There is no secret about the upcoming 2018 NFL draft class. Outside of a handful of names, it’s not a very popular bunch. Some of those names will almost certainly bust. Some names not on that list will be the cause of self-retweets in a few years.
Here are (seemingly) the most popular non-quarterbacks in this class:
With that in mind, I decided to take a deep look at the two blue chip defenders in this class. They didn’t disappoint.
Fitzpatrick is one of those high school All-Americans who somehow actually beat expectations in college. Currently, he’s playing the majority of snaps (I would guess around 95%) at either slot cornerback or safety for Alabama in a blitz-heavy role similar to Charles Woodson or Micah Hyde during their Green Bay stints. NFL Draft Scout lists him at 6’0″ and 201 pounds with a 4.52-second 40-yard dash.
That’s important. For the most part, if safeties run in the 4.4s, they end up converting to outside cornerback at the next level. If Fitzpatrick ends up coming off the board in the top-five, there’s a good chance it’s because teams expect him to be a cornerback. We’ll see what he runs in Indianapolis, but for now he’s a great shallow zone/slot blitz/safety combo of a prospect.
After watching Alabama’s first nine games of the year, I found 25 plays where Fitzpatrick was clearly targeted. In those 25 targets, he and Alabama gave up ~160 yards. Fitzpatrick also recorded an interception, which some consider equal to -45 yards. Giving up 115 yards on 25 targets (4.6 yards per target) over nine games (12.78 yards per game) is a pretty amazing rate.
Here’s the quick scouting report
Chubb‘s game is more easily translatable to a traditional NFL role than Fitzpatrick. The cousin of Nick Chubb, a current Georgia running back and future NFL running back, was one of the biggest names to return to college football for a senior season, along with Boston College pass-rusher Harold Landry.
In my opinion, both of those pass-rushers are very similar to 2017 first-round Derek Barnett, who is now a Philadelphia Eagle. They all lack elite speed but have a good enough burst to consistently beat just about any offensive tackle at the college level and have the bend and persistence to get to the quarterback in a reasonable amount of time. Barnett was a player who could always rush the C-gap, but if a bookend sold himself outside it was difficult (in college) for him to land an inside counter.
That’s where Chubb and Barnett separate themselves in my opinion. Chubb, while he doesn’t have a great spin or swim move like most first-round pass-rushers, does have a counter: Amazing strength. Between that and his persistence to get after the quarterback, he’s almost always on track to get to a passer, which is the true mark of how well a pass-rusher is actually playing.
On what I’d call “true rush attempts” (pass rushes when a quarterback isn’t either rolling opposite of a prospect or throwing a screen opposite of a prospect), Chubb only had two third-down reps, out of 43 in his first six games of the season, where he was halted in his steps late into a down. I’m not sure if he’s a player who would usually be considered a first overall pick in most classes, and we haven’t seen his combine numbers yet, but he’s certainly someone who should crack the first line of a depth chart in his rookie season in the NFL.
Labels like top-five pick and first-round pick only have meaning once you have a scope of the whole class, which we absolutely won’t have until after at least the combine. It’s clear that Chubb can be a contributor for an NFL team. That’s what matters in the end.