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2018 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Safeties

After a few years of having the lockdown duo of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, who will be the Tide’s new last line of defense

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue our trek through previewing every position group for the 2018 Alabama football squad, we hit what is probably my favorite position in all of football: the safeties. There’s just something about the uniqueness of different player types and versatility of the position that has always drawn in my chess-and-strategy-game-loving mind. Maybe you run a single-high free safety who excels at patrolling the deep center field in conjunction with an in-the-box run thumper. Or maybe you run two split safeties who can match up with a tight end in man coverage or lay the wood on a receiver coming across the middle. Sometimes you even line up as a slot cornerback or a linebacker in certain packages.

While often a forgotten position (since they’re generally off-screen on a standard TV broadcast angle), the safeties also often lead a team in both interceptions and highlight-reel tackles. And a mistake by a safety can lead to an immediate touchdown in a way that you don’t see from any other position.

In 2017, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison were both team leaders and absolute difference makers in the back, while Hootie Jones was a solid fill-in when Minkah moved up to play slot cornerback. All three have moved on, and the Tide will now be breaking in all new starters.

The Frontrunners

Deionte Thompson

Once a 4-5 star recruit, depending on which service you asked, Thompson was a skinny, ball-hawking athlete with just as much chance to play wide receiver as he was safety. He even practiced with the receivers nearly exclusively his freshman year on campus as he worked to put on weight during a redshirt year.

As a redshirt freshman, he quickly made his mark on special teams, playing in all 14 games and leading the kickoff coverage squad with 8 tackles. Last year, he became a key backup and made his way into blowout games, earning a reputation for a hard-hitting missile of a safety with a scary burst of speed from off-screen. After Hootie Jones went down during practices in December, Thompson was elevated to the starting safety spot for both playoff games. He played admirably in both, making a few splash plays while almost nabbing an impressive interception against Clemson.

Now, he’s probably the most solidly entrenched of all the candidates for starting gigs in the secondary. He’s now up to 200 pounds, and blends exceptional acceleration with an explosive penchant for big hits to add to the repertoire of solid ball skills he displayed as a 160-pound senior in high school. Thompson will likely be looked upon as the senior leader of the secondary, and will look to have a major breakout year.

Xavier McKinney

The rangey sophomore our of Georgia forced his way into playing time as true freshman, making an impact on special teams as well as being one of the first safeties off the bench in blowouts. Even as a true freshman, he had a physically imposing presence with long arms and a solid build that made him look matured beyond his years. A big hitter and strong tackler with the length and range to disrupt passing lanes makes him the perfect, prototypical candidate for a safety that excels in both run support and covering tight ends up the seams.

Though not officially the starter yet, he’s been pretty solidly entrenched alongside Thompson since the spring, and I fully expect him to be the starter here.

The Contenders

Jared Mayden

Now, I talked about Mayden last week as a cornerback, so I won’t say too much about him here. He’s a big, fast player that excels in zone coverage, and has spent his time playing both cornerback and safety. We’ve seen him playing positionaly similar to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s role from last year: being a safety in base defense and moving up to STAR in nickel packages. He looks to be a solid fixture in the second-team defense, but probably plays more cornerback than a true safety.

Daniel Wright

The sophomore came in with McKinney out of Florida last year, and, despite being a bit on the light side, really came on strong on special teams throughout the season. In fact, he even made a name as one of the most common highlight hitters as a gunner. He didn’t get quite as much time as McKinney did in mop-up duty at safety, but generally wasn’t too far behind. He’s put on a little weight and is right in the mix for the starting job.

Kyriq McDonald

The diminutive man out of Madison, Alabama was a bit on the forgotten side in last year’s recruiting class as a 3-star player, but Erik and I have been singing his praises on RBR ever since last summer. He’s short, but solidly built and is both a ball hawk and playmaker who excels at getting the football in his hands and making things happen afterwards. He’s got an infectious personality— the kind of guy with limitless energy and excitement on the field.

Basically, he reminds me of Javier Arenas come again.

He redshirted as a freshman, but has made some plays in both A-Day games he’s played in. He’s been working with the second safeties, as well as at the slot corner, just like Mayden. He may not be ready just yet, but don’t count him out.

The Depth

Keaton Anderson

Once a skinny linebacker with great sideline-to-sideline range, but little ability to hold up in the box and in traffic. After a couple of years, he moved to safety and has spent the last couple of seasons dropping weight to build more speed. At this point, he’s likely just a reserve who is a special teams stalwart, but I don’t expect to see him on the field on defense.

Josh Jobe

The freshman was quite highly rated in high school and comes in at 6’1” 198— a very college-ready size for a freshman. He’s a heady player with an eye for breaking on routes and getting takeaways. He played cornerback just as much as safety in high school, and at this point he’s been cross-training at both. With his size and skill set, I expect him to wind up at safety.

Depth Chart Prediction

Free Safety: Deionte Thompson, Daniel Wright, Josh Jobe

Strong Safety: Xavier McKinney, Kyriq McDonald, Keaton Anderson