NFL draft 2018 safety rankings: Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick shape board
The top safety prospects entering the 2018 NFL draft:
1. Derwin James, Florida State (6-2, 215): With outspoken confidence reminiscent of former Seminoles teammate and current Jaguars all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, James has predicted he will go in the top 10 — and there's a legitimate chance he will be proven correct. After a torn lateral meniscus sidelined him for almost the entirety of his sophomore season in 2016, he bounced back by earning second-team All-American honors despite a disappointing overall season for Florida State's defense last year. James is best deployed in a role allowing him to blitz and attack near the line of scrimmage, but he's no slouch in coverage. With further development, he could take on more of a single high safety role. Projected: potential top 10
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (6-0, 204): On a Crimson Tide defense rife with future NFL talent, he stood apart as both a leader and do-everything force. Fitzpatrick gained substantial experience as a traditional safety, slot corner and nickel linebacker, working extensively almost everywhere with the exception of matching up with receivers on the outside. That might serve as one of the few limitations to his value given the Thorpe Award winner (given to the country's best defensive back) brings a rare blend of size, range and playmaking ability. Projected: potential top 10
3. Justin Reid, Stanford (6-1, 207): The younger brother of former LSU and 49ers safety Eric Reid, Justin is a versatile and savvy defender who is comfortable both up high and in the box. He could also prove valuable defending pass-catching tight ends. Though Reid recorded five interceptions last season, he isn't a ballhawk. He also has a tendency to overpursue in run defense. Projected: Round 1-2
4. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama (6-2, 207): If Fitzpatrick was Alabama's safety for a new era of football, Harrison was the throwback — a hard hitter primarily focused on separating the ball from the receiver. With prototypical size and speed, he could become a versatile piece if his coverage skills catch up to his run support ability. For now, his value is as a downhill tackler — though he'll have to reel back a sometimes reckless style of play. And if he can't adapt to a broader role, he'll likely need to pack on more weight in order to survive as a box safety at the pro level. Projected: Round 1-2
5. Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest (6-1, 200): He had just two years of on-field experience for the Demon Deacons after redshirting as a freshman. Bates covers a lot of ground and can change directions on a dime. But his poor angles and lean build fuel concerns about his ability to stop the run. Projected: Round 2-3
6. Armani Watts, Texas A&M (5-11, 202): Though undersized by NFL safety standards, he has the coverage skills to stick around as an asset in nickel and dime packages. Watts could be a liability as a tackler, but his range and ability to match shifty receivers will be attractive for any team vulnerable in sub packages. Projected: Round 3-4
7. Kyzir White, West Virginia (6-2, 218): The White family could be crashing the NFL draft party in a big way. Kyzir and Ka'Raun White, a wide receiver, are poised to join older brother Kevin, a first-round pick of the Bears in 2015. Kyzir White's value might be tempered by his need to play closer to the line of scrimmage, as he operated in a hybrid linebacker role for the Mountaineers and is out of his element in space. But he could still thrive if utilized on passing downs and with special teams. His leadership and tenacious approach could make him a welcome backup. Projected: Round 3-4
8. Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech (6-0, 217): Perhaps overshadowed by younger brother Tremaine, a highly regarded linebacker who could be a top-15 pick this year, Terrell Edmunds nevertheless stands out as an accomplished prospect. He has the build and speed (4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to carve out a role both in run support and in short-to-intermediate areas of coverage. Like his brother, however, Edmunds too often finds himself out of position or employing an overly aggressive approach.
Teams in need of safeties
1. Buccaneers: Justin Evans, a second-round pick last year, is off to a promising start. Now Tampa Bay needs to find someone to put next to him.
2. Steelers: Pittsburgh was getting subpar play at this spot last season and released Mike Mitchell this offseason.
3. Cardinals: The release of Tyrann Mathieu signaled a retooling of Arizona's secondary, which now needs someone to play alongside Budda Baker.
4. Panthers: Carolina is looking to get younger after casting off Kurt Coleman and hoping Mike Adams can hang on at 37. Colin Jones isn't much more than a special teams standout.
5. 49ers: Jimmie Ward is entering the final year of his contract, and San Francisco might want to further follow Seattle's model by finding a long, rangy safety.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @mikemschwartz