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2018 NFL Draft: Defensive Back Rankings

Ranking the 2018 NFL Draft prospects heading into the draft.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft begins tonight, and this year I sifted through enough video to compile an 85-man draft board. These are players I’ve seen play a minimum of three games each, and I have given consideration to each prospect’s college production, size, and athletic profile. If the player was injured, and did not work out prior to the draft, he did not make the cut (sorry, Billy Price). As for others who do not appear in these rankings, I either did not see enough of them to establish a firm grade, graded them as a “free agent,” or felt they were lacking a baseline level of production, athleticism, or both. I will be happy to try to answer any specific questions in the comments section, or on twitter (@afc2nfc).

KEY

Rd = Round Grade
Pos = Projected NFL Position
Age* = Age as of 12/31/18
HT = Height (6025 = 6’2 5/8”)
WT = Weight
Hand = Hand Size (938 = 9 3/8”)
Arm = Arm Length (3418 = 34 1/8”)
Bench = # of reps at 225 lbs
40 yard = 40-yard dash time in seconds
VJ = Vertical Jump in inches
BJ = Broad Jump in inches
3C = 3-cone time in seconds
SS = 20-yard (short) shuttle time in seconds

COLOR CODING

Blue = Top of the Line
Green = Above Average
Yellow = Average
Orange = Below Average
Red = Concerning

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Denzel Ward

Ward is the best cover corner in the class with a high-end combination of technique and ball skills. He’s not quite the prospect Marshon Lattimore was, but he’s an easy first rounder. Ward is slender, but at 5’11” and with 31 1/4” arms, his length is enough to mitigate that, and he’s always been a big hitter, so I just don’t see his weight being a long term issue.

Key Stat: 17 passes defensed (15 PBUs, 2 INTs) in 13 games last season

Derwin James

I’m a little concerned with James’ shuttle times, because I think he may have been exercising caution with the left knee meniscus injury that kept him off the field in 2016. On tape I honestly never saw any type of glaring deficiency in terms of change of direction. In fact, I was impressed with his fluidity in coverage. James has made plays on the ball, and behind the line of scrimmage consistently throughout his career, and I view him as a top-10 talent in this draft class.

Key Stat: 13 passes defensed (11 PBUs, 2 INTs) and 5.5 TFLs in 2017

Minkah Fitzpatrick

I’m going to project Fitzpatrick at corner, because even though the player himself has stated he’s more comfortable as a slot defender, his athletic profile and size strongly suggests that he can develop into an effective player at a premium position. Fitzpatrick is not Jalen Ramsey, but it’s the same idea.

Key Stat: 6 INTs, 7 PBUs and 2 TDs in 2016

Justin Reid

With his speed, range and ball skills, Reid is the best projection to the deep safety/centerfielder role in this class. He’s also an effective slot defender and a strong tackler. Easily one of my favorite players to watch this past season.

Key Stat: 5 INTs, 6 PBUs, 6.5 TFLs in 2017

Isaiah Oliver

Like his former teammate Ahkello Witherspoon, Oliver sometimes looks allergic to tackling and run support. But I really appreciate his fluidity and ability to provide excellent man coverage at his size. At 6’ and with 33 1/2” arms, Oliver is the longest corner I graded.

Key Stat: 15 passes defensed (13 PBUs, 2 INTs) in 10 games last season

Holton Hill

Hill provides similar qualities to Oliver. The Texas product is another big corner who can play man, and while Hill sacrifices a little length, he’s a better, more aggressive tackler/run defender. But Hill also has some off-field flags that ultimately got him booted off the team in college. Last I heard, he is getting his act together and taking this process seriously.

Key Stat: 8 passes defensed (6 PBUs, 2 INTs) and 3 TDs in 9 games last season

Josh Jackson

This is going to seem like I’m low on Jackson, but I think he can thrive as a zone corner, where he’s able to focus on the ball more than the receiver. I like his physicality, and I think he’s exceptional when the play is in front of him. He even seems to have the tools to succeed in man coverage, he just doesn’t have the experience to suggest he can be on that island, so I have to leave him behind a few other guys on this list.

Key Stat: 26 passes defensed (18 PBUs, 8 INTs) and 2 TDs in 13 games last season

Jaire Alexander

Alexander is another guy with the tools to succeed in man coverage, but he’s too much of a guesser for me to trust him where he is being projected. I do like Alexander’s aggressive nature and special teams contributions, I just think he’s been a little overrated.

Key Stat: 14 passes defensed (9 PBUs, 5 INTs) and 1 TD in 13 games in 2016

Mike Hughes

I actually prefer Hughes to Alexander based on tape alone, but Hughes is a slightly smaller, slower player, with some off-field flags. Essentially deciding between him and Alexander is a coin flip for me, because they provide similar ball skills, scrappiness, and special teams potential.

Key Stat: 15 passes defensed (11 PBUs, 4 INTs) and 4 return TDs (1 punt, 2 kickoff and 1 INT) in 13 games last season

Nick Nelson

Nelson is right there with Hughes and Alexander, but he’s a couple of years older, and dealing with a current meniscus injury. I also think it’s remarkable that Nelson has the most pass breakups per game of any player I graded, without logging a single interception. I swear I didn’t ding him for that, but what are the odds? I see Nelson as a candidate to be moved to safety.

Key Stat: 42 PBUs, 0 INTs in 37 career games

Donte Jackson

A small, scrappy, sometimes over-aggressive corner with short arms, Jackson projects as a nickel corner and special teams player. He’s one of the fastest players in this year’s draft class.

Key Stat: 21 passes defensed (18 PBUs, three INTs) in 25 games over the last two seasons

DeShon Elliott

Respect to Elliott for posting the production he did last season, I just don’t think he runs well enough for that to translate. There’s something to be said for Elliott’s opportunistic picks: if nothing else he was in the right place at the right time. I also think he’s a good tackler. I just see him as a depth player/spot starter as opposed to a high-end prospect.

Key Stat: 15 passes defensed (9 PBUs, 6 INTs), 3 forced fumbles and 2 TDs last season

Davontae Harris III

Similarly to Nelson, I think Harris is a candidate to be moved to safety. He has a sturdy build and legitimate range and ball skills, but there’s just a little something missing from a man coverage standpoint. Harris is a member of my “small school” sleeper club that includes Chase Edmonds, Justin Watson, Bilal Nichols, and Foye Oluokun.

Key Stat: 29 passes defensed (25 PBUs, 4 INTs) in 22 games over the last two seasons

Deatrick Nichols

Nichols has been, and remains my favorite “pure” nickel corner. Because of his small stature and short arms, he’s limited in his role, but he’s a fast, quick, ballhawk who put together a consistently successful college career. I saw Nichols in person at the Shrine Game, and he was immediately recognizable as one of the best players there. He should be drafted, and will be a legitimate contributor.

Key Stat: 11 INTs over the last three seasons