2018 NFL Draft: Who's like Josh Norman, Casey Hayward and and other DB comparisons
Plus the former Florida State safety with similarities to Eric Berry and more on 2018's top defensive back prospects
Derwin James headlines the defensive back class, and he's essentially a clone of former All-Pro Eric Berry.
The cornerback class has a handful of first-round caliber prospects, one of which is comparable to Josh Norman.
It's important to remember NFL comparisons for draftees don't intend to guarantee a prospect will have the exact same career as his professional counterpart. In this series, I'll go through the top prospects at every position and give NFL comparisons -- some current players, some former. These comparisons are not based on size. They're almost solely stylistic.
Previous installments:, , , ,
(Prospects are listed in the order they appear in my draft rankings.)
NFL comparison: Eric Berry
James and Berry are big, supremely athletic, do-everything safeties. They can be productive hybrid weakside linebackers and thwart an opponent's outside run game and create big plays in zone coverage. Also, they have the length and speed to run with tight ends down the seam. Like Berry, James has All-Pro ability.
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
NFL comparsion: Josh Norman
Jackson is more explosive than Norman was when he entered the league in 2012, but Norman was slightly more refined with making plays in coverage other than zone. The two are big, long, hyper-aware perimeter corners with tremendous ball skills. With mainly zone and off-man responsibilities, Jackson can have a Norman-type impact early at the pro level.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S/CB, Alabama
NFL comparison: Tony Jefferson
Jefferson has enjoyed an underrated career in the NFL after, somehow, not being selected in the 2013 draft despite an illustrious career at Oklahoma. He was a tackling machine and intercepted eight passes during his time in Norman. Fitzpatrick and Jefferson are slot cornerback/safety hybrids who thrive as blitzers and have cornerback-like athleticism to run with receivers down the field if need be but are best attacking downhill.
NFL comparison: Casey Hayward
Despite their lack of size, Alexander and Hayward are super-feisty, in-your-face cornerbacks who'll make an equal amount of plays in man and zone coverages. They have the long speed to carry wideouts downfield and can mirror the quickest receivers on intricate routes at the short and intermediate levels. In zone, they have the sudden click-and-close skills to generate an assortment of pass breakups and interceptions. Like Hayward, Alexander can hold down the fort from the slot too.
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
NFL comparison: Bradley Roby
Roby was an explosive athlete at Ohio State. His rare physical ability led him to locking down the vast majority of wideouts and making plays flashing downhill. Ward is the same type of rare-speed defender. Neither are the most consistent finding the football as it approaches but have quality mirroring skills against quick-twitch receivers and will rarely get beat deep.
Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
NFL comparison: Jimmy Smith
Like his fellow Colorado Buffalo alum, Oliver is a tall, long speedster with impressive ball skills, which make for a wonderful combination for a full-time perimeter cornerback role at the next level. Oliver and Smith aren't twitchy and will look stiff when having to change directions quickly against smaller wideouts, but they're both ideal to play against larger No. 1 receivers.
Holton Hill, CB, Texas
NFL comparison: Darius Slay
Slay was underrated coming out of Mississippi State and has blossomed into one of the best young cornerbacks in football. Hill is a good-sized, man-to-man cornerback who can suffocate receivers with his length and athleticism yet can be grabby on occasion, like Slay. They're both aggressive when attacking the football as it nears its intended target too.
Justin Reid, S, Stanford
NFL comparison: Eric Reid
Reid is a lot like his older brother who went in the first round of the 2013 draft. They're plus athletes for the safety position and possess ideal size to be quality run-stoppers and the awareness to peel off their coverage area to make plays in zone. Justin can be unreliable as a tackler at times, but projects as a solid, versatile defensive back at the next level, just like his brother has been early in his pro career.
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
NFL comparison: Justin Coleman
Coleman crushed his combine in 2015 but went undrafted out of Tennessee. He's slowly but surely become one of the NFL's best small-but-springy corners. Like Coleman, Hughes is rarely challenged from an agility standpoint which allows him to get his hands on plenty of footballs. At times, the two get outmatched by bigger, physical wideouts. They have awesome plant-and-drive ability and desired tenacity to succeed in the NFL.
Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
NFL comparison: T.J. McDonald
McDonald is a high-cut thumping safety with, at best, above-average coverage skills. That's the book on Harrison too. He can be a tad late to recognize the play design. But when he quickly diagnoses, he makes a major impact against the run and on short-to-intermediate crossing routes.
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
NFL comparison: Xavien Howard
Davis is very comparable to Howard, who was a polarizing prospect when he entered the league out of Baylor in 2016. Howard's best plays are elite because of his size, length, plus athleticism, and plus ball skills. He had a ridiculous stretch in 2017 when he looked like the best cornerback in football. His lulls, which happen more than you'd like, make him look like a lower-level backup. Davis is big, physical, lengthy and, like Howard, flourishes in press man. Also, similar to Howard, Davis is overly grabby, can have troubles locating the football in the air and has a tendency to be fooled by complex routes.
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