

                       

    OVERALL

    DeShon Elliott has the foundational skills to be a solid NFL contributor, but he'll need more time to develop as an open-field athlete if he's ever going to start in the NFL. The mental processing and competitive toughness skills are obvious, but those won't mask athletic deficiencies against superior talent. Elliott will have to rely on his instincts and ball skills to make coaches notice him as a potential backup and spot starter as a rookie.

                     

    GRADE: 5.99 (Round 4)

    PRO COMPARISON: Darian Thompson, New York Giants

11. Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech

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    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Is a versatile athlete with an NFL frame (6'0", 217 lbs) whom Virginia Tech used as a linebacker, scout-team corner and safety.

    —Has above-average change-of-direction skills and good lateral agility for someone his size.

    —Is excellent in tight spaces and has the ability to knife gaps and play aggressively in run support.

    —His competitiveness and hustle is evident on film. He's always downfield to finish plays and pushes through the whistle.

    —His brother Tremaine will be drafted in the top 15 and his father, Ferrell, played in NFL. There's no question he has the profile to compete at the highest level.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Medical questions surround the shoulder surgery that ended his 2017 season.

    —Is easy to manipulate with head fakes and shoulder movements and often has to recover from over-committing on play fakes.

    —Tackling form is questionable and is an all-or-nothing proposition.

    —Downfield ball skills are underwhelming, and he often looks lost while the ball is in flight, instead opting to get physical with receivers.

    —His open-space play is below-average and will scare NFL teams from putting him in anything other than a box role.

              

    OVERALL

    Terrell Edmunds isn't the prospect his brother Tremaine is, but he offers NFL-caliber size and athleticism. He's at his best when he can play as an intermediate defender with zone awareness and a quick-fire ability to drive on underneath routes. His willingness as a tackler is obvious, but his technique leaves much to be desired and will be dissected by NFL teams. He'll have to cut his teeth on special teams and try to carve out a role in year one before becoming a potential starter within his first two seasons.

           

    GRADE: 6.00 (Late Round 3)

    PRO COMPARISON: Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals

10. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Thick build (5'11", 213 lbs) allows him to match up with tight ends and play near the line of scrimmage.

    —Has speed to fill gaps and cut down running lanes. 

    —Sheds blockers and brings down ball-carriers with force.

    —Has the ability to use his hands to jam at the line.

    —Tested well across the board as an athlete with speed (4.44 40-yard dash) and agility (6.56 three-cone drill).

                             

    NEGATIVES

    —Plays conservatively at times and lets runners make first contact.

    —Has trouble finding the ball in the air and would prefer to make the play on the receiver, not the ball.

    —Ran faster at the combine than he plays.

    —Lacks the height and length to high-point the ball. 

    —Play action and flea flickers left him looking silly in coverage.

                    

    OVERALL

    Godwin Igwebuike plays at his best when he is close to the line of scrimmage. He matches up well with running backs and shorter tight ends in coverage. He also has active hands and a strong build, and is an efficient tackler. Igwebuike will have to play special teams, though he'll be an ideal fit there. He plays slower than he tested, however, and might not be able to play slot corner against athletic offenses.

             

    GRADE: 6.25 (Round 3)

    PRO COMPARISON: Sean Davis, Pittsburgh Steelers

9. Marcus Allen, Penn State

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Is a willing tackler who's comfortable playing in the box as a force player on the edge.

    —Is balanced and forceful through contact and can defeat second-level blocks.

    —Understands angles as a back-side run defender and can maintain leverage while flowing to the opposite boundary.

    —Is an ideal sub-package dime linebacker who can create an immediate advantage as moving defender.

    —Is a better intermediate zone safety than most in this class, as he has the ability to redirect routes and identify concepts in motion.

              

    NEGATIVES

    —Ball skills are severely lacking. He only had one career interception in four years, and it shows on tape.

    —Isn't a fluid enough athlete to play free safety in a single-high scheme. He's a free safety in Cover 2 shell or a strong safety in a dynamic scheme.

    —Will struggle in coverage against downfield receivers who have any sort of hip fluidity through route stems and breaks.

    —Lateral movements in space look choppy, as he lacks the agility and flexibility to move with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.

    —Will be exploited in coverage if he doesn't improve his mental processing to identify breaks and jump routes for pass breakups.

                   

    OVERALL

    Marcus Allen is a willing tackler who loves to engage in the box against the run. His ability to diagnose route concepts throughout stems will translate to the NFL immediately as an intermediate defender and sub-package matchup player who has the physicality to handle tight ends in space.

    Allen's athleticism limits his ability to play as a deep safety and will be an issue against NFL-caliber receivers downfield. He'll be an immediate core special teamer, and he has the physicality and willingness to be an effective third safety and eventual starter with developmental coaching.

                  

    GRADE: 6.25 (Round 3)

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8. Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Fast and fluid athlete who’s burst jumps off the tape.

    —Smooth operator who easily handles transitions and flies his hips open with no hesitation. Has the speed to run down fast receivers.

    —Can match-up over the top as a true free safety but also has the athleticism to jump down into the slot and cover up targets.

    —Can come downhill with bad intentions and will strike ball-carriers.

    —Long-armed player who uses that length well to challenge 50/50 balls and take away receptions.

    NEGATIVES

    —One-year starter who has to continue proving himself.

    —Thin framed dude who looks like he needs the weight room.

    —Could better time his turns and jumps instead of letting his recovery speed save him.

    OVERALL

    Tarvarius Moore somehow slid under the radar this season but NFL scouts and media evaluators took notice once his tape was distributed. Running a 4.32 at his pro day helped. Moore is one of the best true free safeties in the 2018 class and looks like an early starter.


    GRADE: 6.40 (Round 3)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys

7. Armani Watts, Texas A&M

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    POSITIVES

    —Is a natural centerfield safety with range and vision, as seen in his walk-off interception against Arkansas in September.

    —Watts finds and puts himself around the football better than most safeties in this class.

    —Consistently disrupts passing lanes with quick plant-and-go footwork.

    —Can lock up in man defense and has the ball skills to play over-the-top safety.

    —Is willing to take risks to make a big play, though this has also come back to bite him.

    —Was a four-year starter at Texas A&M.

                          

    NEGATIVES

    —Was a highly regarded safety prospect for the 2017 draft, but injuries were a concern then and still are. 

    —Doesn't have the big frame (5'10", 202 lbs) and length teams are looking for. 

    —Misses a lot of tackles due to lack of willingness and technique.

    —Frame and numerous injuries bring up durability concerns.

                

    OVERALL

    Armani Watts could be one of the best safeties to come out of this class. His athletic ability, field awareness and ball skills make him a dangerous free safety prospect. Concerns over his injury history, size and inability to tackle will scare teams off. There is no doubt he is a ball hawk, though.

                        

    GRADE: 6.50 (Round 2-3)

    PRO COMPARISON: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

6. Kyzir White, West Virginia

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has a thick, muscular frame (6'2", 218 lbs) and should have no trouble transitioning to the NFL.

    —Is a willing tackler who may be asked to move into a dime linebacker role.

    —Played a versatile role at West Virginia that saw him utilized in coverage, run support and blitzing. He's shown the mental-processing skills to compete in all roles and offers positional flexibility.

    —Has effective instincts and is a see-it-and-go-type of box player who identifies and hits top speed in a hurry.

    —Family bloodlines (Bears receiver Kevin White) suggest NFL-caliber athleticism is there.

                  

    NEGATIVES

    —Lacks the NFL speed needed to fit physical profile of a legitimate safety.

    —His man coverage, particularly in the slot, is average at best because of a lack of even average change-of-direction skills against adequate or better receivers.

    —Looks like a lumbering athlete who may struggle to move in space alongside top-tier NFL talent.

    —The time it'll take to convert to a non-specific NFL role may make him more of a projection than others in the class.

                  

    OVERALL

    Kyzir White wins with competitive toughness and mental processing that allow him to fill a variety of roles. He's a relentless hitter who relishes opportunities to bang pads and will have no trouble transitioning to NFL contact. His size and athleticism are a blessing and curse, as he has the frame and skill set to be a moveable defender in the box but lacks the true speed to have a defined role in a defensive backfield. White's physicality in all three phases is his calling card and will be the ticket to his earning an early starting role.

             

    GRADE: 6.75 (Early Round 2)

    PRO COMPARISON: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

5. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Bates is a quick, fluid, agile athlete who shows up in coverage looking like a cornerback.

    —He's a hitter and doesn't mind throwing his frame around to make hits. He packs a punch.

    —He's versatile enough to play any safety spot and can even lock up in man coverage if needed against slot receivers and tight ends.

    —Teams running a zone defense should put a premium on Bates thanks to his range and instincts.

    —Does a great job finding and getting to the football.

               

    NEGATIVES

    —Bates was just a two-year starter at Wake Forest and left school following his redshirt sophomore season.

    —He has a lean frame with short arms (31 ⅝") and might need to add bulk.

    —Reckless style of play is a concern with his frame and past injuries.

    —Can get sucked into the box on play-action and misdirection.

    —Saw his interceptions drop from five in 2016 to just one in 2017.

                  

    OVERALL

    Jessie Bates is one of the better true coverage safeties in the 2018 draft class. He identifies routes well and is athletic enough to get into position to make a play on the ball or limit targets. A team needing an over-the-top safety early in Round 2 should be all over Bates.

                

    GRADE: 6.75 (Early Round 2)

    PRO COMPARISON: Reggie Nelson, Oakland Raiders

4. Justin Reid, Stanford

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Reid is a fast, fluid, versatile safety prospect with the body and tools to line up all over the field.

    —Lateral quickness as slot defender makes him a valuable defensive matchup player.

    —Mental processing is evident on film as Reid shows ability to identify route concepts and close windows.

    —Five interceptions in 2017 highlight ball skills, which include the ability to play through receivers' hands and make plays at the catch point.

    —Man-coverage eraser in short-to-intermediate range that can handle most tight ends and speedy backs. Can carry drags across the field.

               

    NEGATIVES

    —Backpedal looks rigid. I wonder if that’s coaching point or a technical/functional issue.

    —Lunging tackler that looks to make devastating hit and tends to dip head when he sees an opportunity to strike. Better athletes will exploit that style of hitting.

    —Reid has a tendency to peek into the backfield at the top of routes, wanting to jump routes, and can lose a step on option routes. Quick NFL receivers will exacerbate the problem. 

               

    OVERALL

    The brother of NFL safety Eric Reid, Justin Reid is a legit player in his own right. He's more fluid and agile than his big bro and might be a better fit in the modern game. Reid can run with receivers or tight ends and has exceptional football IQ coming out of Stanford's defense. He should make an impact as a rookie.

                  

    GRADE: 6.90 (Early Round 2)

    PRO COMPARISON: Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Flies around the field and has a signature style of controlled chaos to his attacks on offenses.

    —Plays with very good field speed and agility; showing the hips to play in coverage and the burst to close on the ball.

    —Has had success as a blitzer.

    —Comes to balance well as a tackler and can deliver punishing hits that intimidate offenses.

    —Sees the ball quickly and easily diagnoses the run. Shows a high football IQ when moving forward.

    —Disrupts routes more than he eliminates them but will leave a mark if he can get his body on a receiver.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Can be too aggressive and will give up plays.

    —Will get beat on double-moves and can be baited by play action due to his aggressive nature.

    —Is a bounce tackler who doesn’t secure the runner with his hands or arms.

    —Was surrounded by a loaded Alabama defense that may have protected him.

              

    OVERALL

    Ronnie Harrison was overshadowed by Minkah Fitzpatrick but is a top-tier safety prospect in his own right. He has the tools to become an immediate starter and is a great fit in the modern NFL where the line between free and strong safety is blurring.

               

    GRADE: 6.95 (Early Round 2)

    PRO COMPARISON: Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers

2. Derwin James, FSU

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —A dominant all-around defensive weapon and an excellent and unquestioned leader in a locker room full of Alpha types.

    —Has range and power as a tackler. He understands timing, angles and how to best initiate contact with the ball-carrier.

    —In coverage, he can line up across from tight ends, backs or even wide receivers and uses his different traits to stay in phase.

    —Is able to play any defensive back position and has experience lining up in the box against spread fronts.

    —Is the defensive answer to bigger, faster, stronger athletes playing wide receiver and tight end.

    —Can be dangerous as a blitzer and will make splash plays in the backfield.

                  

    NEGATIVES

    —Was timid at times in 2017 against the run (see Louisville game) and must let loose more often and trust his athleticism.

    —Didn't flash ball skills at FSU, which could be attributed to scheme or a lack of awareness.

    —Was able to jump routes because he's athletic enough to recover. Will have to be more disciplined in the NFL.

    Scouts told us they thought he was protecting his draft stock in 2017 by avoiding contact.

                

    OVERALL

    Derwin James is a special athlete at safety who has the instincts to end up at cornerback in some schemes. His career at FSU may not have lived up to prep expectations, but James showed at the end of 2017 when he was fully healthy just how special he can be when unleashed to make plays.

        

    GRADE: 7.15 (Round 1)

    PRO COMPARISON: Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Was a team leader and Alpha on the Alabama roster. Coaches raved about his work ethic and football IQ.

    —Is a versatile athlete and defensive chess piece. Has played cornerback, multiple safety spots and a nickel edge position.

    —Has quick feet and awesome awareness, which makes him a tough matchup for offensive players in coverage.

    —Is a great open-field tackler and was very successful as a nickel blitzer off the edge.

    —Is an extremely clean prospect on and off the field. Fitzpatrick has a character grade similar to Jamal Adams or Jalen Ramsey.

    —Runs with a very high motor and doesn't slow up or take plays off. Is unselfish.

    —Has shown ball skills and is able to compete for the ball in the air against bigger receivers thanks to his frame and timing.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —He doesn't have the speed or arm length to play as an outside cornerback.

    —Isn't an explosive athlete with top-tier speed. 

    —Wins more with instincts than athletic talent.

    —Might need time to acclimate to any one position after moving around at Alabama.

                  

    OVERALL

    Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the cleanest players in the entire class. He is a superb leader on and off the field, has excellent football intelligence and was routinely the best player in his college games. His projection isn't as easy because he'll likely move into a full-time safety role in the NFL, but Fitzpatrick has all the tools of a top-10 pick.

                   

    GRADE: 7.20 (Round 1)

    PRO COMPARISON: Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills