Though Alabama deals with roster attrition every year between seasons, losing the top 6 defensive backs from the 2017 depth chart to graduation and the NFL Draft is a massive blow to one position group. While there are already a group of talented players waiting in the wings to take over, there’s also a lot of room for a freshman to carve out a role for himself in year 1.
With the NFL combine still in the minds of many, there’s always a lot of discussion on how much emphasis to place on a player’s “measureables” when trying to scout them for the next level of football. Personally, I love numbers. But no number tells a full story without being taken in it’s proper context.
As for the measureables, though, I use SPARQ. It’s a Nike creation where high schoolers participate in combines, then Nike uses a formula to combine 5 different variables to create a metric, or a SPARQ score. A few years ago, I took that a step further and normalized SPARQ scores for each position using standard deviations to get a Z-score.
One of the local recruits hailing from Mobile, AL, Jalyn Armour-Davis is a speedster who plays every defensive back position as well as receiver. He didn’t post any testing numbers with Nike, so I have no SPARQ for him. That said, I do know the he is FAST.
Armour-Davis has a lot of plays showcasing his ability as a ball-carrier and receiver, but as he’s slated to be a defensive back, I won’t focus on that other than to say he’s lightning fast and can slip through holes before you could ever see them. However, he’s not to great at forcing missed tackles, whether through strength or elusiveness.
As a defensive back, his time at receiver has given him excellent ball skills. He’s a ballhawk, for all the cliche uses of the word. His hands are good enough to wrestle it out of a receiver’s grasp in the air, and he excels at highpointing the ball for an interception or break-up.
In coverage, he’s got very fluid hips and can change direction effortlessly to keep the receiver in front of him. With his speed and balance, he is adept at staying right on top of his receiver in man coverages. In zone, he displays a knack for jumping routes to try and get interceptions.
He has a slight frame and offers little in the way of run support and tackling. His tackling attempts usually just involve helping push a guy to the ground while his teammate already has the ballcarrier wrapped up.
In coverage, he sometimes has sloppy footwork— most often I see a bad habit of doing a little hop with both feet in the air when he’s getting ready to change direction. That quarter of a second where neither foot is touching the ground in a quarter of a second that a receiver can blow past him for a deep post at the college level.
He also has little experience in press or bump n run coverage, and will have to learn that aspect under Saban.
I like Armour-Davis a lot and expect him to be a star in the future, but maybe not this year. He’ll have a shot to get playing time with all of the attrition in the defensive backfield, but ultimately will redshirt to gain some weight and work on his technique. He’s a decent return man, but I don’t think good enough to beat out some of the other contenders for kick returns.
Coming in as a junior, Smith is joining the team with the expectation of beating out the competition and earning a starting job. Once a 5-star recruit from IMG Academy, he played for LSU as a freshman before transferring to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for a season, and has now been enrolled at Alabama since December.
He didn’t test particularly well with Nike’s combine a few years ago, but he’s also been in LSU’s and MGCCC’s strength and conditioning programs since those numbers were recorded, so who knows what his athleticism really looks like now.
He’s a long-armed, aggressive cornerback who will remind many of us of Levi Wallace. When a receiver is trying to catch a ball, Smith will be all up in his grill to prevent that from happening. His active, attacking hands also led to him having a knack for stripping the ball from ball carriers to cause fumbles.
He’s at his best in zone coverage, and has the experience and comfort level to switch off receivers and even bait QB’s into throwing bad passes. He’s also adept at press coverage, and totally shuts down curls and comeback routes.
Really his pure speed is the only real knock here. He may sometimes struggle with hanging with your faster SEC receivers on go routes and drags across the field.\
I think Smith wins the starting job at right corner replacing Levi Wallace. He’s a very similar player and will fit right in that spot. He’s got 5-star talent mixed with two years of experience at LSU and MGCCC, and will be the front-runner to win that job.
Eddie Smith was a last second addition to the class, and many had expected his commitment to be contingent on some other more highly rated recruit who didn’t sign. Either way, Smith was connected with Alabama for months after the Early National Signing Day, so it was no surprise when Nick Saban took on the 3-star athlete.
He didn’t test with Nike, though unofficially he has a 4.42 forty, 3.99 shuttle, and 30” vertical jump. My guess is you could probably add 0.05-0.08 of a second to both the forty and shuttle numbers and be close to accurate.
Another do-everything athlete, Smith has the versatility to play corner, safety, receiver, running back, quarterback, and even kicker. He’s an aggressive player with a penchant for big hits and plays a lot bigger than his size would indicate. He punishes receivers across the middle and can lay out unsuspecting running backs as well. He’s got a burst of closing speed that allows him to close on curl routes or take down a breakaway runner that does not expect him to be able to do so.
He displays a lot of ability to win contested jump balls on both offense and defense, and has a nose for the endzone once the ball is in his hands.
As with most high schoolers who play every position, he doesn’t show a lot of technique or experience that comes with really learning the nuances of a certain spot. We don’t know how well he can truly master man and zone coverages, as he’s mostly been a guy who thrives off athleticism and instinct up to now.
I think he’ll wind up at safety rather than corner. The depth is thinner there, and it fits his hard-hitting ways better than corner back does. He’ll also have a good shot at getting a spot on special teams, and I think he ends up getting the occasional bit of playing time here and there and doesn’t redshirt.
Though he didn’t participate in the rest of the tests, Jobe did run a verified 4.57 forty with Nike— a respectable if not spectacular number. Though listed as a cornerback, Jobe most often plays safety and projects best there.
Jobe is a savvy, assignment-aware player with good tackling form and technique. He does a great job of getting himself in position before the ball ever gets to a spot and displays good field awareness by making tackles in certain directions to keep ball carriers from getting first downs.
He’s at his best in deep zone coverage and patrolling the back part of the field, though he does have enough versatility to come up to the line of scrimmage and press a receiver if needed.
Oh, and he plays tailback in an I-formation on short yardage downs. I figure you Alabama folks can appreciate that.
Overall, Jobe is a pretty well-rounded player without many negatives to his game. He isn’t blazing fast like Armour-Davis or Eddie Smith, but he’s fast enough to do anything he needs to do. I’d say the biggest criticism I can offer is that he doesn’t absolutely excel in something to really stand out above the rest.
Jobe will be a backup safety this year. I think he’ll be in the second team grouping with Daniel Wright, behind Deionte Thompson and Xavier McKinney. Barring injury, he won’t really see significant playing time outside of mop up duty, but he’ll be first in line if something bad does happen.
Patrick Surtain, Jr.
Surtain Jr. is the son of NFL legend Patrick Surtain and was the other prize jewel, along with Eyabi Anoma, of Alabama’s recruiting class. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, he’s the model of a current NFL prototypical defensive back. He tested well, if nothing spectacular, and ended up with a 0.8 Z-score— putting him in the 79th percentile of college football players.
Seriously, Surtain Jr. is a top recruit for a reason. He’s the total package.
He has a feel for the game that can only have come from his bloodlines. If the ball is in the air, he understands how to position his body to get a hand on it without interfering with the receiver. He’s a smooth runner with tremendous balance, and understands how to use his feet so that he wastes as little steps as possible when changing directions. And he has quick, active hands in press coverage that can keep a receiver stymied at the line of scrimmage long enough to ruin a play.
He’s a solid tackler and uses his size well to punish receivers and take down running backs who slip past the front 7. He also has a knack for forcing fumbles when tackling folks.
On top of all of that, he’s an elite punt returner with both good vision and excellent open field skills to go along with his already unnatural balance that makes him very, very difficult to bring down.
Unless he comes in with need of a major attitude adjustment (and there’s no way for me, a lowly blogger, to know that kind of info), then I don’t see any way that Surtain Jr. isn’t on the field in a meaningful way this season. He has a very good shot at being a starting corner. But even if that’s a little too much responsibility for a true freshman, I have no doubts he gets some time as a rotational defensive back. He’ll also be in the mix to unseat the lackluster Trevon Diggs/Henry Ruggs combo in punt/kick returns.