In the Saban era, one of Alabama's Achilles heels' has been pass coverage. Even though a lot of secondary talent has come into Tuscaloosa, the team has been vulnerable over the top the past couple of years. Recently, the Crimson Tide has reloaded with talent at the cornerback position. Players like Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick prove that recruiting at this position works wonders.
In Jones, Alabama loses one of the ore versatile defenders on the team. Even though he may have never had the size that scouts look for, he always played angry and really solidified himself as a leader during the 2015-2016 season. He was one of the better players in one-on-one coverage last season, and made plays that changed the outcome of many games. His speed allowed him to keep up with just about any receiver he matched up against. The Tide will miss not only his skill in coverage, but returning punts as well.
Sylve had an interesting career. He was never really able to break out and become a regular starter for Alabama. At the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, he started against West Virginia, but then Duke Williams and Sammie Coates in the Iron Bowl when he came in as a sub. He never got that much playing time, but he does possess a lot of speed and acceleration.. One of his better moments came in that same season, when he was able to at least limit some of the open spaces for
Marlon Humphrey improved as the year went on last year, making an impact in multiple games late in the schedule. He has the height to be one of the better corners in the country. He has a tendency to get beat on deep routes every now and then, but rarely does he just completely mess up. He has the chance to be one of the best players on the defense next year and could end up on many All-American lists at the end of the year. Humphrey had three interceptions and eight pass breakups during his redshirt freshman season.
One of the better freshman last year, Fitzpatrick had three touchdowns on defense and special teams. He took advantage of mistakes from quarterbacks last year to record two interceptions, both of which went for touchdowns (granted both of them were awful throws by Kyle Allen). Fitzpatrick should be the starter for Alabama opposite Humphrey. It will be interesting to see how he performs now that teams know what he can do in coverage.
Brown is quite possibly the biggest question mark on the entire Alabama roster. Facing suspensions, no one is really sure what his role is going to be this season. The talent is there. It is all about getting his head right. He has not been able to do that thus far, but maybe things will turn around. If they do, he could make an impact at the star position. Brown played corner as a freshman, but has been working with safeties during spring practice.
Smith is a veteran at the position entering his senior year. He has been a reserve for most of his career, but has a chance to compete for a start at the star position come fall. Smith contributed mostly on special teams last year, but saw action at the cornerback position in multiple games for the Tide. Experience and age could help Smith get more playing time this year.
Sheffield is one of the more talented guys at this position. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and ranked #20 on 247's national composite ranking. Standing at 6-0, he has enough size to cover all receivers. He has a chance to contend for playing time come fall.
Mostly a special teams contributor, Averett should see the same role come this season. He is one of the older players at the position and mostly relies on speed to make a couple tackles on special teams. There is a chance he gets an expanded role this season, but that is fairly unlikely.
[Ed. NOTE: For a look at the incoming freshmen, check out Meet the New Guys: Secondary]
Humphrey and Fitzpatrick should take the two starting corner spots, considering both of them started last year. At the star position, I expect Sheffield to swoop in and get the start considering Brown's status is highly uncertain and Smith has not been able to break out. Barring a complete fallout, Humphrey and Fitzpatrick have the opportunity to be one of the better cornerback duos in the country. Both were five-star recruits out of high school, and both have already shown they can make plays.
Keep an eye on Kendall Sheffield
Even though there is a lot of skill already at the position, Sheffield is someone who has enough talent to leapfrog those in front of him. I even think he has a chance to battle Fitzpatrick (though experience will help Fitzpatrick win the job) for the starting position at the wide corner. He has received a lot of praise from former players including Cyrus Jones who recently told reporters to keep an eye on him.
In addition to the depth they already have, Alabama added multiple recruits at the corner position, including Nigel Knott and Shyheim Carter. The team signed four cornerbacks, with three of those being four-star recruits. Alabama has an interesting battle ahead of them, as four five-star recruits will try for starting positions. Expect the Crimson Tide to be better than ever at Corner.