2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Minkah Fitzpatrick joins James in freak DB tier
The big, super-athletic Alabama cornerback -- who's played safety -- is making plays all over the field
Minkah Fitzpatrick is beginning to challenge Derwin James as the defensive back prospect with the most upside in the 2018 draft class. Though the Crimson Tide star predominantly plays cornerback -- and plays it extremely well -- at over 6-foot and more than 200 pounds, he undoubtedly has size to man the safety position in the NFL.
This year, the former highly-touted recruit already has 4.5 tackles for loss. He snagged his first interception of the season in a critical moment against Texas A&M on a play in which his outstanding acceleration was on full display as he ran underneath a drag route and made the pick near the sideline inside the red zone. Fitzpatrick's size, athleticism, versatility, and ball skills make him quite the appealing prospect.
Let's update the top 20 NFL prospects after Week 6 in college football:
1. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick had five tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumbled, and a pass breakup in Alabama's win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Talk about a complete effort from a defensive back. Sure, some former Alabama secondary members have had issues in the NFL, yet Fitzpatrick is a rare specimen who's been productive since his freshman season.
3. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
In the win over Texas Tech last week, Washington put on a show -- he wasn't a low-volume wideout who caught some deep balls. Chances are, Oklahoma State will need a few more eight- or nine-catch outings from Washington over the next three weeks to win in what will likely be some high-scoring affairs.
4. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
Brown drops from No. 2 to No. 4 this week not because Oklahoma lost -- obviously -- but because I noticed a few plays in which he was slow to get to the pass-rushing apex, which was his main problem heading into the season. In general, Brown was dominant at the point of attack, and I noticed a variety of times in which he was able to re-establish a firm grasp on edge-rushers after dealing with counter moves. He still looks like a polished prospect.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
So Barkley had negative-1 yards rushing in the first half against Northwestern. Big deal. It happens to the great running backs from time to time. He ended the game with 75 yards on the ground, which included a ridiculous 53-yard scamper in which his deceptive long speed was really noticeable. RB1.
6. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Does Nelson's game have any flaws? I haven't seen any major ones through six Notre Dame outings this season. Some may not value offensive guard this much ... but with the abundance of impactful defensive tackles in today's NFL, I do.
7. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb is on fire. He was downright unblockable against Louisville on Thursday. According to Pro Football Focus, the senior defensive end recorded seven quarterback pressures against Lamar Jackson. He now has 32 pressures on the the year, the second-most among edge defenders. Chubb checks just about all the boxes. If he continues on this torrid pace, he could be in the conversation to be a top-three pick in the draft. I'm serious.
8. Derwin James, S, Florida State
As usual, James was good against Miami, yet I'm not seeing the variety of game-altering plays this season he had in 2015. He was a true difference-maker as a freshman at all levels of the field. This year, not so much. James is a gargantuan safety prospect who runs like a slot cornerback, and when he's rolling, he's a tackling machine who also flies to the football in coverage.
9. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma defense got gashed by the Iowa State Cyclones in Norman. Crazy, right? Anyway, Okoronkwo was by far the best Sooners defender in the stunning upset. He was unblockable on the outside in pass-rushing situations, routinely set a strong edge against the run, and demonstrated his hustle by chasing down many plays from the backside. Okoronkwo is a bendy athlete with long arms, refined pass-rushing technique, and a non-stop motor. Sounds like a top-10 pick to me.
10. Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
Joseph was relatively quiet in Clemson's win over Wake Forest. He only registered six tackles. That's fine though. He was still the same quick-twitch second-level defender he's been all season and was last year. Joseph's ability as an off-ball linebacker is the perfect complement to the Tigers' basically unfair defensive front.
11. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
12. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Watching McGlinchey is becoming therapeutic. His sound fundamentals paired with his size and length make him such a clean offensive tackle prospect. And I don't care if you play him at left tackle or right tackle in the NFL, he's going to make some team's offensive line better right away.
13. Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Bryant is special. When he's not living in the opposition's backfield, he's the unblocked defender on read-option plays or dropping into coverage with relative ease. Bryant has 6.5 tackles for loss in his last three games, and he wins with heavy hands and deceiving burst.
14. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
In the monsoon in Ann Arbor on Saturday night, Hurst's acceleration after the snap was the best it's been all season. With most of the attention on him, he piled up eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and disrupted a handful of other plays. He's the premier one-gapping defensive tackle in this draft class right now.
15. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton's up-and-down season continued this week, but now he's pieced together consecutive solid games. Against Houston, the 6-foot-4 wideout was really impressive after the catch on short comebacks and screen passes. He moves like he's much smaller with excellent twitchiness for a receiver his size. After a two-game stretch with only three receptions, Sutton has 18 catches for 272 yards with a pair of touchdowns in his last two games.
16. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Love's yards-per-carry average now sits at 10.5 after he only ran for 152 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown against Utah. In all seriousness, though, Utah has a stout front seven, and the Utes absolutely sold out to stop the run. Per PFF, Love has now forced 45 missed tackles on 117 carries on the year -- bonkers.
17. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Welcome to the top 20, Mr. Smith. The junior linebacker is as fluid of a mover as they come at the linebacker position yet is super-powerful at the point of attack when taking on lead blockers or stopping running backs near the line of scrimmage. His skill in coverage seemingly get more impressive each week. He had seven tackles and a pass breakup in Georgia's win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. I think Smith is someone who'll continue to rise in the rankings.
18. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Only one tackle for Ferrell against Wake Forest. He did have a tackle for loss and a sack to go along with it. Beyond the numbers, I just can't get over his length and frame as an outside pass-rusher. It wouldn't surprise me if he could put on another 10 pounds or so at the NFL level to play in the 270 range as a three-down defensive end.
19. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward might be the chippiest cornerback in college football, and he backs up that tenacity with ultra-quick feet and exquisite awareness, a combination that allows him to make plenty of plays on the football. He defended nine passes in all of 2016 and already has reached that mark this season. Oh, and he's not afraid to lay the lumber either. He got called for targeting on that play. Woof.
20. Dorian O'Daniel, OLB, Clemson
Clemson's do-it-all linebacker clings to the final spot in the top 20. He was in on just three tackles against the Demon Deacons but his versatility was on full display, as per usual. I'll be keeping an especially close eye on him against Syracuse's spread offense this weekend. O'Daniel's coverage ability will certainly be tested.
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