This is the seventh installment of a position-by-position preview of the 2018 NFL Draft. Previous installments were on running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, interior offensive linemen and cornerbacks.
Overview: Just once in the past five years has a safety gone in the top 10 of the NFL Draft. That’s when the New York Jets took Jamal Adams out of LSU sixth overall in 2017.
This year, there may be two who go in the top 10, depending on how Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is classified. Grade: B-.
“Last year’s safety class was one of the deepest in recent memory, and though this year’s has some star power at the top, it lacks the overall depth of its predecessor,” USA Today Draft Wire editor Luke Easterling wrote in his positional preview. “The top two prospects in the 2018 safety crop could both come off the board in the top 10, with another pair worthy of first-round consideration. After that, there’s a sizable drop-off to a third tier filled mostly with mid-to-late-round talents.”
“It’s all about scheme fit and need when it comes to safety, as this class offers the usual variety of free safeties, box safeties and movable chess pieces. Florida State’s Derwin James is the star of the class, but beyond him is a near-interchangeable list of players depending on scheme fit,” Pro Football Focus analyst Steve Palazzolo wrote in his preview of the position.
The best: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama. It’s not often that a true freshman gets playing time in a Crimson Tide secondary that’s annually loaded with NFL talent, but Fitzpatrick did that in 2015. He started 10 games that season, and was named a Freshman All American after finishing with 45 tackles and 11 passes defensed. His career took off from there, and Fitzpatrick went on to set an Alabama record with four career interceptions returned for touchdowns.
"I'd say I'm strongest covering man to man. Whether it be inside corner or outside corner or at safety coming down in coverages man to man,” Fitzpatrick said. “It's what I did pretty much my whole career at Alabama. I usually covered the top receiver on the offensive side of the ball unless he stayed outside all the time. But when it was a guy who moved around, I followed him around.”
Bills view: None of the Bills’ reported pre-draft visits have been with safeties, and that’s not a huge surprise. The position is set with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer as starters, a duo that established itself as one of the best in the NFL in 2017. Additionally, the team added Rafael Bush in free agency, so he figures to be the top reserve. While there is a job opening for the fourth safety on the roster, the team could still re-sign Colt Anderson or Shamarko Thomas with an eye on special teams.
Either way, safety does not project as a strong likelihood for the Bills on the first two days of the draft. Because of that, Bills fans might want to familiarize themselves more with Day 3 prospects.
One of the names on that list is Oklahoma State’s Tre Flowers. The nephew of former Bills first-round pick Erik Flowers, Tre was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2017, finishing with 79 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed. The Bills met with him during the week of the Shrine Game.
Southern Miss’ Tarvarius Moore is a favorite of analytics website Pro Football Focus, finishing with an 86.8 grade against the run and 84.2 in coverage. He ran a blazing 4.32-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Sibling rivalry: Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is a first-round lock as a linebacker prospect. His rise has overshadowed his Hokies teammate and older brother, Terrell, who is a mid-round draft prospect.
They will join their older brother, Trey, who just finished his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints.
"It's going to be crazy, but also an exciting moment," Terrell said of all three brothers being in the NFL at the same time. “Playing against your brothers at the highest level possible, going out and talking a bunch of junk to them, doing what you've done your entire life but doing it on a national stage, that's what it's all about."
It’s easy to see where the Edmunds brothers got their genetic gifts from. Their father, Ferrell, had a seven-year NFL career and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
Sleeper: Siran Neal, Jacksonville State. The 6-foot-0, 199-pounder starred in the Ohio Valley Conference the past two seasons, switching from linebacker in 2016 to – get this – cornerback the following year. His ability to play multiple positions will be intriguing to teams.
Next: Outside linebackers.
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TOP 10 SAFETIES
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick*, Alabama. 6-0, 201. Listed as a safety here, although some teams may see him as a cornerback.
2. Derwin James*, Florida State. 6-2, 211. Has the size to help in run support and speed to cover tight ends and running backs.
3. Ronnie Harrison*, Alabama. 6-2, 214. He’s at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
4. Justin Reid*, Stanford. 6-1, 204. The younger brother of Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid.
5. Marcus Allen, Penn State. 6-2, 215. The godson of Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin.
6. Quin Blanding, Virginia. 6-2, 209. Missed only 43 tackles as a four-year starter according to Pro Football Focus.
7. Kyzir White, West Viriginia, 6-2, 216. A late bloomer, he played two years for the Mountaineers after junior college.
8. Armani Watts, Texas A&M. 5-11, 191. A four-year starter, he chose not to run the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
9. DeShon Elliott*, Texas. 6-1, 210. Had six interceptions in 2017, and dropped a few others, too.
10. Jordan Whitehead*, Pittsburgh. 5-10, 195. Might fit best as a nickel cornerback at the next level.
Story topics: 2018 NFL Draft