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Alabama Football Recruiting 2015: Cornerbacks

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A look at the upcoming cornerback recruits for the class of 2015

Streeter Lecka

Last week, I voiced my displeasure in the recent performance of the offensive line. Apparently, that unit read what I said and played with a chip on their shoulder, looking as dominant as an offensive line could possibly be. Since my criticism brought such great success, I am a bit hesitant to relish any praise on the next position group: the cornerbacks.

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the game that Cyrus Jones just had. From being one of my least favorite players on the team last year, Jones has slowly won me over more and more every game this season. Knowing I was going to write about the corners, I spent the entirety of the A&M game watching only Jones and Jackson (and Brown once he came in). In fact, I didn't even see most of the dominance that the defensive line displayed, besides replays on the jumbotron.

Back to Cyrus Jones, the (generously listed) 5'10" corner absolutely blanketed Speedy Noil. Not only did Jones match him step-for-step on pretty much every route (including what should have been a highly precise double move), Cyrus was consistently jamming Noil off of his routes and just being an all around bully. Eddie Jackson, on the other hand, did not look as impressive. He was never really targeted, and wasn't really out of position, but struggled with backpedaling and changing directions. He still just does not look like he has really recovered from the knee surgery. Tony Brown also continues to bite on less and less double moves. 

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Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve (remember him?)* are both juniors and are the oldest at the position. It's highly likely that, barring transfers, Alabama will return every single player to the cornerback unit next season, including thus-far-invisible five star recruit, Marlon Humphrey... Who I still think will be the better player of him and Tony Brown.

*I don't think I recall who that is.

There is, on paper, solid depth at corner for the next couple of years, which gives Saban some leeway to grab some more developmental-type players.

The Scheme

We have all heard countless number of times that Nick Saban specializes as a secondary guru, and that his schemes are often more complex than those of an NFL team. After spending an entire game watching just the corners, I can vouch for this. On top of the standard cover-3 (Where both corners and the single safety drop into deep zones on their respective side of the field, and everyone else plays underneath) and cover-2 man (where everyone plays man coverage, except the two safeties, who patrol deep) calls, I saw quite a few variants of some form of a cover-6 cloud. In essence, the cover 6 is the same zones as the cover 3, but one corner stays short while the other plays a deep zone, and the two safeties take the other two deep thirds of the field.

However, the more I watched, the more I noticed that Cyrus Jones would be playing man-press coverage on Speedy Noil, while Eddie Jackson dropped deep to complete the cover-6 with Geno Smith and Nick Perry. Landon Collins would line up in the "money" position (a defacto linebacker), and use his speed to make up for Jones not playing an underneath zone.

Also, Geno Smith and Jarrick Williams split time at the "star" position, which is the third defensive back in a nickel alignment. Typically this position is expected to match up on the slot receiver and be ready to make plays in the flats.

Now that all of that overflow of information is out of the way (just wait until I start talking about the front 7 rotations in the coming weeks... I get excited), we can get into what you really came for.

The Newcomers

Last Name First Name Position State Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
Custis Montrell CB GA 3 591 48 6010 173 4.63 4.10 34.6 36.0 95.85 0.94
Fitzpatrick Minkah CB NJ 5 32 5 6010 188 4.51 3.81 35.7 39.5 130.41 2.26
McGraw Rico CB TN 4 144 18 6000 185 4.50 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

Montrell Custis

Custis is the lowest ranked member of the 2015 commitment class for Alabama, and personally, I think that's undeservedly so. Custis is a versatile player, playing outside corner, slot corner, and safety. He also has a number of highlights on special teams... Not as a returner like most high school stars, but as a gunner. Custis is an amazing tackler. He breaks down well in space, wraps up, and drives all the way through the tackle. His technique while tackling is something that many players make it to the NFL before developing, and I would love to know who his coach is. Watch here as he uses his arm as a tomahawk in an attempt to knock the ball out when chasing down a touchdown saving tackle: (he is the outside gunner on the far side) 

custis

While his 40-time is less than ideal at a 4.63, he seems to play faster than his numbers indicate. He looks pretty adept at zone coverage and switching between different receivers, but may not have the athletic ability to match up with outside receivers at the college level in man coverage. A 0.94 Z-score (if you missed what Z-scores and SPARQ are, here is my first article detailing that) shows Custis to only be a slightly above average athlete, and cornerback is one position in which a lower athleticism can't be ignored.

His best fit will most likely be at the "star" position. Matched up in the slot, Custis will be the first line of defense of the ever-increasing WR screen game that college football is turning into. This plays right into his strength of being one of the better tackling DBs I have watched. The slot position will also cover up any speed or length deficiencies, as he would rarely be asked to cover down the field. Excluding kick and punt returning abilities, his game reminds me of former Alabama DB, Javier Arenas. If you are concerned about Custis's speed, remember that Arenas ran a 4.60 forty yard dash upon entering the NFL.

Rico McGraw

This will be short, as I really do not have much to say. McGraw does not display any certain attributes that stand out, and also shows no real glaring weaknesses. At this point, he has been utilized as much as a receiver and a running back than he has on defense. He has good size and a solid body build, and has been clocked in the 40-yard dash as high as a 4.50.

As a corner, he has the body type and speed to excel as an outside corner, particularly in a press scheme. 

McGraw

Really, I don't have much to say about McGraw. He is versatile, and does his job, but does not do anything too spectacular. His skill set and running style actually are very reminiscent to how I felt about Christion Jones when he was coming out of high school.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

The third-highest rated member of the 2015 commitment class, the five star athlete has the size, talent, and athletic ability to excel at pretty much any position on the football field. Fitzpatrick has a myriad of highlight plays at running back, receiver, cornerback, safety, kick returner, special teams gunner, and even blocking a field goal. He plays the game with intensity and a fiery passion, and has an invigorating presence in a similar, intangible manner as Landon Collins does for Alabama.

As an offensive player, Fitzpatrick has uncanny balance and lower body strength, using his legs to catch himself from falling at just about any angle, and the ability to stop, start, and cut on a dime. When he jukes, he does this odd, Deion-Sanders-high-step-esque movement right before blazing past a would be tackler. It's not something I have really seen before. So whether it is a good technique or not is beyond me, but it sure looks cool. Saban will need to teach him how to hold the ball properly though, or fumbles could be an issue.

On defense, he is true playmaker. Most sites list him as a corner based on his size, but he is easily big enough to be a terrifying safety. Fitzpatrick tackles and hits with ferocity, showing highlights of everything from wrap-up-and-roll tackles, driving straight through a guy, and taking out the legs of a runner at high speeds. I also saw a few instances of him fighting through blocks to disrupt a screen.

fitz

The running back in this play is Kareem Walker, the 210-pound, top-rated running back in the 2016 cycle

As a coverage man, Fitzpatrick shows a nasty press at the line of scrimmage, and fluidity in his backpedaling and hips. He is just one of those human beings that can naturally move his body in ways that should defy physics. With his aggressiveness, I could see where double moves and penalties could be an issue, but those are both easily correctable.

Fitzpatrick comes in with the highest SPARQ score of Alabama's 2015 class, and the 4th highest since the 2013 class, behind only Derrick Henry, Tony Brown, and O.J. Howard. While his 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and powerball toss are all very impressive for someone his size, his 3.81 shuttle time is absolutely absurd. In fact, it was the second best shuttle time at Nike's "The Opening" camp this summer. You can see this translate directly into his game, watching him speed up and slow down to and from his top speed seamlessly.

Guys like Fitzpatrick really make me want to start breaking out my physics formulas just to get a sense for how impressive the human body can be sometimes, but I don't think the rest of you would appreciate a mass of numbers and equations sprawling down the page. So I will instead show you the videos of his junior highlights and mid-season senior highlights. If you have fifteen minutes to spare, I promise you will not be bored at even a single play.

hi

Other Prospects to Keep an Eye On

With 6 commitments projected to play defensive back already, it is unlikely Alabama picks up any others. However, watch out for five star cornerback Kendall Sheffield. The elite corner out of Texas is a favorite to commit to Texas A&M, with Alabama as his second place team. However, Bama did just steal Tony Brown out of Texas last year, and also just finished embarrassing A&M.

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you couldn't tell, I am pretty excited about Minkah Fitzpatrick. Let me know what you think in the comments, and also if you have any suggestions for things you would like me to include/exclude in my future articles. Lastly, here is the obligatory Tennessee hate for the week: 

tenn hate

Roll Tide to that.