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Prospect Profiles: The Defensive Back Class

In order to familiarize fans with some of the top names in the 2018 NFL Draft, Chargers.com will be highlighting top prospects by position each week leading up to the first day of the draft on April 26th.

*Next up is a look at some of the premiere defensive backs according to pundits. *

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Position: SafetySchool: Alabama
Height: 6-0
Weight: 204 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Antrel Rolle

There's simply nothing Minkah Fitzpatrick can't do in the secondary, which is why some outlets regard the safety as the ultimate Swiss-army knife heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.

Capable deep in coverage as he is lined up in the slot or in the box, Fitzpatrick can simply do it all.  He is a fierce run stopper, superb blitzer off the corner and boasts impressive range when in coverage.  He also possesses a deep love for the game, with his passion evident on each and every snap.

Fitzpatrick is considered one of the top defensive backs to ever play for Alabama.  In fact, he is only the second player in school history to win the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards. Fitzpatrick is also just the third player in the history of college football to win the award in the same season. A team captain in 2017, he did so by recording 60 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed and one pick in 13 games.

Overall, Fitzpatrick appeared in 42 games for the Crimson Tide, totaling 171 tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, 35 passes defensed, nine interceptions and 4.5 sacks over three seasons.

With the ability to be used in a variety of ways, Fitzpatrick figures to be an early pick shortly after the draft gets underway.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.46 seconds
Bench Press: 14 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.0 inches
Broad Jump: 121.0 inches

Mike Hughes

Position: CornerbackSchool: Central FloridaHeight: 5-10
Weight: 189 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Bradley Roby

Last season was the only year Mike Hughes played for Central Florida, but he sure made the most of it.

The school was the only team to go undefeated in 2017, and the 5-10, 189-pound cornerback was a major reason why.

Hughes started 11 of 12 games for the Knights, totaling 44 tackles, 15 passes defensed, four interceptions and one pick-six. He also proved to be an elite return specialist, returning 20 kickoffs for 635 total yards and two touchdowns plus 13 punt returns for 233 yards and one TD.

Hughes is regarded as one of the most physical cornerbacks in this year's draft.  He jolts wide receivers with a strong jam off the snap, and uses the same aggressiveness as he battles with them stride for stride.

As an ascending player just scratching the surface of his potential, Hughes has a chance to be a Pro Bowl caliber player for a long time in the NFL.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.53 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches
Broad Jump: 127.0 inches

Derwin James

Position: SafetySchool: Florida State
Height: 6-2
Weight: 215 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Eric Berry

It's easy to see why all 32 NFL defensive coordinators are salivating over the chance to add Derwin James to their secondary.

There's simply nothing he can't do.

James is a force against the run and one of the most powerful tacklers in the entire draft.  Scouts love the way he explodes through the ball carrier, as well as his ability to close in the blink of an eye. The safety is also strong in coverage with tremendous range defending the pass.

The 6-2, 215-pound James was flat-out dominant in 2017, recording 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, two picks and one sack.  He even blocked a kick on special teams for good measure. 

James is also a favorite of numerous pundits. NFL.com's draft analyst Lance Zierlein notes how he is an "absolute alpha in the locker room" and an "extremely versatile weapon (who) hits all the height, weight, (and) speed marks you want for an early-round safety."

James has the ability to single-handedly change the course the game, which is why many pundits believe he will be an All-Pro early in his career.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.46 seconds
Bench Press: 21 reps
Vertical Jump: 40.0 inches
Broad Jump: 132.0 inches

Justin Reid

Position: SafetySchool: Stanford
Height: 6-1
Weight: 207 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Michael Griffin

Teams looking for a rangy safety who they can immediately plug into the starting lineup likely have Justin Reid near the top of their draft board.

A true ballhawk with excellent athleticism, Reid is a quarterback's worst nightmare as he must always account for the safety's presence.

The Stanford star is fresh off a dynamic junior campaign in which he totaled 99 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 6.5 tackles for loss and five interceptions. As a result, he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and a second-team AP All America pick.

At 6-1, 207 pounds, Reid boasts the ideal frame teams look for in a safety.  He is one of the most instinctive safeties in the draft with a knack for knowing where the ball is going.  Reid attacks the game with an aggressive mindset, and earns rave reviews for always being in position to make a play.

Reid's stock continues to climb as we approach the draft, with numerous pundits believing he will likely be selected late on day one.  Wherever he ends up, they are convinced he will become one of the steals of the draft.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.40 seconds
Bench Press: 16 reps
Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches
Broad Jump: 128.0 inches

Denzel Ward

Position: CornerbackSchool: Ohio State
Height: 5-11
Weight: 183 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Chris Harris, Jr.

The consensus top cornerback available, you won't find a mock draft with Denzel Ward outside the top 10.

In fact, most have him among the top five players off the board, and it's easy to see why.

One of the best athletes in the entire draft, Ward boasts elite speed and tremendous footwork.  He has the ability to mirror opposing wide receivers, suffocating them in man-to-man coverage.   In fact, he allowed barely over 32 percent of completions on targets when in coverage over the past two seasons.

A First-Team All-America selection in 2017, the 5-11, 183-pounder had 37 tackles, 15 passes defensed and two picks in 14 games for Ohio State.  Overall, he appeared in 38 games over three seasons, totaling 67 tackles, 24 passes defensed and two interceptions.

Thus, Ward is a lock to be the fourth-straight Buckeye cornerback selected in the first round, following in the footsteps of Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.32 seconds
Bench Press: 16 reps
Vertical Jump: 39.0 inches
Broad Jump: 136.0 inches

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