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NFL Draft 2018: Scouting the defensive backs

Defensive back Denzel Ward runs a drill during

Defensive back Denzel Ward runs a drill during Ohio State's pro day, Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: AP / Jay LaPrete

1. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Height: 5-10

Weight: 191

40 time: 4.32

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: Ward is the latest in a long line of talented cornerbacks to come out of Ohio State. With blazing speed, he has the ability to keep up with even the fastest NFL receivers . . . Has excellent footwork and turning ability. Can turn quickly and match receivers’ patterns anywhere on the field.

Weaknesses: A bit on the short side and won’t always have the advantage over big, physical receivers.

Quote: Ward: “I would say my speed separates myself from other players. Other than speed, my footwork at the line of scrimmage and my ability to be able to mirror receivers and stay in the hip pocket of receivers.”

2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

Height: 6-1

Weight: 201

40 time: 4.46

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: Hypercompetitive player whose leadership skills improve those around him . . . Extremely versatile, can play “centerfield” as a safety, be a linebacker in sub packages and provide one-on-one coverage on receivers . . . Very instinctive, has a nose for the ball.

Weaknesses: Coverage skills are good but probably not good enough to make him a full-time corner . . . Needs to fine-tune ability to make proper reads.

Quote: ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper: “Fitzpatrick could be a centerpiece of your secondary. Obviously, he can play anywhere you want him to play.”

3. Derwin James, S, Florida State

Height: 6-2

Weight: 215

40 time: 4.47

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: Solid in every area of the game . . . Excellent leadership skills . . . Versatility allows him to play at multiple positions . . . Terrific in run support.

Weaknesses: Like almost any safety, needs to make sure he takes proper angles . . . Occasionally slow on initial read.

Quote: NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah: “James is a versatile talent with exceptional size, speed and physicality. In my opinion, he’s more valuable when he plays closer to the line of scrimmage. He excels covering backs and tight ends and is a dynamic blitzer.”

4. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

Height: 5-10

Weight: 189

40 time: 4.53

Projected draft status: First or second round

Strengths: Very physical defender who is strong at the line of scrimmage in jamming receivers . . . Has excellent ball skills . . . A solid return man.

Weaknesses: Disciplinary problems led to his dismissal from North Carolina, which eventually led him to UCF . . . Had only one year of starting experience.

Quote: ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay: “He’s just a really good cover corner. He’s instinctive, he’ll support the run, he’s a ball hawk with four interceptions and one for a touchdown and he’s a difference-maker in the return game.”

5. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Height: 6-1

Weight: 192

40 time: 4.56

Projected draft status: First or second round

Strengths: Very productive cornerback who had eight interceptions last season . . . A first-team AP All-American in 2017 . . . Has excellent size-speed ratio.

Weaknesses: A converted receiver, Jackson started just one year at corner, so inexperience could be a factor in his transition to the NFL . . . Because of late shift to cornerback, will need plenty of technique work.

Quote: Jackson on having one year as a starter: “Some teams might be hesitant, but I think it’s football. A lot of people can play, regardless of being a starter, three-year starter. If you can play ball, you can play ball.”

6. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

Height: 5-11

Weight: 192

40 time: 4.38

Projected draft status: First or second round

Strengths: Rare speed allows him to cover receivers anywhere on the field . . . Has good anticipation and instincts . . . Good footwork.

Weaknesses: Missed time with injuries in three seasons at Louisville . . . Not always as physical as he needs to be . . . Like many corners, doesn’t always look back for the ball on deeper routes.

Quote: Alexander: “You’re getting a versatile player, a guy who can lock everything down. Very rare that you see a pass getting caught on me. A pass getting caught on me, it’s almost history in the making.”

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