2018 Safeties – Top 15 prospects + Seahawks notes

In a relatively weak class of 2018 Safeties, there are still pockets of value to be found in the draft. Which prospects could Seattle target as possible replacements in the Legion of Boom?

2018 Safeties – Top 15 prospects

1) Derwin James, SS/FS/LB – 6’3, 220 lbs – grade: Top 5

2) Minkah Fitzpatrick, S/CB – 6’1, 200 lbs – grade: Top 15

3) Justin Reid, S/CB – 6’1, 205 lbs – grade: R2

4) DeShon Elliott, FS/SS – 6’2, 210 lbs – grade: R2

5) Ronnie Harrison, SS – 6’3, 215 lbs – grade: R2

6) Kyzir White, SS – 6’2, 215 lbs – grade: R3-4

7) Jessie Bates III, FS – 6’2, 195 lbs – grade: R3-4

8) Marcus Allen, SS – 6’2, 215 lbs – grade: R4

9) Quin Blanding, FS – 6’2, 210 lbs – grade: R4

10) Terrell Edmunds, SS – 6’2, 220 lbs – grade: R4

11) Jeremy Reaves, FS – 5’11, 205 lbs – grade: R4

12) Godwin Igwebuike, SS – 6’0, 210 lbs – grade: R4

13) J. Whitehead, FS – 5’11, 195 lbs – grade: R4

14) A. Watts, FS – 5’11, 205 lbs – grade: R4

15) Trayvon Henderson, SS – 6’0, 205 lbs – grade: R5

Notes on the 2018 Safeties & the Seahawks

1) The 2018 Safeties are a relatively weak group in this draft. Only five have clear-cut 3rd round (or better) draft grades. While there are two elite Safeties at the top of the class (James & Fitzpatrick), there aren’t many other top-flight prospects available.

2) Check out the cluster in the rankings above from #6 to #15. Although options are limited early in the draft, there is depth in the middle-rounds. Of course, some prospects will inevitably be pushed higher with teams reaching in a weak class.

3) Derwin James is extraordinary; the best Safety prospect since Eric Berry, or perhaps (gulp) Sean Taylor. He is underrated in the media right now, despite receiving early top-10 hype and then playing dominant football this season. National draft analysts Mel Kiper, Lance Zierlein and Bucky Brooks all recently mocked James to Seattle at the 18th pick.

The popular Seahawks/James mock draft connection prompted me to write a detailed post on him two weeks ago:

Seahawks mocks: Elite FSU safety Derwin James

It includes a full scouting report and a look at his potential fit in Seattle, while poking holes in flimsy criticisms he’s received lately. Here’s the most succinct way I can sum-up James as a prospect: He is an elite athletic specimen, a force against the run, terrific in coverage, and versatile enough to play any position from LB to slot CB.

I don’t envision many circumstances where the Seahawks stay put at the 18th pick in the draft. But James being available is the dream scenario. I don’t say this lightly – James could become a better NFL player than Kam Chancellor. While powerful, James isn’t same thumper as Kam (who is?). However, he is a smart kid, a leader, and everything you could feasibly want in a strong safety. He’s a game-changing talent, and perhaps the best defensive prospect in this entire draft class.

Sadly, I believe James has a much better chance of going in the top 10 picks than lasting to 18. That clearly deviates from popular opinion at this point, but it’s important to remember that mock drafts are always full of inaccuracies this early. That’s not an indictment of top media analysts (in fact – I respect the hell out of Zierlein, for example). Rather, a reality of time limitations and the mountain of prospects to study in the lead-up to the draft. It’s so easy to be off by a little bit on talent evaluations at this point. Maybe I am in this case, yet I have no choice but to trust the extensive work I’ve put in to studying James’ game. I recommend the post on him linked above, which provides an extremely thorough breakdown of Seattle’s top mock draft choice right now.

4) With Chancellor’s health a huge question mark, strong safety is arguably Seattle’s top need on defense prior to free agency. That said, I am a huge fan of Delano Hill, and think he can develop into a great starting SS in the NFL. I had a 2nd round grade on Hill last year, as did the Seahawks. Assuming James & Fitzpatrick are unavailable, there isn’t a better strong safety than Hill in Seattle’s range. It makes sense for the Seahawks to add a veteran in free agency to compete with Hill. Bradley McDougald will certainly be a top option, as someone who can produce at either Safety spot. If he proves too expensive on the open market, we could see a short-term veteran signed to round out the position.

5) Earl Thomas created yet another stir last week by suggesting he could hold-out without a contract extension:

“I want to finish my career there,” Thomas told ESPN after Thursday’s Pro Bowl practice at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. “I definitely don’t see myself going out there not signed. But I’m going to continue to work my butt off and enjoy this process at the Pro Bowl.

This follows his infamous open-mic locker-room adventure after the Cowboys game this season. Understandably, Pete Carroll and John Schneider may not be pleased with their star free safety not appearing to be “all-in” on the Seahawks.

I think it’s important to note the first part of the quote above, and realize that Thomas is clearly posturing in the early stages of contract negotiations. He sees Chancellor and Cliff Avril’s careers in jeopardy, and wants to be financially protected. At the same time, the Seahawks likely want to be careful with guaranteed money to aging players following Chancellor’s situation.

Additionally, Seattle has some leverage here. Thomas is still in his prime (turns 29 in May), and is under contract in 2018. The team can theoretically stick to its guns this season and then affordably use the franchise tag on him in 2019. Can Earl afford a long holdout when he could be forced into doing the same next year? The next two seasons will theoretically be the best remaining years of his career, and have high earning potential.

On the other hand, there are reasons to trade Thomas as well. It would be heartbreaking to lose him, but he’s a more valuable trade commodity than other vets rumored to go. The Seahawks could recoup a high draft pick (at least) by dealing him. That would also avoid any potential hold-out distractions.

Ultimately, I expect Seattle & Thomas to meet in the middle on a contract extension. Something with a high AAV (average annual value), but not loaded with risky guarantees. The inescapable truth is that Thomas is irreplaceable. He’s a Hall of Fame talent with one-of-a-kind ability as a single-high Safety. While there are pockets of value at free safety in this draft, any replacement would be a significant downgrade from Earl.

6) Speaking of 2018 Safeties, it’s worth identifying some prospects Seattle could draft if Thomas is traded. Stanford junior Justin Reid and Texas junior DeShon Elliott both stand out to me. Reid is a poor-man’s Fitzpatrick, excelling in the slot and both Safety positions. He’s versatile, athletic, smart, and (interestingly) could be paired with his brother SS Eric Reid in free agency. Elliott is also interchangeable at both Safety spots, though projects best as a playmaking FS. Watch for both to climb up the consensus ranks into the second round throughout the draft process. Either is capable of making an early impact, as Hill would have last year if he had the opportunity.

More affordable options include Jessie Bates III and Jeremy Reaves. They are purer free safeties who project as single-high or split Safeties at the next level. Bates is rangy, fluid and instinctual, but he’s raw and a wildly inconsistent tackler. Reaves is probably the most like-for-like player to Thomas in this draft class. It goes without saying that he’s a much poorer-man’s version, however he’s severely underrated by top media evaluators right now.

I’ll go into more detail on these top Safety prospects and more in the lead-up to the draft, especially if we lose Earl (*knocks on wood).