This is the first part at The NFL Draft Report’s examination of the current safety draft class. This report features three possible All-Pro performers, including the most versatile defensive back in this class - Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. One look at team draft boards and you will usually find the Crimson Tide standout listed at both cornerback and the two safety spots. This gives the team that drafts this talented athlete a plug-and-play type, one who can handle the boundary assignments in man coverage, play the field covering in the zone, step into the second level and blitz from strong safety or protect the deep part of the field with him at free safety.
He will likely see his backfield mate, strong safety Ronnie Harrison either join him as a first day selection later in the first round, or not have to wait long on Day Two to get that coveted phone call from his future employer. Fitzpatrick? He will be celebrating his selection as a Top Ten choice and then watch Florida State strong safety Derwin James, The NFL Draft Report’s top defensive back, come off the board within the first dozens picks.
Teams have placed a lot of emphasis on obtaining a safety talent who can easily play either position. In the last five drafts, one hundred safeties have been selected, with the 2017 class featuring 13 free safeties and 12 strong safeties come off the draft board. Of the 28 safeties to attend the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, at least 25 left Indianapolis regarded as valid draft prospects. However, just Fitzpatrick and James are assured of first round status.
If Harrison slips into Round 2, he could be joined by Stanford’s Justin Reid, Penn State’s Marcus Allen, Jessie Bates III of Wake Forest, Kyzir White of West Virginia, DeShon Elliott of Texas, Armani Watts of Texas A&M and Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds as Day Two draft selectees.
Derwin James -- Florida
Overview...All the draft chatter about secondary performers seem to be geared towards Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. While Ward is the top cornerback and our staff regards Fitzpatrick as a pro free safety, hands down, The NFL Draft Report’s best defensive back is Florida State’s Derwin James. Without this Seminole, the safeties in this draft would have no star-studded talent, outside of Fitzpatrick, who more than a handful of teams regard more as a corner than an inside defender.
It would be a huge surprise if James is not a Top 10 selection.
The 2017 Season...A member of The NFL Draft Report’s All-American Dream Team, James received the second-highest amount of votes from the league’s coaches and media on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team. He finished second on the squad with 84 tackles (49 solos) while starting all twelve games at free safety. He had one sack among 5.5 stops for losses of ten yards, adding four quarterback pressures and a blocked kick. He returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and also broke up eleven other throws.
Body Structure...James has a structurally sound and well-proportioned frame with room to even add at least another ten pounds of bulk, if a professional team might consider switching him to a Cover-2 outside linebacker position, much like the Colts did with Cato June and the Panthers, with Thomas Davis. He has that thick and defined upper body muscle tone you look for in a player asked to step up in the box to make plays vs. the run often. He has broad shoulders and ideal muscle mass in the lower body, along with a tight waist and hips. He also possesses thick thighs and calves, along with the strength to maintain position when challenged by bigger blockers.
Athletic Ability... James is a versatile athlete with a well-developed frame. He demonstrates very good playing strength and has the foot quickness and body control to step inside the box and make plays in run support. He has more than enough strength and hand punch to handle tight ends in jump ball battles, as he gets excellent elevation for a strong safety, along with showing the brute force to easily challenge bigger opponents for the ball in flight, or to simply reroute his coverage assignment (see 2017 Miami, Syracuse, Delaware State games). He has good functional quickness and builds to top speed in an instant, evident by his six touchdown-saving tackles coming out of his area to chase down plays on the opposite end of the field in 2017 (see NC State, Duke, Boston College games). He shows the acceleration to stay with tight ends and backs working the short and intermediate areas, along with the speed to stay on the hip of his opponent on deep patterns. He has the sudden burst coming out of his backpedal to recover immediately when receivers happen to get behind him, and uses his hands quite effectively to mirror the receiver, along with taking good angles to shorten the field to make plays in front of him. He has very good range along with the agility to slip past and avoid blocks in pursuit, showing the hip flexibility needed to generate a quick twitch working in the short area. He maintains balance in transition and is very sudden when trying to close on the ball in backside pursuit. With each passing game in 2017, you could see that he has that outstanding acceleration, fluid change of direction and excellent flexibility that has drawn comparisons to the Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson in his prime, and also alleviated any concerns teams might have had about his 2016 knee surgery.
Football Sense... James has excellent vision and field awareness. He picks up blocking schemes quickly and does a very good job of making calls in the secondary. He is like a coach on the field, knowing everyone’s assignments and getting his teammates lined up properly. He has excellent ball reaction skills and knows how to time his leaps to get to the thrown pass at its highest point. He makes good body adjustments on the move and is quick to sniff out the run when working inside the box. He does well in the football classroom and easily takes plays from the chalk board to the playing field. His field smarts and instincts allow him to shorten the field by taking proper angles to the ball. He sees things quickly, especially in the running game. He is not the type that will bite on play action or misdirection and is rarely caught out of position. Simply put, he is the most instinctive safety in college football and doubt if scouts will find another 2018 draft prospect who is as aware, alert and able to deal with the mental side of the game like James
Key and Diagnostic Skills...James has very good ball skills, showing great timing and awareness making plays down hill. He is quick to get his hands up for the pass break-up and is very physical attacking receivers, as his opponents need to account for him at all times on the field (see 2017 Wake Forest, Syracuse, Clemson games). Yes, he will get a bit too overaggressive at times, but he has very good ability to sniff out the play and attack the ball. He is not the type that will be fooled by play action and shows urgency stepping into the box to fill the rush lanes. He reacts to the thrown pass well, doing a good job of keeping track of the ball in flight. He sees the field well and is especially effective at providing run force. The thing you see on film is that he is very aware of his surroundings and has the quick reactionary skills that rival those of ex-Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Polamalu.
Man Coverage Ability...James is best when playing the ball, but he is also quite effective handling man coverage assignments. He won’t get turned or let the cushion break down, as he has that impressive timed speed to match up with receivers on deep routes (see 2017 Miami, Syracuse, Florida games). While he knows how to maintain relationship with the tight ends and slot backs in the short and intermediate area, he also possesses excellent turning ability and a sudden burst coming out of his backpedal. He looks loose in his hips when attempting to redirect and shows very good acceleration when making plays in front of him. He has the hand usage and technique to press, which helps him stall the receiver’s route progression (see 2017 Delaware State, Florida, Duke games). His blazing speed makes it very easy for him to plant and burst, as he also has the ability to take good angles to shorten the field. When asked to line up on the slot receiver, he stays tight on the opponent’s hip. He also shows excellent hip flexibility and timed speed to be effective covering on deep routes. He has good feet to adjust on the move, along with equal ability when playing the zone or in isolated situations. You can see on film that he has more than enough speed to close on the ball and run with backs and slot receivers when they challenge in the soft areas on the field. He likes to play right up on his man coverage assignment rather than give a soft cushion, as he seems to have great confidence in his feet to mirror on deep patterns, but also shows greater confidence using his strength and hand punch to consistently disrupt his opponent on the route’s progression.
Zone Coverage Ability...This is one of his better assets. James has solid awareness playing in the zone. He sees things develop quickly and has that innate feel for being in the right position. He has good route recognition ability and is rarely caught out of position. He looks very comfortable attacking the ball and has the ability to adjust and make plays on the move. He has an excellent feel for the routes and does a good job, whether when he is the deepest player on the field or charging hard into the box to lend support underneath. He has a good feel for handling the switch-off and takes good angles to shorten the field in his zone assignments. I do not think another 2018 safety draft prospect has James’ outstanding range or ability to cover lots of ground in a hurry, evident by making six touchdown-saving tackles running long distances out of his position in 2017. He is simply one of the most instinctive defensive backs in the game and a rarity – one that can easily play deep centerfield while also being counted on to keep the action in front of him.
Backpedal Skills ...James shows good feet and fluidity in his backpedal, along with the loose hips needed to not take wasted steps in transition. He gets good depth thanks to his loose hips and shows very good body control to plant and drive on plays in front or to the side of him. He shows ease-of-movement flipping his hips to go and get back in the action when a receiver gets by him. He is very explosive coming out of his breaks, and is fluid enough to take the short route to the receiver while staying on their hip in the throughout the route’s progression. He stays in control in his backpedal and unlike most youngsters, it is very rare to see him get off balanced or get his weight back and be on his heels, some.
Ball Reaction Skills...James gets an excellent jump on the ball. He has natural hands for the interception and a fire in his belly competing for the jump balls. He is quick to anticipate the quarterback’s arm motion, which allows him to get into position to make the play (see 2017 Miami, Syracuse, Delaware State, Florida games). He takes proper angles to shorten the field and attack the ball, staying low in his pads to deliver forceful hits on the move. He has very good vision for tracking the ball in flight. He closes on the play with good urgency and has the valid foot speed to go long distances. He does a very good job of stepping in front of the ball and has the leg drive to break tackles on the interception (see 2017 Delaware State game). With his speed, it has bred the confidence that James shows on the field, knowing that he can either lay back and play “centerfield” with the timing to instantly make plays on the ball.
Range/Recovery...While he has that explosive burst to close, James’ ability to take proper angles and build to top acceleration has made him effective delivering tackles along the sidelines and inside the box (see 2017 Alabama, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Clemson, Florida games). With his impressive timed speed, he has the ability to cover ground when the ball is in the air (carries his equipment well). He will generate explosion behind his breaks and his pitter-patter steps allow him to build his acceleration quickly. With his great range, James is very quick to support vs. the run, as he does a nice job of gliding up to fill the holes at the line of scrimmage and also displays great skills in squeezing outside runners back to the inside.
Jumping Ability...James has very good timing to go up and compete for the ball at its high point. He does a nice job of tracking the ball over his shoulders and is quick to get his head turned around on the move. He shows natural hands for the interception and has the athletic ability to adjust to the ball at its high point. When he sees the ball released by the quarterback, he is usually smart enough to get into position to make the play (see 2017 Alabama, NC State, Florida, Delaware State, Syracuse games). The thing you see on film is that he shows good aggression competing for the ball in a crowd. He is by far the Seminoles’ most athletic defensive player and with his height, size, strength and mental make-up, he has no problems “getting in the face” of bigger tight ends and lead blockers trying to make plays in tight areas.
Hands... James is a natural hands catcher who does a good job of extending and plucking the ball away from the body’s frame. He zones in on the pass once it is thrown and will do whatever he needs to attack the pass and prevent the reception. He might be the fastest man coverage defender at the strong safety position in college. He strikes with forceful hand usage, knowing how to reroute tight ends, running backs, wide-outs and slot receivers when jamming them at the line (50% of intended passes into his area were stymied by James’ ability to reroute his coverage assignment, with his best numbers in that category). He also uses his hands effectively to ward off blocks aimed for his legs when working through trash. His ability to extend for the ball has resulted in several spectacular interceptions (see 2017 Syracuse, Delaware State; 2016 Ole Miss games). His hands are large enough to properly secure the ball and he appears very confident using them as weapons, whether playing off blocks or in press coverage situations.
Run Defense...James is a classic down hill player who hits with pop on contact when playing inside the box. He breaks down well in space and stays low in his pads when making the tackle. He knows how to slip past and avoid blocks on the move. He is quick to come up and fill the gaps and stays low in his pads to prevent the lead blocker from blowing him off the ball. He is the best safety in college when working in the box, as his ball anticipation skills and instincts make it very hard to fool him on draw plays or misdirection. Simply, he plays smart. Once he is able to locate the ball working through trash, he is quick to close. He comes up to hit with urgency and is not the type you will see playing along the fringes much. He has very good force and at times, overpowering strength and generally plays with consistent control. He is very quick to read and react to the outside running plays and has a tremendous feel for the support lanes, as he always seems to take good angles in his pursuit of the ball.
Tackling Ability...James is an explosive hitter who can cause a receiver to hesitate before getting to the ball, knowing that the safety is about to deliver a vicious hit. He has the ability to be an excellent wrap-up tackler, as he has the strength to thump on contact and will throw his body at the ball carrier. He is best when allowed to make plays in front of him rather than taking a side. When he can keep the action in front, he is a reliable tackler will explode into the opponent. He is consistent at staying low in his pads in order to wrap better. It is rare to see him get caught up in trash and get over-aggressive, taking him out of the action, as he generally plays with good control. He is a big hitter who can simply “blow people up” when he’s on track to the ball. He is one of the more technically sound safeties when having to break down, face and wrap-up.
Compares To...Eric Berry-Kansas City Chiefs...Finding a strong safety with the speed and natural hands of a cornerback is very rare these days, but scouts feel that James has that blend of talent, much like Berry’s. He has also been favorably compared to the Chiefs defender for his run stuffing skills. The sky is the limit for this emerging star.
Minkah Fitzpatrick - Alabama
Overview...Most analysts say that Fitzpatrick will either be the first cornerback or first safety drafted. That might be, but our staff sort of regards the Tide standout as the old Avis Car Rental saying, “When you are number two, we try harder.” Yes, Fitzpatrick hits on all the checkpoints you look for in a quality defensive back, but we rate Denzel Ward as the top corner and no one will get us to budge on naming anyone other than Derwin James the best safety. In fact, James is in our top three of all defensive players in this draft.
The pleasant issue with Fitzpatrick is, if you want him as a safety or cornerback, he has the athleticism and valid resume to play any position in the secondary. The problem is, he’s never had to handle outside corner duties and based on the fact that he has allowed 109-of-184 passes to be completed vs. him (.5924 pass completion percentage) for 1,004 yards (9.21 yards per completion, 5.46 yards per attempt) and seven touchdowns, I would be hesitant to use him in man coverage. He had his worst season covering vs. the pass last year, as teams completed 43-of-61 tosses (70.49%) vs. the Tide junior in 2017.
Still, NFL scouts continue to favor Fitzpatrick as a cornerback.
Body Structure…Fitzpatrick has an angular frame with good upper and lower body definition. He has a good bubble with tapered thighs. He is strong and has room on his frame to carry more bulk without losing any of his quickness. He has good shoulder thickness with the arm length and soft, natural hands to make the interception. He is not overly-muscled, but has a firm midsection and hips, along with minimal body fat.
Athletic Ability…Fitzpatrick has great flexibility and the burst to close in a hurry when the action is in front of him. He displays the foot quickness, balance and change of direction skills to transition without taking extra steps. He plays with very good body control to mirror tight ends, slot receivers and backs in the short-to-intermediate area and the loose hips to stay tight with the receivers on long patterns. He runs with a normal stride, keeping his pads down to generate better acceleration coming out of his turns. He has improved his backpedal technique and shows no hip stiffness. He possesses natural hands and is quite effective at tracking the ball over his head on deep routes. He times his leaps well and while he is more quick than fast, he demonstrates the consistent explosion coming out of his breaks to prevent much separation through the route’s progression.
Football Sense....Fitzpatrick has really developed his ball reaction skills much quicker than anyone could expect from a player with just under two years of defensive experience under his belt. He is a smart, instinctive player who can diagnose the run and pass quickly, showing outstanding route recognition (see 2016 Arkansas, 2015 Texas A&M games). He has a good feel for the flow of the ball, as he easily anticipates when he needs to make plays in coverage. He has rapidly developed into a solid field general and has a very good understanding for everyone’s assignments. He is quick to locate the ball on the move and shows a keen understanding of blocking schemes when working close to the line in run support. He anticipates the quarterback well and is not the type who will be fooled by play action. He takes the plays from the board to the field with no problems and will not have difficulty digesting a complicated playbook. He does well academically and puts in the extra hours studying film of upcoming opponents. He is instinctive and very good at using the sidelines to his advantage.
Key and Diagnostic Skills...Fitzpatrick is a very smart and instinctive player, one that shows no hesitation in recognizing routes and has that great feel to anticipate the ball in flight. He reads and reacts quickly in run support excels at picking up schemes and reading the audible well to get the secondary in position. He plays with good field vision and has a knack for locating the ball working through trash. His ball recognition skills let him use the sidelines effectively to push the ground game back inside. He has the vision to see traps and pulls and is rarely ever caught out of position.
Man Coverage Ability…Fitzpatrick has very good hip and upper body flexibility, as he can turn and run on the ball without taking extra steps. He has the functional quickness to mirror receivers in the short-to-intermediate area, but he might not have that second gear to run stride for stride with speedy receivers on deep patterns, thus making him a better fit as a safety than isolated in man coverage as a cornerback. He plays the receiver tight working underneath and has no problems handling slot receivers, making him an instant candidate to earn playing time in the nickel package at the next level. He is much better making plays in front of him, but he does show that flexible hip snap to redirect and get to the action along the sidelines.
Fitzpatrick has better zone coverage skills and prefers working in the short-to-intermediate areas, but he must learn to conserve his aggressiveness when mirroring receivers on deep routes. It is rare to see him play man-to-man often, but he has good hand placement and coverage skills taking on slot receivers and backs (must show the same desire taking on the bigger tight ends though). With his timed speed, he is capable of generating a good burst and quickness needed to run vertical, but when he fails to keep an eye on his man and good position in the deep part of the field, he will get a bit reckless in taking proper angles to close and if the receiver gets behind him, he lacks the sudden burst to recover.
Zone Coverage Ability…Fitzpatrick has the athletic ability to get off the hashes and cover grass in a hurry vs. plays in front of him. He shows above average route recognition and while he might not have that explosive second gear, he has good transition quickness. He is best when maintaining position on the receiver in his area, as he will stick to his man like glue. He reacts very well to the ball in flight and gets good depth in his pass drops. He is quick to handle the switch and has the ability to close when he keeps the play in front of him. He will bait the quarterback to throw to his area, then, quickly get back into position to deliver the tackle or break up the pass. He is very good at sorting and reading routes, staying low in his pads to generate enough range to close on the ball.
He shows good route awareness in the zone and has the vision to scan the field, but must maintain position in order to be consistent (will sometimes attack the man rather than the ball). He has the ability to read the quarterback, but bites on play action and misdirection. His vision is evident by his ability to anticipate routes and there is no question he has the hands to secure the ball as a pass thief, along with the leaping ability to get up and over the bigger receivers to knock the pass away and disrupt the pattern progression.
Backpedal Technique…Fitzpatrick has good flexibility and knee bend, doing a nice job of sinking his hips in his backpedal. He has the feet, balance and body control to turn and run with no wasted motion. He appears smooth and athletic running in reverse and does a really nice job of turning his hips for a safety. Even when the speedy receivers get a step on him, he shows good urgency in attempts to recover. He has the hip snap to plant and drive out of his breaks, but sometimes needs to stay in his pedal longer. When he gets too high in his stance, his turns appear to be rigid, especially in his shuffle, but you can see this season that he worked hard to improve his footwork and that has given him better consistency working in off coverage.
Ball Reaction Skills…Fitzpatrick is quick to locate the ball, as he is very consistent in anticipating and jumping the routes. He might lack that explosive second gear, but shows the burst and urgency to close on the play in a hurry. He is better with the action in front of him, thanks to his keen feel for taking proper angles. He is very physical when making the tackle and shows good intensity getting to the rush lanes. He has the change of direction agility to cover along the sidelines and shows above average hand usage and extension to attack the ball in the air and reach around the receiver to deflect or pick off the pass.
Range and Recovery Skills…Fitzpatrick shows a good burst when closing and a smooth flow to the sidelines. He is an effective perimeter tackler when he takes sharp angles to the ball, but will sometimes round his cuts. He might get beat sometimes on deep routes when shadowing and trailing, but when working the zone, he gets good enough depth to locate the ball. He is best when covering ground with the ball in flight and has a knack for chasing down ball carriers and pinching the outside run back inside.
Leaping Ability…While Fitzpatrick times his leaps well, he knows how to use his power to combat the taller receivers for the pigskin. He does a very good job of reacting to the ball in flight, get his head turned properly to track the ball in, showing the natural hands to make the big interception. He is more of a disruptive force who knows how to extend, reach around and deflect the pass away from the receiver or simply use his hands to reroute his man (has rerouted/jammed receivers on 36 incomplete tosses the last 20 games). Timing is critical in his jumps and he will generally show the elevation needed to make the play on the ball.
Hands... Fitzpatrick is a natural hands catcher and his experience as a receiver continues to shine through on the defensive side of the ball. He has above average ball skills to field the passes cleanly and amazes some by coming up with interceptions that others simply can’t make. He is very effective using his reach and timing to knock down passes, as he had 35 defended in his area through 42 games. He uses his hands well to snatch the ball at its high point and has a strong punch that he uses effectively to reroute and press the receiver. He is also active with his hands in run force, keeping them extended to prevent the bigger blockers from locking on and riding him out. Because of his previous receiver skills, he is not prone to using his body as a crutch, doing a nice job of extending and securing the pigskin outside his frame.
Run Defense...Fitzpatrick is a fearless tackler who will not hesitate to stick his hat into the pile. He is very alert to outside running plays, doing a nice job of pinching it back inside and has that angle concept skills to be a presence inside the box. He is not the type that will try to run around lead blockers, as he hits like a torpedo and knows how to take away the outside leg of the ball carrier to impede forward progress. Once he tracks down the run action, he hits with enough force to bring down even the bigger ball carriers. He knows how to use his range to shorten the field and make plays in run force. He comes up with good aggression to fill the rush alleys and shows good urgency in back side pursuit. His sideline awareness lets him force the outside run back in. He does a very good job of shedding blocks with his hand usage. He stays low in his pads and does a good job of dragging the runner down. While not used much in this area, he is a good blitzer who faces up to blockers with aggression.
Tackling Ability…Fitzpatrick might not be the biggest guy on the field, but he does bring force behind his hits. He is a solid collision type tackler who also has the ability to keep his hands inside his frame to wrap and secure rather than grab or take arm swipes. He delivers good pop on contact and has no problems getting ball carriers to the ground. He demonstrates good force to drive the ball carriers back on his initial hit. He has the arm extension to drag down the receiver and does a good job of bending his knees before making the hit. He is not the type that will duck his head upon contact and will do whatever it takes to get his man down.
Compares To...Malcolm Jenkins-Philadelphia Eagles...Both are students of the game, self-motivated types who worked hard to develop into the elite play-makers they became.
Ronnie Harrison -- Alabama
Body Structure...Harrison has a compact, but thick frame with a good bubble, thick and muscular thighs and calves, a V-shaped torso, tight abdomen and waist and good muscle definition in the chest and arms, but despite looking the part, he does have strength issues. He still looks more like a safety rather than a linebacker, though. If he stays at linebacker, his frame does not have much more room for needed growth.
Athletic Ability... Harrison is the type of player who compensates for hip stiffness and a lack of timed speed by playing with very good effort and toughness. He has the ideal size you look for in a strong safety, but while he has good straight-ahead explosion and plays at a low pad level, he does not have the hip snap to get out of his breaks cleanly and receivers have had good success getting behind him, making him a liability to play the secondary (outside of inside the box) at the next level. He is a decent blitzer who can take on and shed blockers in attempts to clog the rush lanes, but he is not a physical tackler and needs help or he will be dragged by power runners. His burst and acceleration moving forward will generally surprise a lethargic lineman, but he is too weal trying to play off blocks once a lineman latches on. He has adequate quickness closing on the ball, but just lacks the agility and balance to stay on the hip of a receiver in zone coverage.
Football Sense... Harrison does a decent job reading keys, but is better served playing down hill rather than in the deep secondary. When he picks things up well, he knows how to avoid blocking schemes, which is beneficial, as he does not have the strength to shed if a blocker attacks his body. His lack of change of direction agility soon takes him out of the play when trying to stay on the hip of a receiver throughout the route. He is quick to recognize the plays when on the move, but will sometimes lose sight of the ball when he is trying to free himself from the pile.
Key and Diagnostic Skills...Harrison knows how to play football, competing as a free safety, strong safety and Cover-2 linebacker for the Tide. He is an instinctive downhill tackler who won’t bite on play action, but he does struggle in pass coverage, thus the expected move to linebacker from safety at the next level. He can explode as a tackler and while he might over-pursue some plays, he is quick to recover on plays in front of him. He is better when allowed to roam, as he seems capable of finding the ball quicker.
Man Coverage Ability...While he has the size and functional speed to play strong safety, he has too many problems in the pass coverage department, as he does not show much drop ability and is too choppy coming out of his backpedal. He lacks a good recovery burst and will gather before gaining acceleration. He won’t gets fooled by play action, but looks rigid changing direction coming out of transition. He has the burst to close on plays in front of him, but unless he is working underneath, fails to recover and get back on the pass play quick enough to be much of a force there, especially on crossing patterns. His hip turn is marginal, at best, in his pass drops and this negates his adequate speed turning on the ball.
Zone Defense...Harrison is better playing in the short zone than in deep zone coverage. He does not always make plays on the ball behind him, as he lacks the speed to close. He is usually in position in the short area, where he can mirror the tight ends and backs running out of the backfield than when challenged to drop back in the deep third of the secondary to defend vs. the long tosses.
Backpedal Skills...Harrison might not be track fast, but he shows average to above-average closing speed coming out of his backpedal, but you can see on film he isn’t as explosive coming out of his cuts. He does an adequate job of opening his hips when asked to cover the deep half of the field, but lacks prototypical hip fluidity and is going to struggle if asked to turn and run with slot receivers.
Ball Reaction Skills...Harrison can jump underneath routes and he is very physical, flashing a violent punch. He’s the type that willingly sells out and makes ball carriers pay for trying to tight-rope the sideline. There were a few times where he lost track of the receiver trying to read the quarterback’s eyes and can get caught out of position when he tries to go for the pick-six rather that playing the hand he is dealt, though.
Range/Recovery...Harrison lacks the loose hips to flow to the ball very well, as he is more of a straight-line charger than one who can stop, plant and redirect. He has marginal lateral agility and is a little too stiff in the hips. Because of his lack of size, he tries to run around blocks too much. He plays with good intensity, but is best when having to string plays wide rather than penetrate the line to make tackles from the backside.
Jumping Ability...Harrison might not be track fast, but he shows average to above-average leaping ability, evident by 24 passes defended in 44 contests. He has efficient closing speed coming out of his backpedal, but you can see on film he isn’t as explosive coming out of his cuts. He does an adequate job of opening his hips when asked to cover the deep half of the field, but lacks prototypical hip fluidity and is going to struggle if asked to turn and run with slot receivers.
Hands...Harrison struggles when using his hands to keep separation from the bigger blockers. He can play over the tight end, but will be better served lining up over the weak-side at the next level. He lacks a strong hand jolt to shock an offensive lineman, but had had good success taking out the lead blocker in the rush lane. He fails to use his hands to keep blockers off his feet and because he is constantly trying to escape the bigger blockers, he leaves his chest too exposed, resulting in him getting stonewalled on the inside plays. He does use the hand strength to mirror and attempt to redirect the tight ends and can shock the receiver with them on crossing patterns. He also ha a natural feel for the interception, and will extend his hands away from the framework in attempts to deflect or pick off the ball.
Run Defense...Harrison is quick to step up and fill playing inside the box. He reads and reacts quickly to the outside run and uses his angles to push the plays back inside. He carries his pads well in the short area and is adept at wrapping the ball carrier and using his arms with good force to jar the ball loose. He will struggle to shed when he gets latched on by an offensive lineman. On the move, he has the straight-line speed to give chase, string plays wide and make the tackle along the sidelines. He takes better angles in the open than he does at the line and he has enough bulk to consistently fight through the trash.
Tackling Ability...Harrison might lack ideal strength, but when he slips past the trash and stays low in his pads, he is the type that will drive the lead blocker back through the rush lanes. He is better suited when he has to chase down the play in the short area, as he appears to be a better tackler inside the box. He is a consistent hitter, as there are not many misses or leaks. He just won’t deliver the bone-jarring tackles people would expect from a linebacker, but when taking on isolated blocks, he is effective breaking down and hitting with a good base. He maintains body control working in space and brings his arms quickly to wrap and secure.
Compares To...Shawn Williams-Cincinnati Bengals...Like Williams, Harrison is a physical and athletic player with a nose for the ball, but when he throws his body at the ball carrier, he is inconsistent in attempts to wrap up, leading to 21 missed tackles. His penchant for going for the splash hit on most tackles will see him slide off and miss at times.