Every NFL Draft, one can identify positions that have a larger depth of talent than others. For the second year in the row, the defensive backs arriving fresh out of college ball haven’t failed to impress.
Last year’s class didn’t disappoint at the next level, either: Marshon Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints, the first cornerback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, added the DROY award to his resume. Buffalo Bills’ shutdown man Tre’Davious White was the highest graded rookie in all of football last season, per Pro Football Focus. Other names, such as Chidobe Awuzie (Cowboys), Adoree Jackson (Titans), Desmond King (Chargers), Kevin King (Packers), and Ahkello Witherspoon (49ers) all held starting jobs by the end of the year. Second-year hopefuls, like Teez Tabor (Lions) and Quincy Wilson (Colts), are still hungry to prove themselves.
Of course, we can’t forget about the safeties. Jamal Adams (Jets) quickly became a young leader on his team, signaling a new era in New York. Malik Hooker looked to revive a faltering Colts defense before succumbing to an ACL injury early in the season. Jabrill Peppers (Browns) played the versatile Swiss Army Knife role for Cleveland. And Marcus Williams, along with Lattimore, helped complete a lockdown secondary for the Saints.
Once again, the DBs reign supreme. This draft contains more of that lockdown talent we enjoyed watching last season. This six-part series will provide unique analysis and commentary on the top cornerbacks and safeties in 2018. Below are my top 15 cornerback and top 10 safety rankings for this year, complete with some short player bios and justification for my decisions. However, if you’re looking for a more traditional database with scouting reports, player comparisons, and draft projections, you can view that here.
#DraftSZN is finally upon us. Let’s jump into analyzing the DBs.
2018 Cornerback Rankings
In what should come as a surprise to nobody, Ohio State speedster Denzel Ward is my no. 1 graded cornerback in this class. While there are concerns about his small size, Ward plays a much bigger game than his measurables may suggest. Now, combine that with a 4.32 forty-yard dash, superb footwork, fluid hips, and exceptional coverage skills. That signals the royal title of C-B-1.
Next up is the twitchy Louisville product, Jaire Alexander, who has earned my pro comparison to Janoris Jenkins. Alexander is a well-rounded prospect that is extremely sticky in coverage. He’s reactionary, trusts his instincts, and remembers to read the notions of the quarterback. If not for his junior season, which saw Alexander miss significant time with knee and hand issues and raised questions about his durability, he could have seriously challenged Ward for the top spot.
My third graded cornerback should come as a surprise to some people, but not me: Isaiah Oliver. The biggest asset Colorado’s shutdown man possesses is his long arms, which measure out at an impressive 33” wingspan. Oliver also demonstrates polished technique, a large frame that boxes out receivers, and the coveted “island ability” that scouts love at the next level. He’s the best press corner in the draft and his large margin of error makes an interesting case for a first round selection.
What is the one word to describe Iowa wonder Joshua Jackson? Ballhawk. Jackson’s uncanny appetite for the football can easily be seen his stats from 2017, a year in which he recorded 18 passes defensed and an NCAA-leading eight interceptions. He has keen instincts and an unwavering focus on the ball. However, Jackson only has one full season under his belt and his intensity on playing the football can cause him to lose sight of his assignment. Despite these weaknesses, I fully expect Jackson to be a surefire first-round pick in April.
|1||Denzel Ward||CB||Ohio State||5-10||191|
|8||M.J. Stewart||CB||North Carolina||6-0||200|
|14||Isaac Yiadom||CB||Boston College||6-1||190|
|15||Tarvarus McFadden||CB||Florida State||6-2||198|
He’s not the most well-known prospect in this class, but Auburn’s Carlton Davis should be getting more attention. Playing against tough SEC competition (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M) helped Davis fine-tune his game and become a well-oiled machine at the cornerback position. His physicality and aggressive playstyle should fit well in the league. If he avoids being too grabby downfield and thus drawing unnecessary pass interference penalties, Davis could be an underrated star.
If you asked me to point towards the grittiest corner in this year’s class, I would immediately turn to Mike Hughes. With a feisty underdog playstyle and the confidence of playing on an UCF unit that went undefeated in 2017, Hughes has the potential to be a true lockdown corner at the next level. His skills are still raw, his tackling form could be revamped, and some character issues dating back to his time at North Carolina still remain, but Hughes plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder that should attract the attention of multiple teams in the late first round/early second.
My sleeper pick of this class is none other than Duke Dawson. After living in the shadows during the era of Florida’s dynamic duo Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Dawson was able to fully showcase his abilities last season and he delivered. His versatility in almost any coverage, mixed with a high football IQ and smooth ability to mirror his opponent, should intrigue teams in the later rounds. The only glaring weaknesses are that he’s a bit small with no standout traits, which may restrict him to the slot position at the next level.
In my search for the ultimate late round gem at the cornerback position, I uncovered the buried treasure that is Isaac Yiadom. The Boston College product’s machine gun-like backpedal and pro-caliber technique allow him to stay with the receiver, even though he’s not the faster or the strongest. His extended frame can easily reroute his opponents from a distance at the line. Yiadom’s draft stock may be lower because of his inability to contribute to the run support and trouble discarding blockers due to his small frame. He also could improve on his overall route recognition.
2018 Safety Rankings
Another clear cut no. 1 choice at his position is Alabama’s own Minkah Fitzpatrick. The most fluid defensive back had no true position in Nick Saban’s defensive scheme, but is best suited for the free safety role in the NFL. His versatility, instincts, premium speed, effective blitzing ability, ball skills, and experience playing against the toughest teams in the nation make him the most complete safety prospect in the draft. Comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu aren’t out of this world at all.
Derwin James is, to put it simply, an athletic freak. There are no glaring weaknesses in his physical attributes: 6-2, 215 lbs, and a smoking 4.47 forty. He’s basically a prototype of the league’s current top safeties that puts down his opponents with authority and possesses closing speed that rivals Fitzpatrick. James is a natural locker room leader and has the right attitude and fiery personality to win big games.
In order to enjoy success in the NFL, players need fast route recognition and tuned instincts. Justin Reid has that and more. The younger brother of Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid, this Stanford product has blazing speed, ballhawking ability, and an excellent reaction time. His football intelligence alone should accelerate his time to get on the field.
|2||Derwin James||SS||Florida State||6-3||211|
|5||Jessie Bates III||FS||Wake Forest||6-2||200|
|6||Armani Watts||FS||Texas A&M||5-11||205|
|8||Marcus Allen||FS||Penn State||6-2||202|
|9||Kyzir White||SS||West Virginia||6-2||218|
|10||Terrell Edmunds||FS||Virginia Tech||6-2||210|
One overlooked prospect at the safety position? Jessie Bates III looks primed to make some noise during draft week with hip fluidity that ranks near the top of his class and impressive productivity at Wake Forest. The junior recorded 177 tackles in just two years alone and always seemed to be around the ball. Bates has knack for producing points from turnovers, which he can credit his exceptional balance and prime instincts for. He draws comparison to Eddie Jackson of the Chicago Bears, an underrated mid-round selection a year ago. The only aspects dragging his draft stock down are his limited experience and multiple injuries throughout last year.
Avid draft followers shouldn’t be sleeping on the next Devin McCourty, or Texas A&M free safety Armani Watts. Watts possesses a deadly combination of fluidity and instincts, with twitchy hips that snap to the ball when the quarterback is at the top of his throw. Explosive and aggressive, he’s also a turnover machine, recording 10 interceptions over his college career. His playstyle can unfortunately be a little boom-or-bust, as he gambles with decision-making often. However, with the right coaching staff, these issues can be ironed out.
This ends part one of my defensive back analysis series. Stay tuned for updates and additions, which are planned to be be released in the following days, and don’t forget to follow @Snack_TimeFS on Twitter for nonstop draft content and more.
Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.