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Meet the New Guys: Secondary

Featuring your new SPARQ King.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The end is finally here. After reviewing the offensive backfieldreceiversoffensive linedefensive line, and linebackers, I will wrap up the Meet the New Guys series this week by focusing solely on the new additions to the secondary. As usual, I will be speaking freely about SPARQ and Z-scores, so if you don't know what those are, stop reading right now and click this link.

Going into National Signing Day week this year, Alabama had all of one commitment: three star athlete Shawn Jennings. Fortunately, SPARQ-champion Nigel Knott set off a row of dominoes, and soon after, Shyheim Carter, Jared Mayden, and Aaron Robinson all committed to play for the Tide, taking the position from a weakness to a strength in the class of 2016.

With Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington both graduating, the safety position for the Crimson Tide is lacking depth. The same could be said of the cornerbacks, as the graduation of Cyrus Jones leaves only Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick as returning starters.

Shawn Jennings - Safety/Linebacker

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
3 591 37 6010 215 4.58 N/A 38 N/A N/A N/A

At around 220 pounds, the 19th ranked player from the state of Alabama is actually listed as a linebacker on Alabama's spring roster. Shawn Jennings played safety, corner, quarterback, and receiver at different points for his high school, and was effective at all of it. Though he didn't test with Nike, he's reported to run as low as a 4.58 forty (good enough for his position) and an outstanding 38 inch vertical.


He is an exceptional tackler in the mold of former Tide safeties Mark Barron and Landon Collins. While not as athletically gifted as those two, he is a forceful hitter that should excel in that safety/linebacker hybrid role. He's also an impressive leaper that has the ability to high point the ball over opposing players (whether he's on defense or offense). He also seems to be a heady player that thrives in zone coverage.


On the other hand, Jennings will likely never be a good enough quick-twitch athlete to be effective covering receivers in man coverage. He doesn't have the pure speed to play in the secondary as a base player, but is also too small to be a true linebacker. These 'tweener types often struggle to find a home outside of situational roles. He also missed most of his senior season due to a knee injury, and is still recovering, sitting out of spring practices for the Crimson Tide.


In the same way Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones have both been recruited by Saban as safeties, you can see he's looking for a certain type of player. He wants these big safeties to double as linebackers in dime packages to be able to better keep up with the hurry-up offenses of today's football. However, with Jennings' injury, limited athleticism, and depth in front of him, I think he will redshirt in 2016.

Aaron Robinson - Cornerback

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
3 646 57 6010 175 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Aaron Robinson was perhaps the biggest surprise of National Signing Day. There had been absolutely no connections publicized between the Tide and him, and his commitment seemed to come from nowhere. Though he did not participate in Nike's camps, Robinson definitely has the desired length of a Nick Saban cornerback at 6'1"


Robinson's forte is a press-and-bail coverage scheme. He jams the receiver efficiently at the line of scrimmage, and does a great job of keeping up on deep routes. He's a pure boundary corner that is at his best when defending routes down the sideline, and has the length and striding speed to do it. He's also a willing tackler in run support


Though willing, he is not actually very great at tackling. At only 175 pounds, he will be overpowered quite often in college when trying to make tackles if he doesn't utilize perfect technique. He also does not display good lateral agility, which will limit his effectiveness in man coverage and positional versatility.


As stated earlier, Robinson will be limited to an outside corner position (which is not a bad thing), and Marlon Humphrey has one of those spots locked down for at least another year. With his lack of tackling prowess, he also probably won't be a factor on special teams. As such, I expect him to redshirt this season.

Shyheim Carter - Athlete

National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
71 9 6000 177 4.42 4.13 33.1 38 113.97 1.64

Though most expect him to be a cornerback, Shyheim Carter spent most of his high school career as a quarterback and running back. He was one of the Tide's earliest commitments, but decommitted last summer before reaffirming his pledge on National Signing Day over Ole Miss.

Sporting a Z-score of 1.62, Carter is an exceptional athlete. His 4.42 forty displays elite speed, and his 20-yard shuttle and powerball toss are both great for a defensive back.


Like Minkah Fitzpatrick the year before, Carter is playmaker. He has a nose for the ball, and even more of a nose for taking said ball into the end zone. His pure athleticism makes man coverage a breeze, as he is both faster and quicker than anyone on the field. To quote "when you see Carter play, you see a blur..."

He has great hands and body control in the air, and is surprisingly good at winning jump balls, despite his smaller size. He's also a surprisingly powerful tackler.


He's mostly played on offense to this point. He'll likely have to deal with a huge learning curve in order to acclimate himself to playing defense for Nick Saban, and has little-to-no experience in zone coverage. He's also a bit on the small side, and will be one of the smallest scholarship players on Alabama's defense this year.


It's always difficult to project an offensive player onto defense. Carter has the athletic versatility to play any position in the secondary, be it safety, corner, or even the star position. He also could be a factor on special teams as both a gunner and a returner. While Carter possibly has the most potential of the group, I also think he redshirts this year in order to better learn to play defense.

Nigel Knott - Cornerback

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 62 7 5110 174 4.38 3.94 46.5 39.5 147.96 2.93

The athletic freak from Mississippi almost single-handedly broke my spreadsheet for calculating Z-scores. He topped Derrick Henry's SPARQ score by a full 6 points, and O.J. Howard's Z-score by 0.13 points (both of which are records for Alabama recruits). Not only does he display elite speed, agility, and strength with his forty, shuttle, and powerball, he jumped a freakish 46.5 inches into the air. That's well above what most NBA basketball players can do. [Ed. NOTE: 46.5 inches vertical leap is five inches higher than the top performers at last month's NFL Combine]


Obviously, his athleticism. You can't teach that kind of speed and explosiveness, and Knott will instantly be the most athletic player on the roster (and likely in all of college football). He can keep up with anyone in coverage, and has the versatility to play safety or corner. His leaping ability really shows in his play, and he can out-jump anyone for the ball. He's actually a powerful and technical tackler despite his size, and is an exceptional gunner on special teams.


Like Carter, Knott has not specialized in any certain position, and is more of a football player than a defensive back. He does not have great ball skills or hands either. Despite his athleticism, he also seems to be a bit lost when he has the ball in his hands, and typically just relies on outrunning everyone to the sidelines. He struggles in zone coverage, and has little experience in jamming receivers and press coverage.


With his prowess as a gunner, I don't see any way that Knott does not end up with a role on special teams this year. He may also garner some blowout play time in the secondary. Look for him to push for a role similar to that held by Tony Brown last year.

Jared Mayden - Cornerback

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 147 13 6010 198 4.47 4.11 35.6 38.5 120.78 1.90

For whatever reason, Mayden is ranked much lower than both Knott and Carter, though I'll go on record here and say I believe he should have been the highest ranked of the group. Not only is he an elite athlete across the board as evidenced by his outstanding 1.90 Z-score (though not on Knott's freakish level), but he's easily the most technical and experienced of the group. Plus his 6'1" 200 pound frame is what Nick Saban loves in cornerbacks


Mayden's pure coverage skills are amazing to watch. Receivers are unable to get any separation from him on shorter routes and moves, and he also has the length and speed to close any distances on long balls. His footwork is close to perfect, and he changes directions much better than you'd expect of someone his size.


He is not the best tackler despite his size. He also has an odd and stiff running style with his upper body that could limit his speed at the next level, where any difference in technique is the difference in making an interception and getting burned for a touchdown. Lastly, he does not have the best hands or ball skills with the ball in the air.


I think Mayden is good enough to establish himself as key depth for the Crimson Tide's secondary. Though he likely won't break into a starting position as a freshman, I think he will find some time as the season proceeds.