Alabama is a program known for transforming five-star prospects into legitimate NFL first-rounders. The list of blue-chip recruits Nick Saban has molded into successful pro stars is long and illustrious.
But a lesser known strength of the preeminent coach in the college game is the ability of Saban and his staff to take recruits who were middling (or worse) in high school and develop them into draft picks who go on to solid careers in the league. The most recent such project was Eddie Jackson, a prep player who was lightly-regarded until Alabama offered him, and at Alabama he became one of the most explosive defensive backs in the conference before graduating to the pro ranks. Kareem Jackson, Robert Lester, James Carpenter…none were not on the NFL radar coming out of high school, but after their careers at Alabama, were able to work their way onto NFL rosters.
Senior corner Anthony Averett also fits that mold. Coming out of high school, he wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list…in fact, he was rated as both a safety and had the dubious distinction of being an “athlete,” partially because of the role he played in high school and because his skill set as a track-and-field specialist gave him diverse capabilities. The product of Woodbury, N.J.’s Woodbury High School showed well in high school footage and was considered a four-star recruit, but was viewed as more of a project than many powerhouse programs wanted to adopt.
Saban, however, saw something in Averett, and after the young defensive back waited his turn for playing time, he emerged as a starter in his junior year. From there, his career was a moonshot, and he became the Tide’s steady lockdown corner during the most recent championship run. In a defensive backfield that lacked depth at the corner position, Averett became a known commodity, and an excellent one at that.
The High School Years
Averett’s speed and athletic ability were evident in his pedigree, as he was an outstanding track-and-field athlete at Woodbury. He ran a 10.6 in the 100-meter and 6.46 in the 55-meter, demonstrating his raw, natural speed. But he wasn’t just a burner: Averett also proved himself an agile athlete as the state of New Jersey’s top long jumper (his 25-foot, two-inch leap was the longest prep distance in the country in 2013) and an accomplished high jumper (he recorded a mark of 6-feet, four-inches as a senior…exceeding his own height by four inches).
But the young track star wasn’t a one-trick-pony by any stretch, as he was the star of the Woodbury defense throughout his playing career. In 2011 as a junior, he posted 52 tackles and three interceptions. As a senior in 2012, he recorded 106 tackles, 12 passes broken up, and five interceptions, playing mostly at safety. Following his senior campaign, he was named first-team All-State in New Jersey, and he was considered the 115th best prospect overall and 14th best safety in the class of 2013. He rated 211th overall in the ESPN 300 as the nation’s 22nd best athlete. Rivals and Scout both listed him as the number 23 corner available in the class, and he was 273rd in the 247 Composite as a consensus four-star recruit. He was recruited by Penn State, Iowa, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
(Interesting fact: If Averett makes an NFL roster, he won’t be the first in his family to do so. He is the nephew of former University of Miami and Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.)
The College Years
Upon arriving at Alabama in 2013, the speedy athlete immediately took a redshirt. Such has not been unusual for talented defensive backs at the Capstone during the Saban Era, as the glut of skill players at the position created a bottleneck for playing time. Always the team player, however, Averett played his role and got on his grind, earning small bits of playing time, participating as a special teamer, and learning Saban’s complex coverage schemes and tactics.
He saw the field as a redshirt freshman in 2014, but playing time was limited to the game against Western Carolina (in which he recorded no stats). However, 2015 saw his role expand, as he juggled playing time on special teams and in the defensive back rotation. That year, he played in games against Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Monroe, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Charleston Southern, Michigan State. In those six games, he recorded two tackles (both on special teams). However, it was clear that Averett’s work ethic and ability had won him the attention of his head coach, as Saban spoke fondly of the young defensive back’s effort on the practice field and in the film room.
Given Saban’s praise, it was little surprise that Averett came off the bench in the opener against USC during his junior season at Alabama and locked down his role as the starting corner opposite established starter Cyrus Jones. With teams afraid to throw at Jones, Averett was called upon to step up, and he performed admirably. The first-time starter had a stellar coming out effort in 2016, recording 48 tackles (39 of them solo), a sack, three tackles for loss, eight passes broken up, and two forced fumbles. He was so efficient that he forced an incompletion on almost a quarter of passes thrown in his direction (23.2 percent, to be exact.)
In that first game against the Trojans, Averett went on to lead the team with eight tackles, and he was part of a performance by the secondary that limited USC to a mere 130 yards of passing offense, earning himself Defensive Player of the Week honors from the coaching staff. He got the first start of his career the following week against Western Kentucky, and went on to play in all 15 games of the ’16 season. While Jones may have been considered the elder statesman of the Bama backfield, Averett proved himself a threat as the other half of a stellar tandem of defensive backs.
With Jones moving on after the 2016 season, Averett became the Tide’s most established corner for the 2017 season. He was a steadying force as an early season revolving-door of personnel at the opposite corner slot sorted itself out, with Trevon Diggs, Levi Wallace, and several underclassmen settling into their proper roles in the backfield. Averett had a fantastic season as a senior that culminated in the Tide’s most recent national championship, as he recorded 48 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, eight passes defended, eight passes broken up, and an interception. While somewhat limited due to a freak injury to his ankle while getting off the bus, the corner was credited with two tackles against Clemson. In the game against Georgia, he was far more active, picking up six tackles, two tackles for a loss, a pass broken up, and a critical sack.
The 6-0, 183-pound Averett may not be the biggest corner on the block in this year’s NFL Draft, but he has other skills that somewhat mitigate anything he may lack in terms of size. Averett definitely has the speed necessary to play corner in The League, as his official time is 4.43 in the 40 (though he was unofficially clocked at a blistering 4.34 in his time at Alabama). Averett is not just a burner, however. He has studied his craft under the college game’s best defensive back tutors, and as a result, he displays excellent footwork, smooth hip transitions, great instincts, explosive vertical leaping ability, and a solid understanding of fundamentals.
Among Averett’s strengths are his ability in press coverage (which is used a great deal in pro defenses), his ability to maintain contact with receivers downfield, and burning speed which keeps him on the hips of even the fastest wide receivers. He has good luck on 50/50 balls and is aggressive in seeking out opportunities for explosive plays. Though he is known for his press ability, he has also performed well in a variety of zone coverages, which can only help him in the estimation of pro scouts.
Averett is not without his perceived liabilities, however. While his ability to remain in contact with receivers down field is a good thing, he’s sometimes accused of being too physical and aggressive in contact. While he usually sticks with receivers closely, he has trouble adjusting when receivers break off their routes when QBs scramble, something which he demonstrated at times during his career at Alabama against elite passing teams and explosive receivers.
Averett is considered the 8th best corner available in the NFL Draft by walterfootball.com, while nfldraftscout.com has him as the second-ranked corner available. Todd McShay of ESPN has him as the seventh-best corner in the Draft field, while Mel Kiper rated him as the number-two corner prospect this cycle.
Averett is expected to miss on the first round, but he may not be on the board much longer in a best-case scenario. The consensus is that he will be a potential second round pick, though he could also fall to the third round under the right circumstances. Fortunately, there is a demand for corner talent, particularly in the NFC South, where both the Falcons and Saints have needs that must be addressed during the Draft. Another potential home could be found with the Titans, who are in the market to beef up a secondary that has been less than stellar of late.