Derwin James and Minkah Fitzparick highlight a top-heavy safety class, and the skills of those two elite prospect highlight the state of the position in the NFL. 

Versatility reigns supreme as the most important aspect of being able to play safety in the NFL, and it's gotten to the point where they need to be quality coverage defenders too.

Below I've ranked each of the consensus top safeties in the qualities I deem most necessary to be successful at those positions in the pros (listed in order of importance). I've also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft who excels at each particular trait.

Other installments in this series: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight EndsOffensive TacklesInterior Offensive LinemenEdge-RushersDefensive TacklesLinebackers, Cornerbacks

Ball Skills

  1. Minkah Fitzpatrick
  2. Derwin James
  3. Justin Reid
  4. Ronnie Harrison
  5. Quin Blanding
  6. Jessie Bates

No one in this group should be labeled as a ball-hawk, as none of these safety prospects are ultra-rangy centerfielders like Malik Hooker was last year. Fitzpatrick gets his hands on plenty of passes, and James knocked down 11 throws in 2017. Reid's plus body control helps him when moving out of one zone and into another to make a play on the football. Harrison has sound ball skills, which combined with his large frame, makes for a tantalizing combination. Blanding and Bates are super-active safeties who certainly know what to do when the ball is coming their way, but neither routinely made plays on the football this past season.

Sleeper: Josh Kalu

The former Nebraska cornerback transitioned wonderfully to the safety spot as a senior. His combination of explosiveness and leaping ability allow him to get to the football and his natural ball skills lead to many impact plays. He snagged seven interceptions and broke up 27 passes in his four-year collegiate career.


  1. James
  2. Reid
  3. Fitzpatrick
  4. Blanding
  5. Bates
  6. Harrison

James' outstanding combine numbers check out with his range on the field. While not often used as the single high safety, he undoubtedly has the ability to quickly get to the sideline from the middle of the field. Reid too has high-caliber range due to springy athleticism and plenty of speed. Fitzpatrick and Blanding are best in the box when attacking the run, blitzing, or striking on a shallow route. The same can be said for Bates, and there are a few plays from 2017 in which he covered a lot of ground to get to the football. Harrison is your traditional "strong safety."

Sleeper: Damon Webb

The former Ohio State safety didn't crush his combine, yet he plays faster than he timed. He makes up for any athleticism or burst deficiencies with rapid reactionary skills. Webb snagged five interceptions in his final season in Columbus.

Coverage Ability

  1. James
  2. Fitzpatrick
  3. Reid
  4. Bates
  5. Harrison
  6. Blanding

James' combination of size, athleticism, and length make him a safety capable of matching up with bigger tight ends and even some running backs out of the backfield. Fitzpatrick is a quasi-cornerback. Reid and Bates have the twitchiness to stay with some receivers out of the slot. Harrison has the length to be a menacing coverage safety, just not the fluid hips to quick turn and run. Blanding is a spring-loaded athlete, he's just best coming downhill. 

Sleeper: Kameron Kelly

As a former cornerback, it should be no surprise Kelly is the sleeper here. He didn't have the smoothness in his movements to stay on the outside, but for a safety, he has plenty of experience and production in coverage.  

Run Support/Tackling 

  1. James
  2. Fitzpatrick
  3. Harrison
  4. Blanding
  5. Bates
  6. Reid

When James is lurking in the box, he has the diagnosing skills and physical ability to make consistent impact plays near the line of scrimmage, and he's a reliable tackler. The same can be said for Fitzpatrick, who kicks it into high gear when he recognizes run. Harrison makes his presence felt often in run support. Blanding was a tackling-machine in college and is typically one of the first players on the defensive side of the ball to react to the direction of the run play. Bates sticks his nose into the action but is hurt by his lack of size. Reid is typically in the right position, there are just more missed tackles from him than you'd like.

Sleeper: Kyzir White

The former West Virginia star was a hybrid cornerback-safety during his time in Morgantown and is a forceful hitter. He's tall and long, and it's rare to see him hesitate when the play is in front of him. 

Scheme Fits 

Free Safety

  1. James
  2. Bates
  3. Blanding
  4. Reid
  5. Fitzpatrick
  6. Harrison

Sleeper: Jeremy Reaves

Reaves could've been the sleeper in the run support or range categories, as he was a ridiculously active member of the Jaguars' defense during his illustrious career in Mobile. Despite his smaller size, he gets to the football in a hurry thanks to plus recognition skills, change-of-direction ability and impressive speed. 

Strong Safety

  1. James
  2. Fitzpatrick
  3. Harrison
  4. Blanding
  5. Reid
  6. Bates

James and Fitzpatrick are elite blitzers, so aligning them close to the football at the snap gives them an opportunity to create a big play in the backfield. Harrison is a big, thumping defensive back with good movement skills for his size, and Blanding was a run-support specialist at Virginia. Reid and Bates aren't slouches in the box but can't stack up with the other four in this role.

Sleeper: DeShon Elliott

The former Texas standout doesn't have the smooth hips to win in man coverage consistently. However, he has the football intelligence and burst to make an assortment of plays near the line of scrimmage against the run and pass.