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Who Will Go First In 2018 NFL Draft: Fitzpatrick Or James?

April 19, 2018

The NFL has been flooded with quality defensive backs produced in the college game over the last few seasons.

The 2017 Draft brought two outstanding players within the top-15 as Jamal Adams and Marshon Lattimore excelled for the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints respectively. Lattimore was named to the Pro Bowl for his exploits for the Saints in the last campaign.

The development of elite level defensive backs at the top of the Draft has been a complete contrast to wideouts over the past three years. The 2018 Draft appears to be no different, with several candidates on the defensive side of the ball poised to be selected inside the top-20.

Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James are vying to be the first defensive back selected. Both players impressed during the college careers and during the evaluation process. We’ll now break down their battle to be taken first using the latest betting odds.

Derwin James

James is a power player

The Seminoles safety put forward three impressive years of production in the ACC. He has the physical presence standing at 6ft 3in and the power in his game to be one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the NFL. James is part of the new breed of safeties that are following in the footsteps of Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks man was a trend setter, demanding height and strength at the strong safety positon to cover tight ends. James should have no issue in that aspect of the game, accumulating 186 tackles in 26 matches during his time at Florida State.

All the reports emerging about James rave about his leadership skills in the locker room. That is a vital aspect at the position, holding down the middle of the field. James’ intelligence on the field allows him to see plays before they happen, boasting the range and speed to cover a vast area in the secondary. One concern could be durability as players of his size tend to get banged up as he was in his sophomore season. However, he was healthy throughout the 2017 campaign, putting forward a brilliant term.

Adams was selected with the sixth-overall pick by the Jets last season and James could come into play in that range. However, should the Cleveland Browns enter the fray, the 21-year-old could be selected with their pick at number four. Back him at odds of +217  with Bookmaker EU to be the first defensive back taken in the process.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick has versatility

Fitzpatrick and James are equals in terms of production in the college game, although the former was able to enjoy success with two BCS Championships with the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban has developed some of the finest defenders to grace the NFL. His players benefit from his pro style of coaching and it hands them the tools to succeed almost immediately at the highest level. Due to the success of Alabama and the quality they boast on their defense, it can be hard to decipher which players are the elite ones and the others who are average.

Fitzpatrick has all the traits of the former, with his playmaking ability in the secondary guiding Alabama to victories over the last three seasons. He is a free safety in the mould of Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle and Devin McCourty. Fitzpatrick patrols the deep third of the field and prevents big plays from occurring. However, one of his key strengths is his adaptability and he is more than capable of dropping closer to the line of scrimmage to cover wideouts and tight ends.

Playing for Saban requires dedication and intelligence, especially in roles in the middle of the field. There’s a lot of communication involved to know not just your role, but the role of every player on the defensive side of the ball. Fitzpatrick has that in abundance, which will make him a top-10 pick. It will be a matter of opinion whether he or James goes first in the Draft. Back him at odds of -143  to be selected before any other defensive back.

Denzel Ward

Ward will be desperate to follow in the footsteps of his former Ohio State Buckeyes team-mate Lattimore by being selected in the first round along with making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. He does not have the height or the physical presence of Lattimore, with Ward standing at 5ft 10in and 178lbs. However, Ward was more than capable of blanketing the best wideouts in the college game due to his speed and athleticism.

Boasting height and a strong frame is not a pre-requisite of a cornerback in the NFL, with Darrelle Revis and Chris Harris Jr sharing similar physiques. The 20-year-old ran a 4.32 second 40-yard dash, which means that he is more than capable of outrunning wideouts down the field. His elite speed and intelligence allows him to cover burners on the outside as well as shifty wideouts in the slot. Ward should be the first cornerback taken off the board, but he does not have the elite credential to beat out James and Fitzpatrick to be the defensive back taken.

Joshua Jackson

Jackson could be the wildcard out of the defensive back group as he has all the physical traits to be a success in the NFL, although he has limited experience at cornerback. He arrived at Iowa as a wide receiver and played one year at the position before he was converted to play in the secondary. Jackson played eight games in a limited role in the 2016 campaign before he exploded on to the scene the following season.

He was simply outstanding for the Hawkeyes in 2017, catching the eye with his athleticism and coverage ability. The 22-year-old notched eight interceptions over the course of the term along with 48 tackles. He has the 6ft 1in frame to be able to match up with physical receivers in the NFL, while his playmaking will endear him to teams in search of talent at the top end of the Draft. For value alone take Jackson to be the first defensive back selected at odds of +6614  with Bookmaker.

Tips Summary

Derwin James To Be First Defensive Back Selected 2018 Draft
Thursday 26th April 2018 20:00 ET (Friday 27th April 01:00 BST)
Odds: +217

Minkah Fitzpatrick To Be First Defensive Back Selected 2018 Draft
Thursday 26th April 2018 20:00 ET (Friday 27th April 01:00 BST)
Odds: -143

Joshua Jackson To Be First Defensive Back Selected 2018 Draft
Thursday 26th April 2018 20:00 ET (Friday 27th April 01:00 BST)
Odds: +6614

  • Denzel Ward
  • Derwin James
  • Josh Jackson
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • NFL Draft

    About the author

    Eric Roberts
    Eric Roberts

    Sports Journalist

    Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.