The 2018 NFL Draft class of defensive backs is a strong one. There is a reasonable expectation that at least five defensive backs, either cornerbacks or safeties, could be drafted in the first round. The clock is ticking on the 32 NFL teams as they prepare their war rooms and conduct their private workouts. All of the players below have been popping up in mock drafts around the country as potential first-round picks.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Safety – Alabama 6-1 201lbs
Fitzpatrick is listed on just about everyone’s board as the top defensive back in the draft. Fitzpatrick can play either cornerback or safety, which definitely makes him a hot commodity. Fitzpatrick has great hands and led the team in interceptions last year. His good awareness keeps him in the play. While he did not blow anyone away at the combine, his stats there were similar to most of the other defensive backs looking for that first round pick. Fitzpatrick was the focal point of the defensive backfield that ended up winning the CFP Championship. Fitzpatrick needs to learn to dial back and be a more patient player. He likes to make the big hit and could easily miss a more nimble receiver. He’s going to have to become an expert in at least one position instead of being good at both. A team like Tampa Bay has a very good chance of taking Fitzpatrick or the in-state James.
Derwin James – Safety – Florida State 6-2 215lbs
James showed his potential and dedication during a rough season at Florida State. Despite the uninspiring results, James showed locker room leadership and dedication in studying. At the combine, James showed a lot of physical strength on the bench press, which makes him worthy of playing safety. He’s versatile enough to be able to be moved around the field and used in blitz situations. James’ biggest deficiency is his lack of experience. With only 26 games under his belt at safety, there will be a learning curve to get up to speed in the NFL. The lack of experience shows in how he sometimes does not anticipate receiver routes all that well. While some mock drafts have him as high as 7th in the first round, there are others that have him pretty low in the first round.
Denzel Ward – Cornerback – Ohio State 5-10 191lbs
Ward was the gold standard going into this season and has shown himself to be very athletic. His combine numbers show that he is full of speed. Ward is a ballhawk and has great hands. He’s adept at reading routes and breaking up passes. Ward’s size allows him to be knocked around by more physical receivers. It causes him to struggles breaking out of blocks and makes tackles on bigger players. Despite this, Ward still shows up in the top 10 in many mock draft boards.
Jaire Alexander – Cornerback – Louisville 5-11 192lbs
Alexander is light on his feet and works well adjusting on the field. He reacts well to both sudden route changes and bursts downfield. He has an eye for the long ball and is aggressive enough to break up big plays. Alexander has had some injuries, which call into question his durability. While he has shown flashes of greatness, he has also shown inconsistency in his tackling and finding the ball. He’s late first round, but could easily fall into the second.
Mike Hughes – Cornerback – UCF 5-10 189lbs
Hughes is one of the bigger enigmas in this defensive back group. Playing only one year at UCF, but quickly becoming a dominant player caught scouts’ eyes. He is a proven kick returner, which helped propel his team to an undefeated season. Like Derwin James, Hughes lacks experience on the field. He was two years of college football with this past year only as a starter. While he lacks pure sprint speed, he has shown to have good field speed and should be able to keep up with most receivers. He will need to improve some of his tackling technique. A team like Green Bay could use his services.
Justin Reid – Safety – Stanford 6-1 204lbs
Reid has pedigree. As the younger brother of Eric Reid, he has great physical talent. Reid is very physical and can also elude blockers with skill. He can play in the box as a blitzer and is a sound tackler. Reid is a bit slow changing foot direction and this could impact him against faster crossing receivers. He sometimes bites on fakes and is sometimes pressed to make the big hit. Reid could go in either first or second round.
Josh Jackson – Cornerback – Iowa 6-1 192lbs
Jackson is a very polarizing player on mock draft boards. He ranges from the top 10 to out of the first round, largely because there isn’t much film to look at. For the film that does exist, Jackson has shown some amazing talent towards the ball. He’s a pass breakup expert and had eight interceptions. His coverage instincts are top notch. Jackson, however, lacks experience, playing in only 14 games. He’s is a bit slow as a cornerback, which compounds his lack of experience. Jackson might break into the first round, but don’t be surprised to see him picked in the second round.
I've been writing off and on since 2003, where I first wrote for Southern College Sports. After a hiatus, I returned in 2012 with The Sports Chronicles, a predecessor of NGSC Sports. After a brief stint with WBLZ in 2017, I came back to NGSC Sports and currently guest write on the site. Also, from 2015 to 2017, I helped run Off the Cuff, a sports program and blog with STLR Media.
I have done radio and podcasts dating back to 2006 with The Student of the Game, an NFL podcast. In 2012, I cohosted TSC Saturday Night on the Sports Chronicles and The OT With Andrew G on WTMY in Sarasota, FL. I later moved the OT to NGSC Sports until 2014 where I started The College Cram, also on NGSC Sports. After a brief hiatus, I returned to radio in 2015 with both Off the Cuff on STLR and The Mad Scientist Sports Lab on The Inscriber.