We wrap up our 2018 NFL Draft Rankings with a look at the safeties. Like corners, there are a ton of safeties entering the NFL in any given year, so there’s really no excuse for a team to not have at least one quality guy on their squad. That doesn’t keep general managers, scouts and coaches from screwing it up.
Not only can a safety be one of the most valuable pieces of a defense, they aren’t expensive relative to other players. Middle linebackers are the only other defensive starters consistently paid less than a safety.
I don’t differentiate between free and strong safeties. They’re almost interchangeable these days and the time of the strictly run-support defensive back is long gone.
Here are the guys that almost made the grade.
10. Kyzir White, West Virginia, 9. Van Smith, Clemson, 8. Damon Webb, Ohio State…
TOP SEVEN SAFETIES
7. Tre Flowers, Oklahoma State
2017: 80 tackles, 1 for a loss, two interceptions, eight passes defended, one forced fumble (6-3, 200 pounds)
The knock on Flowers is his ability in man coverage, but that’s a simple coaching fix. The man has ball skills and wide receiver speed (4.45 40) to run with anybody. Add to that his size at 6-3 and there’s not many balls that can go over his head. He could plug right in as a starter in a Tampa 2 type system.
Ideal situation: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings
6. Justin Reid, Stanford
2017: 94 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, one sack, five interceptions, six passes defended, one fumble recovery (6-1, 204 pounds)
Reid is another guy with size and uncommon safety speed. He was a tackling machine at Stanford and has appeared in nearly every game since his freshman year. He’s a smart kid or he couldn’t suit up for the Cardinal in the first place, but if you need another selling point, his brother is Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid.
Ideal situation: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans
5. Quin Blanding, Virginia
2017: 136 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, two passes defended (6-2, 215 pounds)
Blanding doesn’t have the flat line speed that Reid and Flowers boast, but he’s an instinctive player that knows where to be on defense. He tracks the ball in the air and has no trouble closing on on running backs coming out of the backfield and getting them down. In four years as a starter for the Cavaliers, he’s never once recorded fewer than 115 tackles and has 10 career picks.
Ideal situation: Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots
4. DeShon Elliott, Texas
2017: 63 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, nine passes defended, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery (6-2, 205 pounds)
Elliott’s is the first safety film that actually made me say “shit” out loud. This is an old school free safety. A guy like Ronnie Lott or Steve Atwater. He can play the entire field, delivering run support or center field pass defense. On the right team, he’ll start as a rookie.
Ideal situation: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints
3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
2017: 74 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, four passes defended (6-3, 214 pounds)
If you pay no attention to college football and wonder why Alabama is involved in the championship conversation every year, these draft rankings should solve that mystery. On nearly every list outside of quarterback, the Crimson Tide has at least one player ranked in the Top Seven and sometimes, as in the case with this list, two. A hamstring kept Harrison from running the 40 at the combine, but he put up a respectable 4.56 at the Alabama Pro Day to keep the exercise enthusiasts happy.
Ideal situation: Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks
2. Derwin James, Florida State
2017: 84 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, one sack, two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, 11 passes defended (6-2, 215 pounds)
James is the kind of player that can instantly flip a defense’s fortunes. The word out of FSU on the kid is nothing but glowing, in the locker room and off the field. On the field, his numbers, ball-hawking and body control are second to none. You’ll see plenty of lists that have him ranked as the top safety and I won’t argue with that. At worst, he and Fitzpatrick are 1a and 1b.
Ideal situation: Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
2017: 60 tackles, eight for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception, seven passes defended, one forced fumble (6-1, 201 pounds)
How rare is it for a position player to start as a freshman for Alabama? It’s almost unheard of with that loaded roster, yet Fitzpatrick would not be kept on the bench. He was a freshman All-American and didn’t slow down once in two national title runs. Not only can he play as a traditional safety, he can cover as a slot corner when needed. He should be able to shut down most tight ends at the NFL level right out of the gate.
Ideal situation: Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins
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