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.
Derwin James is a simply outstanding prospect. The thing that stands out most for me is his versatility as a safety; whether he’s blitzing, filling in against the run, covering TEs close to the line of scrimmage or playing the deep ball, he does it with remarkable aplomb. He appears to be playing, at times, at a different speed to everyone else on the field and I can only imagine how intimidating it must be for a RB or TE to see #3 roaming the defensive backfield, like a lion with its eye on a gazelle. He is one of those players for whom an offensive co-ordinator has to account on every play and there are really very few flaws in his game. I particularly enjoy watching him blitz – he has great size for a safety (6-3, 210) but, even so, there is no way he should be able to run through Power 5 offensive linemen the way that he can; as an example, look at how ,as a true freshman, he split the LG and LT of North Carolina State in 2015 (6:37, 3rd Quarter). When he gets home, he wreaks absolute havoc; see, again in 2015, his sack of Lamar Jackson and forced fumble ( 4:59, 3rd Quarter). Just occasionally, he is overly reliant on his physicality to make a tackle and will not wrap up effectively; this is, however, a minor quibble as, for the most part, his tackling is both powerful and dependable. He also had to redshirt the 2016 season, having torn his meniscus in Week 2 of 2016, and it will be important for him to show that he has lost none of his explosiveness. These are my only two caveats – otherwise, I would have considered giving him 100/100. Needless to say, therefore, James is, for me, one of the very top players in the 2018 draft.