Trey Marshall (S, Florida State) – 79

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.

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Armani Watts (S, Texas A&M) – 72

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.

Jaire Alexander (CB, Louisville) – 96

There are a lot of good corners eligible for the 2018 draft but Jaire Alexander is right up there with the very best.  As a cover CB, there are few, if any, better.  The smoothness of his back-pedal, his route recognition and the rapidity with which he closes on a receiver coming out of his break are all superb but what I admire most about Alexander is his ability to locate the ball.  So many CBs flail, grab and face-guard when the ball is in the air; Alexander, when the QB lets it go, possesses the casual sang-froid of a French flaneur choosing between escargots and moules – or, in his case, between a PBU and an interception.  You can see his athleticism with absolute clarity in the return game – crystal, in fact, would be opaque by comparison.  His interception return in the Virginia game (Q4, 14:45), for instance, looks like some divine being is playing Madden with him, whilst off His face on speed.  It might be nice if he were a bit bigger and a bit more physical in the run game but he’s certainly willing to come up and make a tackle.  In any case, given the emphasis on being able to cover in the NFL today, I have no doubt that Alexander’s skill set will be drooled over by GMs, to such an extent that a “GM Napkin Company” might make a fortune when the pros delve into the Louisville CB’s tape.  If he continues to play the way he did last year, I would see him as a Top 10 pick and I’d be surprised and dismayed if he went outside the top 20.

Jeremy Reaves (CB, South Alabama) – 59

There are players in every draft class for whom you develop a sneaking affection when you watch them on tape and, for me, Jeremy Reaves is one.  The reason is this: Reaves is one of the most physical CBs I have ever seen.  This man loves to hit receivers and comes at them like an exocet missile carrying a grievance.  He is 5-11, 185lb but he can hit like a 6-2, 235lb linebacker.  I loved the play he made against Nicholls State (1Q, 6:59), when he flies into the hole to destroy a running play and prevent a 3rd down; it’s one of my favourite plays I’ve seen watching film this year.  Yes, he can be reckless, yes, he can over-extend and miss tackles (3Q, 9:43, Idaho game) but, in a world in which Akhello Witherspoon and Tarvaris McFadden are either being paid or going to be paid a lot of money to play CB, watching Reaves hit makes a refreshing change.  Now the bad news, : Reaves is not a great coverage guy.  He does not turn his hips well at all and, as a result, really struggles with quicker, more agile WRs.  South Alabama have lined him up as nickel-backer, free safety and boundary corner to enable him to make hits and not get too exposed one-on-one but he doesn’t have the size or range to play safety in the NFL.  Ultimately, though, I don’t care if he ever plays a snap in the defensive secondary; this is a guy who is made to play all four phases of special teams in the NFL and do it very, very well.  Some people may not see that as a draftable commodity but I disagree.  Personally, I would draft Jeremy Reaves in the 6th or 7th round because he is a tone-setter, a tackling machine and someone I would want on my team.

Rashard Fant (CB, Indiana) – 71

Fant is a quick, althletic, play-making CB, who is the current NCAA leader amongst active players in passes broken up.  It is easy to see why on tape; Fant has very good ball skills and has an aggressive mentality, leading him to attack the ball.  This mentality has its drawbacks, however; he is prone to peeking into the backfield and losing phase and he is also susceptible to the double move.  In the second quarter (1:21) of the Duke game, for instance, you can see him bite on the double move, before using his 4:37 speed to compensate and get back to make the play.  He is undersized (5-10, 180) and, as a result, struggles in press-man coverage; he is scrappy and grabby but can get rag-dolled at the line.  I like him better in trail coverage, where he can use his instincts and athleticism more effectively.  He hasn’t played a huge amount of zone at Indiana but I believe he has the traits to do well in a zone heavy defense such as Carolina’s or Cincinnati’s.  Although not the biggest or most physical CB, Fant has found a way to be effective as a one-to-one tackler.  He invariably goes for the ankles of bigger RBs and wraps them up pretty effectively.   Fant’s lack of size and strength will probably preclude him from being chosen on the first two days of the draft but he is a player whom I could certainly see making an NFL roster and, as a result, I can see him being taken early to mid-Day 3,

Minkah Fitzpatrick (CB, Alabama) – 90

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a player I would like to see on my team. There are very few spots in the secondary where he has not lined up and he has played at least well – and, in many cases, superbly – in all of them. This gives him rare scheme versatility. His ball skills and athleticism are excellent; when he gets an interception, he is a genuine threat to take it all the way. I really like his aggression as a DB. It will, at times, lead him to bite on double moves and find himself getting turned around but, more often than not, it enables him to break up passes and snare interceptions. As befits a player who has lined up for much of his career at safety, he is a physical specimen and a very sure tackler. He will certainly take his lumps as a rookie – his desire to hit and make plays will make him vulnerable to the wilier NFL WRs – but I think he will have a really good NFL career. I would like to see him really hone his craft at CB as a senior because, if he can be a little more controlled, I can see him going in the top 10-15 picks. At the moment, I have a late first round grade on Fitzpatrick but I would not be surprised to see his name called earlier in the 2018 draft.

Brandon Facyson (CB, Virginia Tech) – 79

Facyson is a long, rangy corner (6-2, 190) who has been very productive at the college level.  He is far more physical than a lot of the CBs who came out in the 2017 draft – at times, however, his desire to hit leads to recklessness and a lack of control that can lead to him missing tackles.  Nevertheless, that desire to hit is an attractive trait and, for the most part, I consider him to be a very good DB against the run, who will also offer you a lot as a blitzer from the outside.  Against the pass, I was impressed with his diagnostic skills in zone coverage; he looks like a very intelligent, clued-up defender.  In man coverage, however, he is a bit grabby –  if, for instance, you look at his battle with Amba Etta-Tawo of Syracuse, at least two of his PBUs in that game would, without a shadow of doubt, have drawn flags in the NFL.  He appears to have good speed but I’m not 100% convinced that he has the quickness to deal with top-flight NFL WRs – I think there’s a reason why he has played most of his college career as a boundary corner.  I can certainly see teams being intrigued with Facyson’s size, intelligence and physicality but I have concerns with regards to his man coverage skills.  I have a third round grade on him but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him going higher in the 2018 draft.