Alabama had a pair of strong outside cornerbacks last season in Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett, and a versatile nickelback (star) in Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tony Brown stepped up when Fitzpatrick moved to safety, too. With how much time the defense spends in its nickel package, the star position is a crucial one.
Humphrey is gone, to Baltimore and the NFL; but the cornerbacks should be strong against. Averett and Brown both return. Fitzpatrick does as well, though his primary spot should be at safety. The Tide also bring back a number of reserves from last year, plus one new guy.
The Returning Starters
Anthony Averett: It took until his fourth season on campus to have a shot at real playing time; but once the opportunity presented itself, Averett seized it. As a redshirt junior, he took over the spot vacated by Cyrus Jones and acquitted himself well, turning in several excellent performances, including one against Mississippi State.
Averett racked up 48 tackles and had a team-leading 8 pass break-ups. He was arguably a more consistent lockdown corner than Humphrey was last season, and he’ll get the chance to prove himself once more as the top outside corner this year.
Tony Brown: The tantalizing Tony Brown has had an up and down career thus far. The former five star was pressed into early action as a freshman and looked promising. However, he spent time in Nick Saban’s doghouse the following year and served a four game suspension to start 2016.
Brown looks to have righted things, however. After serving that suspension, he came back with a force and eventually became the starter at star after Minkah Fitzpatrick was shifted to safety to replace the injured Eddie Jackson. Brown has spent most of the offseason as the star, though Fitzpatrick has spent some time there when the team is in its nickel package.
The Presumptive Starter
Trevon Diggs: It appears that Diggs will be the starter outside opposite Anthony Averett. After starting out as a defensive back in the spring, he spent most of 2016 on the offensive side at wide receiver, though he did see some snaps in the secondary as well.
The departure of Marlon Humphrey to the NFL left Alabama searching for a new starter, and the staff converted Diggs back to defense. He was given first crack at the job and showed enough to earn the start at A-Day. Diggs struggled, giving up several long passes; but his athleticism was evident. He made enough strides over the summer to stay with the first team during fall camp, and he’s poised to make his first start against Florida State.
The Returning Reserves
Levi Wallace: The former walk-on earned a scholarship just before the 2016 season began; and, after two seasons without seeing action, he made his way on to the field as a significant reserve that year. Barring injuries, Wallace isn’t likely to start this season; but the senior cornerback is a veteran presence in the two-deep and provides much-needed depth.
Shyheim Carter: The first of three cornerbacks from the Class of 2016 (still remaining on the team), Carter forced his way on to the field as a true freshman. He saw the field against USC and Western Kentucky in garbage time before getting some real action late against Ole Miss after several defensive backs were injured.
Carter has been working at star for much of the offseason, though he did play some outside corner at A-Day. At the worst, Carter should be an important member of the two deep.
Jared Mayden: Another of the cornerbacks from the Class of 2016, Mayden has spent time at throughout the secondary, playing star, outside corner, and safety (he was also featured in the safety preview). He appeared in four games as a freshman in mop-up duty. A hip injury required offseason surgery, but he has bounced back and is trying to cement himself in the two deep. Mayden has gotten some work at outside corner in fall camp
Nigel Knott: Knott is the other cornerback from the Class of 2016; but, unlike Carter and Mayden, he redshirted his first year. He’s been playing outside corner, where he had several nice plays at A-Day; and it appears he’s battling with Mayden for a second string spot.
Kyriq McDonald: The three star cornerback from Madison, Alabama enrolled early and made the most of his time. Slotted to play the star, McDonald made some plays during A-Day, including picking off fellow true freshman Mac Jones. It remains to be seen exactly what role he’ll have, but he should help provide depth and special teams play.
Projected Depth Chart
Right Corner: Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace
Left Corner: Trevon Diggs, Jared Mayden, Nigel Knott
Star: Tony Brown, Shyheim Carter, Kyriq McDonald