This recruiting class was a little smaller than usual, so instead of 4-5 players in every position group article like last year, I’m ending up doing about 2 per article. It’s a little disappointing, but with real life being as busy as it’s been for me lately, doing 50% less studying before writing these is a bit of a godsend.
Today, we’re talking defensive line. Now, with the hybrid and nickel fronts of the modern defenses that Saban has begun to deploy, there’s a thin distinction between defensive linemen and outside linebackers. So, for the purposes of this article, I’m only considering the interior linemen: those that would be base in a base 3-4 defense. If you want to learn more about a base defense, the scheme, and the nomenclature associated with it, check out this article Erik wrote last offseason.
Usually, I’d take a paragraph here to remind you of SPARQ metrics, but neither of our two featured players today participated in the combines to be tested, so there’s really no point. If you’re interested in learning about a method of quantifying a player’s pure athleticism, check out this link.
Of all the position groups, I think this one was what miffed Saban the most when Bobby Brown spurned the Tide at the last minute on National Signing Day, leaving Alabama with only two linemen in the class, despite an already thin depth chart there. As such, it is even more imperative that these two step up to the challenge sooner rather than later.
Listed as a defensive tackle, Barmore spent more time as a 5-tech defensive end than actually at the nose. He’s a big, rangey guy at 6’5” 290, and is built similarly to former Tide star Jarran Reed, with a little less bulk on him. If the coaches plan on keeping him as an end and not a nose tackle, than I expect he’ll continue to play at around the 290 range. If he does move to the nose, then I think he could definitely add 15 more pounds to his frame and still carry it well.
There’s a lot to like about Barmore. Despite being the biggest person on the field, he’s nearly always the quickest off the snap too. He possesses exceptional initial explosiveness that I expect would translate to a fairly impressive SPARQ score had he participated in a combine. It’s not often you see a nearly 300-pound man that quick out of his stance.
As such, he is often into the backfield before the offensive lineman ever even has time to engage him in a block. And the ball-carrier at the time usually feels the ramifications in the form of a human freight train hitting him in the sternum. Barmore comes full speed ahead, and he hits hard.
If the offensive lineman does manage to get in the way, Barmore can easily transfer that explosiveness into the chest of the lineman—not with a push or drive, but more of a striking hit that never engages— and then he can sidestep the reeling blocker to slip past him. He’s also quite adept with a swim move to keep linemen from ever even getting their hands on him.
He spent most of his high school time in a 1-gap scheme. Generally, Alabama has used a mostly 2-gap scheme for defensive linemen under Nick Saban, though Jeremy Pruitt did utilize the more aggressive 1-gap defense more often than his predecessors. How Lupoi runs his defense remains to be seen. Regardless, Barmore has little experience having to take on a blocker straight up and then stack and shed him to contain a ball-carrier.
He also has little experience having to take on a down-blocking guard or center and holding his own against a double team.
He’s an explosive, aggressive player, but will he be able to do the dirty work in the trenches and become a more well-rounded player than just a pin-the-ears-back-and-go kind of guy?
While I don’t expect a starting role or even a significant rotational role, I also don’t think Barmore will be completely kept off the field. I think he has a fairly similar freshman year to that of Raekwon Davis two seasons ago: he’s one of the first subs to come in during blowouts, and by later in the year, he’ll be one of the first guys in if injury strikes. He’ll make some splash plays, then you won’t see him again for a game or two.
Where Barmore is rangey, Wynn is stout and powerful. He’s listed as 280, but I believe he played around 300 pounds for much of his senior season, and definitely looked to be over 300 during the Under Armour All-American game in January. He’s yet another product in the long line of highly-trained football players to come from IMG Academy in Florida.
Wynn, on the other hand, is absolutely a natural 2-gap player. He excels at assignment-football, and can take on a blocker and hold his ground while patiently waiting for the ball carrier to make his move before he sheds the block to cut off a hole. He’s a stout player with a low center of gravity, and can really hold his own against a double team or bull rush his way straight through a single blocker.
He’s a technician with his hand usage. Rather than just blindly running into or around the blockers like many high school defensive linemen, Wynn actively hand-fights the whole time, swatting away offensive linemen trying to get their hands inside his shoulder pads while also repeatedly shoving them to keep them off balance. He can swim and rip to one side or the other of an offensive lineman with an easy ferocity that often sends the lineman sprawling to the side.
To continue on the theme of Wynn being nearly the opposite of everything I said about Barmore, his biggest issue is his speed. He’s fairly slow off the snap, and never really builds up more speed, either. He’s a plodder, not an attacker. A few years ago, he’d have been the ideal defensive lineman for an Alabama defense. But with the gradual shift due to the nature of college offenses, his style of play has seen its value somewhat diminished.
He’s also not a forceful tackler, instead relying more on arm tackles and just hanging on to a ball carrier until they fall, rather than forcefully taking them to the ground. While high school backs rarely broke his grip, SEC runners may force more missed tackles out of him.
Like Barmore, I think Wynn gets playing time as a freshman due to the lack of depth along the defensive line. It may not be much, but I do think he’ll quickly earn the trust of the coaches not to screw up any assignments, and he may even be able to crack some playing time in real game moments if an opposing offense goes into short-yardage mode.
It’s always hard to really get excited about interior defensive line prospects, but both of these guys have a lot of potential to become major contributors down the line. Wynn is a solid, safe player who could be a multi-year starter that never really wows you, but also does a lot of dirty work in shifting the game to Alabama’s advantage to give others in the front 7 the opportunity to get the glory stats.
Barmore is a little less refined, but has the potential to be a devastating interior pass rusher with a knack for making huge plays.
They may not have the numbers that Saban wanted, but these two will likely be able to make up for quantity with quality.