Top-ranked DB prospects

Here is a peek ahead at some of the top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2015.

As we’ve seen in NFL free agency, defensive back is among the most valuable positions in football. Just look at the record-breaking deals signed by cornerback Aqib Talib (Broncos) and safety Jairus Byrd (Saints). The Class of 2015 has some standouts in the defensive backfield, and here we break down five of the best, including scouting report, pro/college comparison and recruiting update. To finish it off, we introduce one under-the-radar recruit to watch.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

School: St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)

Position: Cornerback

Ht/Wt: 6-0/183

Twitter: @minkfitz_21

There’s no mistaking Fitzpatrick’s talent on the field, and there’s no mistaking his dedication off it, either. Up every morning before the sun to make the hour-plus commute to St. Peter’s Prep, Fitzpatrick is a tireless worker who lives, eats and breathes football. He’s just as focused on training and academics, and the result has been dozens of scholarship offers from schools around the country as well as the designation as the top recruit in the Northeast. The tall and rangy corner posted 62 tackles, 21 pass breakups and four interceptions as a junior to nab All-State first team honors. He also doubled as a playmaker on offense for the Marauders.

Scouting Report: A well-rounded cornerback with a nice blend of size, speed and instincts. An impressive athlete who is difficult to beat in coverage thanks to his length, closing speed and anticipation skills. Steady performer who is sound in his fundamentals. Excels in both man and zone schemes. Shows highly coveted range and ball skills. Check out Fitzpatrick’s video highlights here.

Comparison: Champ Bailey. Fitzpatrick has a similar body type to the 15-year pro. Like Bailey, Fitzpatrick is the model of consistency and has a great understanding of coverage and the overall game.

Recruiting Skinny: Fitzpatrick has been offered by the majority of the nation’s top programs. Local favorites Rutgers and Penn State are in the mix alongside the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Miami (FL). He has unofficially visited Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, Florida and Miami (FL) since the start of 2014.

Derwin James

School: Haines City (Fla.)

Position: Safety

Ht/Wt: 6-2/201

Twitter: @derwinjames6

James has been a standout on Friday nights in the Sunshine State for more than two years, including a Class 7A All-State first team selection following the 2013 season. A second cousin of four-time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James, Derwin’s versatility and playmaking ability show up on both sides of the ball at defensive back, outside linebacker, running back and even wide receiver.

Scouting Report: James brings the complete package to the safety position: size, range and physicality. Highly productive versus the run and pass. Has the speed to cover the field from a back-end alignment or positioned in the box. Hard hitter with a lot of raw ability and upside to develop at the college level. Check out James’ video highlights here.

Comparison: Mark Barron. James has similar measurables to the former Alabama All-American and 2013 first-round NFL draft pick. Both play aggressively and display elite range and ball skills.

Recruiting Skinny: James has been a solid commitment to Florida State since his freshman year. Other offers include Florida, LSU, Auburn, Clemson, Miami (FL) and Ohio State.

Iman Marshall

School: Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)

Position: Cornerback

Ht/Wt: 6-1/195

Twitter: @ImanMarshall

Marshall is the latest in a long line of blue-chip prospects out of Long Beach Poly, a school that has produced Pro Bowlers DeSean Jackson and Willie McGinest. A staple in the Poly secondary since his freshman year, Marshall has earned the reputation as the top DB on the West Coast thanks to his ability to lock down elite receivers on a weekly basis.

Scouting Report: The versatile Marshall has the size, ball skills and athleticism to play a number of different skill positions, but he’ll likely stay at corner in college. Thrives on the one-on-one challenge of taking away the opponent’s top receiver. Great transitional quickness and closing speed allow him to excel in man coverage. Possesses the frame, range and ball-hawking skills to also add value at safety. Check out Marshall’s video highlights here.

Comparison: Darqueze Dennard. The former Michigan State All-American and Thorpe Award winner excelled at press coverage thanks to his natural reactive athleticism and competitive spirit – qualities Marshall possesses in spades.

Recruiting Skinny: Marshall is keeping his options wide open, but programs such as USC, UCLA, Florida State, Notre Dame, Florida, Ohio State and Michigan appear to be in the mix for at least an official visit. He plans to announce his decision on National Signing Day.

Kendall Sheffield

School: Marshall (Missouri City, Texas)

Position: Cornerback

Ht/Wt: 5-11/180

Sheffield is one of the top two-sport juniors in the country. A premier hurdler and former Junior Olympic champion, this cornerback prospect has a rare combination of speed and explosive power. He dominated at the Houston Nike SPARQ Combine, running a laser-timed 4.48 in the 40-yard dash to go with a 4.09 shuttle and 41-inch vertical leap. After intercepting three passes as a sophomore, Sheffield earned All-District 22-4A first team honors last fall despite opponents rarely challenging his side of the field.

Scouting Report: Sheffield’s speed and athleticism are as good as any in this class. He has smooth movements and quick change-of-direction skills for a player his size. Possesses good on-field awareness to make plays in coverage. A willing run supporter with range to cover the entire field. Check out Sheffield’s video highlights here.

Comparison: Bradley Roby. Sheffield has a similar body type as the former Ohio State All-American. He also shares Roby’s athleticism and recovery speed at corner.

Recruiting Skinny: Sheffield is taking the process slowly as he continues to consider offers from the majority of the nation’s top programs. Among those at or near the top of his early list include Alabama, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Baylor and Florida State. He made unofficial visits to Texas A&M and Oklahoma in January.

Kevin Toliver II

School: Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Position: Cornerback

Ht/Wt: 6-2/180

Twitter: @Toliver_Era

Generally regarded as the top defensive back prospect in the 2015 class, the long and rangy corner has been a standout on the field for TCA. Following a sophomore season of 33 tackles and one interception, Toliver II led the Conquerors to the 3A state title playing quarterback in addition to corner. On defense, he tallied 36 tackles and two interceptions as a junior.

Scouting Report: Tall corner with a rare blend of size and speed. Refined technique in both man and zone schemes. The type of corner you can leave on an island to lock down the opposition’s most dangerous weapon. Clean and quick out of breaks and recovers exceptionally well, making separation difficult for receivers. Check out Toliver’s video highlights here.

Comparison: Antonio Cromartie. Both corners have rare size and speed combinations, as well as the length and athleticism that are coveted on the perimeter.

Recruiting Skinny: Toliver II has been committed to LSU since November of 2012, but programs such as Florida, Auburn, Florida State and many others are still giving chase.

Under-the-radar Prospect

Micah Abernathy

School: Greater Atlanta Christian (Norcross, Ga.)

Position: Cornerback

Ht/Wt: 6-0/187

Twitter: @Mabernathy04

Abernathy is an established force on the track, but recently he’s been lapping the field when it comes to recruitment. A Class AA Georgia state champion in the 400 as a sophomore last spring, Abernathy has since picked up college scholarship offers from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, among others. While he could receive looks on the offensive side of the ball, defensive back is where his future most likely resides. He has excellent speed and quickness and a nice frame to develop into. His older brother, current Cincinnati running back Ralph David Abernathy IV, was recruited to the Bearcats by current Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, so he has strong connections at multiple colleges. Check out Abernathy’s video highlights here.

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