With the loss of every starter in the entire secondary to graduation or the pros, Nick Saban has his work cut out for him in reshaping and retooling the back half of the defense. Throw in the fact that a base defense in today’s era of spread offenses requires a 5th defensive back, and we have a whole slew of new faces to get used to on our television screens very soon.
The light and slight speedster from New Jersey went from a lowly-rated track athlete to a two year starter in his final two season for Alabama, and was as good of a shut-down corner on the left side of the field as anyone could ever ask for.
The former walk-on pushed his way into the starting line-up as a senior and never looked back, having a stellar season while leading the team in pass breakups. His gritty play-style and press coverage on an island all season will absolutely be missed.
Crazy Tony never quite lived up to his hype as a 5-star freshman, but his shirtless warmups and special teams hits were the stuff of legends over the last four years. Though inconsistent, he was also a consistent role player over his career and was pretty much a starter last year in the 3rd corner spot when the team wasn’t rolling with 3 safeties for the nickel defense instead.
The junior, #5, has consistently been one of the first subs in blowout games over the last two years, mostly at STAR, but sometimes as an outside corner as well. He replaced Tony Brown in the second half of the championship game after Brown was burned for a long touchdown, and he performed admirably.
Another junior, Jared Mayden sports the #21 jersey, and has been seen in mop-up duty on occasion. He hasn’t been spotted as often as Carter in the past, but he’s drawn good reviews and has the size and speed to be an effective outside corner.
Wearing #7, Diggs started out as a wide receiver his freshman year before swapping to defense last year. He actually started the season against Florida State at right corner, but wasn’t comfortable yet in his new position and was replaced by Levi Wallace in the 2nd quarter. With a full year of defensive experience under his belt, Diggs will be looking to win his job back.
Another member of the 2016 cornerback recruiting class, #13 Nigel Knott is one of the most athletic beings I’ve ever tracked in high school, running a sub 4.4 forty and nearly a 50” vertical jump. Despite that unparalleled athleticism, Knott took a redshirt his first year to put on some weight (he was under 170 pounds when joining the Tide) and to work on his technique. Unlike the other 3, he’s still a total unknown, as he never touched the field last year. Many fans are quite excited about him, but it remains to be seen if he can live up to his athletic potential.
McDonald, #26, was a favorite of mine in last year’s recruiting class. He redshirted in year one, but I love his energy and aggressive play style that could make him an exceptional playmaker, even if he doesn’t have the size/length/speed of a prototype outside corner.
Smith was once a starter for LSU as a freshman, but ended up leaving and going to a junior college and is now joining Alabama and taking the #8 jersey. At 6’1” 198, he’s a big, rangey corner with the speed and ball skills to be a major difference maker on the outside. He’s already a junior, so Smith is coming into the program with the expectation of competing immediately for a starting job.
The Pecking Order
This is purely my prediction, not a fact. Feel free to flame away in the comments. I may or may not respond.
Left Corner: Saivion Smith, Jared Mayden
Right Corner: Trevon Diggs, Nigel Knott
STAR: Shyheim Carter, Kyriq McDonald
This battle is really wide open. I think that Carter is the closest you’ll get to a lock to be starter, and past that, my confidence level is pretty low in any other prediction. I could just as likely see Carter sliding to right corner while McDonald takes over STAR while Diggs goes for two years in a row on the bench.
Or maybe Nigel Knott finally figures out his potential and doesn’t let the newcomer Saivion Smith take over on the outside. But, despite all the options, I’m going to predict that Smith, Diggs, and Carter end up your top three.