The word that springs to mind when you watch Damon Webb is “good”. That is, by antithetical definition, not a bad thing but, at the same time, it wouldn’t have me banging down the door to draft him, were I an NFL GM. He is good in coverage, he is a good athlete, he is good in run support – he is not, however, exceptional in any of these areas, which leaves me unsure as to where he fits in the NFL. The corollary from this is that he is probably a fifth or sixth round pick, who can make your team as a third or fourth safety and a special teams player; indeed, his ability to come downhill and fill makes me pretty comfortable with the idea of Webb as a core special teams player. His ball skills are decent but not spectacular, as his career interception tally would indicate. Ultimately, I would probably be happy if my team took Webb in round six; my instinct, however, is that he will be taken a round or two higher than this and that he will only ever be one of those players who is struggling to make the roster at the conclusion of training camp.
There is a lot to like about Igwebuike. Entrance to Northwestern, of course, intimates that his brain contains more than a grey, nebulous mist and you can see evidence of this on the field. He is impressively instinctive against the run and, once he diagnoses a play, his closing speed is certainly of an NFL calibre – he is genuinely quick for a safety. He reads a QB’s eyes well, which enables him to get into position to make the tackle with an economy of effort. His tackling technique is sound, particularly against the run, where he takes excellent angles, enabling him to explode into contact. Against the pass, he has a tendency to wrestle people to the ground but I won’t criticise him too much for this; he does, at least, do it consistently, unlike Armani Watts of Texas A&M. I like his quickness and flexibility in man coverage; in zone, however, he is, on occasion, hesitant when it comes to diagnosing his responsibilities. He looks like a fluid, able athlete, with sufficient size to play well in the NFL and the attitude and intelligence to accept coaching. He is also an alpha-male leader, who should be a very positive addition to any locker room. I am not sure about his 6-0, 200lb measurable, which look a little generous; at the same time, I would be happy if my team were to draft Igwebuike somewhere on Day 2.
Hawkins is a good college football player in the Pac 12. He has considerable versatility as a DB, having started at CB, SS and FS at Southern California. He is instinctive, possesses good recognition and, against athletically limited offenses, he looks like a good prospect. When, however, he is up against more talented players, the flaws in his game shine through with uncomfortably lustrous brightness. He has marginal size at best (5-11, 188) for an NFL safety; he is not big or physical enough to play in the box and, as a free safety, I have concerns about his athleticism; he takes a lot of shallow angles towards the ball and lacks the speed or agility to compensate when those angles are flawed – see the 2016 Alabama game (Q2, 7:55) as an example. His tackling is also very erratic. He can be effective in small spaces but, in the open field, he tends to try to make arm tackles that are only sporadically effective. I also struggle to see how he would match up against big, physical TEs in the NFL. In short, although Hawkins should, justifiably, be highly thought of by Trojans fans, I don’t really see him as a bona fide NFL prospect at this point and I don’t have a draftable grade on him, going into the 2017 season.
The first thing that stands out about White – a JUCO transfer from Lackawanna CC – is his physicality. He absolutely loves contact and will hit ball carriers with an abandon that goes beyond the merely reckless. He has the size (6-2, 215) and speed to do so – as a result, he is an absolute force in the run game, where his closing speed is extremely impressive. He seems to take a block as a personal affront and I love the way he attacks blockers. He times his blitzes very well and is explosive coming off the edge – see, for example, his sack v Texas in 2016 (Q4, 13:08), where he just traumatizes Shane Buechele. He is not used as much in coverage as a conventional strong safety would be. When called upon to cover, he has a tendency to virtually gallop in his back pedal and he looks much more comfortable in zone coverage than in man. He didn’t record an interception in 2016 and that’s no great surprise, as he’s rarely in a position to contend for one. His limitations in coverage will, of course, impact his draft stock but an imaginative defensive co-ordinator could certainly use a player like White – perhaps, even, in a nickel-backer role. If nothing else, he should be an enormous asset on special teams and, if I were a general manager, I would be very happy to see him on the board midway through day three.
There is definitely a place for Trey Marshall in the NFL, but teams will have to be careful to play to his strengths and mask his deficiencies. He has, to an extent, been a victim of his own versatility at FSU, lining up almost everywhere in the secondary. That has, however, enabled scouts to see him in all sorts of situations. To my mind, his skill-set is that of a box safety, or strong safety, in the NFL. He doesn’t have the cover skills to match up against NFL WRs; in coverage, he is scrappy, grabby, slow to turn his hips and has marginal ball skills. You don’t really want him exposed too much against WRs in space. He is, however, fast and physical enough to cover TEs and RBs effectively. In run support, Marshall is really very good; he flies to the ball like a missile and hits very aggressively; in this part of the game, he reminds me of Keanu Neal, of the Atlanta Falcons. I like a safety who looks like he bears a personal grudge towards the ball carrier and Marshall certainly falls into this category. I will be interested to see if he can bed down in one position in the 2017 season and improve his skills in the cover game. If so, he could rise quickly up draft boards. Nevertheless, I’ve already seen enough from Marshall to justify giving him a Day 2 grade.
Armani Watts is a befuddling prospect. If you watch the Arkansas game from 2016, he looks like a surefire 1st round pick. If you watch the Tennessee game, you would see him as a Day 3/UDFA type. Clearly, he needs to become more consistent (Cue the Stating the Obvious sirens). What are Watt’s strengths? Well, he is fast, rangy, decisive in coverage and closes with speed and explosiveness upon the ball. Athletically, he’s what you’re looking for in a free safety. I really like the way he goes after the ball; in both the games mentioned above, Watts makes a really good – and deliberate – strip of the football; once from Alvin Kamara (1Q: 7:51 v Tennessee) and once from Rawleigh Williams (2Q 8:12 v Arkansas). In both cases, the offence looked to be moving in to score, so those were game-changing plays. My issue with Watts lies with his tackling which is, technically, a car crash. He misses far too many one-on-one tackles for a number of different reasons: he goes either too high or too low; he doesn’t wrap up; he prioritises the big hit with only limited success; he sometimes tries to spin round and drag down tacklers, rather than making a proper tackle. Some people may see this as a coachable thing but, to me, it’s a major red flag if my last line of defence is so shaky in such a crucial part of the game. I suspect the NFL will be more prepared to overlook this than I would be so he will probably go higher than the late 4th round grade I have on him.
Blanding has prototypical size and range for an NFL free safety. Virginia plays him most often in the deep, centre-field role, although he is also comfortable in Cover 2. He is very adept in zone coverage, where he identifies threats smoothly and rapidly. Virginia does not ask him to do much by the way of man coverage but, when he does, he looks comfortable matched up with TEs and WRs alike. His ball skills are just OK, I feel; for a player with his range, in his position, you would like to see more interceptions and there are times when he will misjudge the ball completely. In run support, he is very reliable. No one is going to mistake him for Landon Collins or Keanu Neal as a tackler but he doesn’t miss many either – he wraps up consistently and is technically sound. I don’t see Blanding as a difference maker in the NFL but, if he were your starting free safety, he certainly wouldn’t be a liability. As such, I have a mid Day-2 grade on him at this stage of the process.