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2018 NFL Combine preview: 10 defensive backs looking to sell their talents

A look at the best of the secondary performing at the NFL Combine.

NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We’re close to wrapping up our series previewing the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, continuing today with 10 defensive backs who are trying to market their talents to NFL scouts. Though there’s plenty of talent at both safety and corner, we’re combining the two here since it’s unlikely to be a high target for the Detroit Lions and, if it is, it will be one position or the other and not both. Likewise, with Darius Slay and Glover Quin in place long term, there’s no need to look for either of the most important of the five starting defensive backfield positions.

Catch up on our NFL Combine preview material here:

Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

Jackson could see himself going in the first round if it weren’t for his size. He played under 180 pounds in college and would need to show teams he can play at a similar weight in the NFL or that he can put on the weight they would prefer. The athletic drills should be a cakewalk for Jackson, and he will contend for the best 40-yard dash time across all positions at the combine. One of the only players in this class who could contend for the record, he’s also the only player who would consider a 4.4 flat a disappointment.

Holton Hill, CB, Texas

One of the only corners in this draft class where size isn’t an issue, Hill has received a small amount of early-round buzz, but his awareness is probably going to keep him firmly in Day 3. If he is able to put on a show athletically, something that isn’t common for corners his size (outside of the historic 2017 class), he could push himself into late Day 2. Elite athletic traits don’t show on tape, however, so it’s a stretch. More than that, Hill needs to kill interviews as a common knock on him as a prospect revolve around a lack of seriousness about football.

Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh

Few players will do better in interviews than Avonte Maddox and I feel he’ll do fairly well in the athletic drills as well. He’s likely to measure in less than 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, however, and that puts him firmly outside the first two days. Injury history is likely to push him out of Day 3 as well, as injuries are a chief concern when you’re that small. Still, he may be able to do enough in interviews and drills to warrant a late draft selection even considering those other issues. More likely, he builds his own list of teams he’ll go to camp with as a free agent.

Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

The top corner entering the season, McFadden is a footnote on mock drafts these days, and I rarely even see him in Day 2 anymore. His size is ideal and I believe his athletic ability should mostly be put on display in Indy as well. Speed is going to be the big question mark, as he could measure as high as the 4.6 range. The drills may expose him a bit as well, however, as it often does for players who make their living in press.

Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan

The combine doesn’t have many drills that showcase run stopping ability in the secondary, so the only real thing that could make his draft stock tank isn’t going to be on display. Instead, the week is catering to all of Phillips’ strengths. While he isn’t big, he’ll be an acceptable size for most teams, and his athletic ability is likely to be among the very best there. Ball skills are very good, so drills shouldn’t be a problem, and with his athleticism he gets to sell himself as a special teamer as well.

Quin Blanding, SS, Virginia

A tackle machine at Virginia, Blanding got early buzz as a potential top draft pick in 2018. Those calls have largely gone silent as his inability to cover well was exposed quite routinely this past season. Drills and measurements are both going to be huge and I suspect we could see a Jeremy Cash level drop from Blanding among draftniks if he runs as slow as I’m seeing projected. Cash received first-round buzz before falling all the way to undrafted after under-performing his final season and failing to impress with his measurements and drills.

DeShon Elliott, FS, Texas

Elliott has gotten hype as one of the best safeties in this class for a while, but for the past two months or so, I’ve seen very little of him in the early rounds. Though he has great size, his play speed is wildly inconsistent and his athletic measurements could go anywhere. From all accounts, I expect his interviews to go very well, but his measurements could determine if he goes in Round 3 or Round 6 as his play style is very dependent on range and explosion.

Dane Cruikshank, SS, Arizona

Cruikshank played corner in 2017 and it was... not good. He’s a pass interference call waiting to happen. He’s an arrogant smack talker with no lack of confidence and that should endear himself to most teams who tend to prize that in their defensive backfield. For drills and measurements, I expect him to measure well and to run very well in a straight line, possibly even breaking into the 4.4 range. Outside of that, my expectations aren’t high.

Terrell Edmunds, SS, Virginia Tech

Though much smaller than his ‘little’ brother Tremaine, Terrell Edmunds is a well thought of prospect in his own right. I expect Edmunds to measure fairly well all around, perhaps a bit stiffer in agility drills, but it’s going to be the position specific drills that put his draft stock in perspective. His coverage ability isn’t great, and teams will be watching to see if he can flip his hips and run or if he’s just going to be a box guy, regardless of his level of athleticism.

Jordan Whitehead, SS, Pittsburgh

Projected as one of the best athletes in this safety class, Jordan Whitehead is almost all projection since that’s what he relies on nearly all of the time. Ball skills were questionable, so his positional drills are going to be important to show if it is a hands issue or an opportunities one. Similar to Lions safety Miles Killebrew, Whitehead projects to having elite tools at the safety position, but you can see that the road to get there is going to be arduous. The combine gives Whitehead an opportunity to let teams know just how long that road is, and if there are any shortcuts.

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