The second addition to RollBamaRoll.com's "Meet the New Guys" series will look specifically at the incoming freshman of the 2015 recruiting class who will be playing either cornerback or safety at Alabama. Last week, I broke down each of the players who would be in the front seven on defense, and gave my opinion on how likely they would be to see the field next fall.
I will mention SPARQ and Z-Scores occasionally in this article. Basically, those are numbers given to quantify a player's athleticism into a number that can be compared to others. Here is an older article explaining more of the mechanics that go into those calculations.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the crown jewels of the 2015 recruiting class. The 5-star cornerback is considered the 32nd best player in the nation and the 5th best at his position. He is from the state of New Jersey, so his signing doubles as Nick Saban marking his expanding territory across the United States.
Fitzpatrick is a true playmaker. He has spent time at corner, safety, wide receiver, running back, and is a dynamic kick returner. His movement is cat-like and as fluid as quicksilver, and he has great size to go along with that. He recorded a solid 4.5 second 40-yard dash, but his most impressive test was his 20-yard shuttle time. He ran a 3.81, which is ungodly fast. His ability to accelerate from rest is better than any player currently on Alabama's roster. Fitzpatrick's SPARQ score is an insane 130.41. He is the most athletic player of Alabama's 2015 class and is more athletic than 99.14% of ALL college athletes.
His technique as a cover corner is a bit unrefined, but has exceptional ball skills and is a ferocious tackler. He is an electrifying player with the ball in his hands too. Fitzpatrick is a reminiscent athlete to former LSU star Patrick Peterson.
The Prediction: Fitzpatrick will be a key gunner on special teams, both kicks and punts. He will be listed as a back-up kick returner. He will also begin to get some minimal playing time in the secondary by the end of the season.
Kendall Sheffield was one of the later commitments of the 2015 class. The five-star corner pledged to the Tide over his hometown favorite of Texas A&M during the Under Armour All-game in January. He is the 18th ranked player in the nation, and the third best cornerback in the nation.
Sheffield is a track star and boasts blazing speed, with forty-yard dash times ranging from a 4.48 to as low as a 4.36. With a 119.58 SPARQ score, he is the second most athletic player in Alabama's 2015 class behind Fitzpatrick. He also recorded a 41-inch vertical jump. With that speed and jumping ability, deep throws on his side of the field may not be as effective as they currently are against Alabama.
Sheffield is an elite man-cover corner with the hips and smarts to stay in the pocket of his wide receiver and completely erase him from the opposing offense. However, his limited size has led to concerns about his tackling ability. While serviceable, Sheffield will likely never be very strong in the running game.
The Prediction: Redshirts in 2015 as the rest of us Alabama fans drool over his talent.
Ronnie Harrison is just outside of the top 200 players of 2015, and is considered the 13th best safety. At 6'3", Harrison is a tall, rangy player. He is well built, and often listed as heavy as 220 pounds by some sites. Some recruiting services even consider him a linebacker at the next level. Harrison is already enrolled at Alabama.
His forty-yard dash time has been recorded anywhere from a 4.46 to a 4.86. He also ran a 4.72 20-yard shuttle, which is pretty awful for a defensive back. Harrison only recorded a 72.33 SPARQ score, making him actually below average for a defensive back.
Fortunately, Harrison is known both for his unique size and his leadership/mental ability. He is a full time starter at quarterback for his high school team, and his coaches have raved about his intangibles and attention to details for years. He is a powerful, reliable, and technical tackler, as one would expect of someone his size. He naturally projects as a strong safety, but I personally think he is better suited as an outside cornerback. He is extremely adept at press coverage and can disrupt and throw receivers off of their routes without holding or raking in interference penalties.
The Prediction: Redshirts in 2015
Shawn Burgess-Becker is one of the longer standing commitments with the Crimson Tide. He is the 118th ranked player in the nation and the 8th ranked athlete, though most project him to play safety. Burgess-Becker is close friends with fellow signee Calvin Ridley, and the two were considered by most to be a "package deal" in the recruiting season. Burgess-Becker is entertaining and has shown a lot of personality in most of his interviews. He was a vocal recruiter for the Tide last fall.
He suffered a bad knee injury last spring, forcing him to miss all of the usual high school combines. As such, pretty much no athletic data exists for him.
Burgess-Becker is a prototypical safety for Nick Saban in the Landon Collins/Mark Barron mold. He is thickly built and is an extremely physical player. He lives for the big, highlight hit and also does a great job at bodying out receivers for jump balls. He is adequate, but not great at coverage, and would be better suited as an in-the-box strong safety than playing deep coverage.
The Prediction: Gets some playing time on special teams and rotates in at safety in blowouts.
Thompson is a 4-star safety and is the 40th ranked player in the nation. He is considered to be the second best safety in the 2015 cycle. He is already enrolled at the University of Alabama and will participate in spring training.
Thompson only ran a 4.77 forty-yard dash, but managed an elite 3.98 20-yard shuttle, accentuating his explosive acceleration. He recorded a 107.40 SPARQ score, meaning he is more athletic than 83% of all college athletes, despite his weak 40-yard dash time.
He is a rangy ball hawk in the mold of former Alabama safety and 1st round NFL draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Thompson was a turnover machine in high school, and possesses phenomenal ball skills and an aggressive playing style. He shows a strong affinity for jumping routes and going for interceptions. He has a slight frame, and as such is not the best of tacklers. He will need to bulk up some in the weight room before becoming a contributor to the Alabama defense, but his talent as a deep cover safety is undeniable.
The Prediction: Rotates in at safety on some passing downs, gathering more and more playing time by the end of the year.
The cornerbacks at Alabama have had a rough couple of years, but the duo of five star additions this year should bolster that position for years to come. The safeties are suddenly thin with the departure of Landon Collins, Nick Perry, and Jarrick Williams, but the three new freshman look poised to shore up the depth at that position too. All in all, these players likely have a better chance of garnering playing time than the freshmen at other positions.
Special thanks to the guys at hudl.com for providing the player cards and images/links.