This piece on the back-end of the defense will fittingly wrap up this series of studying each and every new recruit that Alabama signed in the class of 2020. In case you missed any of them, check out my reviews on the offensive backfield, pass catchers, offensive line, defensive line, and linebackers.
As usual, here’s a little bit of background info for you on the metrics I use:
Over the years, I’ve used SPARQ as a metric for quantifying athleticism and normalizing just how athletic someone is relative to his position. If you want a more in depth explanation, click the link below:
If not, the TL;DR version is this: Bigger, faster, and stronger = higher score.
Unfortunately, this specific class of Alabama recruits were not as active in Nike’s camps as many other classes in the past, so less than half of the recruits actually have SPARQ scores this year. I do, however, have a huge database of previous recruits with scores, so for some players that took an incomplete set of tests, I can actually get a pretty decent estimate just based on previous athletic comps. But I’ll always denote which tests are verified and which are “fill-in-the-blanks”
Finally, for all rankings, I will use the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account the 247, Rivals, and ESPN player rankings. Each of the three differ slightly, so for solidarity, I stick with the composite every year.
Many of us are sill experiencing some mental scarring from the 2013-2014 “throw it deep down the right sideline” secondaries, as well as the issues Alabama had there in 2018. So the recruits we see here all will be under a good bit of scrutiny in the future.
This will likely be the least wordy of my positional evaluations, as it’s pretty difficult to find a whole lot of highlights that really show you anything about a defensive back. They typically focus on interceptions, and, more often than not, interceptions are more about a bad pass from the QB than the defensive back actually doing something good.
But, I’ll still do my best.
At nearly 6’2”, the cornerback out of Jacksonville, FL, fits the tall, lengthy mould that we’ve seen Nick Saban recruit for outside corners over the last 5 years or so.
His shuttle and vertical jump times are verified, while his forty yard dash is self-posted. I used the combination of those numbers to get a solid guess on what his powerball toss and SPARQ would be if those numbers are accurate. None of those numbers particularly pop, but none are bad, either. He’s a solid D1 athlete.
That said, he’s enrolled at Alabama already and is listed at 185 pounds, up a good bit from his rather thin 173 when he ran those tests last summer.
Robinson can play both nickel and outside corner, but he’s absolutely more suited to playing outside. While he doesn’t quite have some of the side-to-side quickness that a nickel corner might need, he has great bail technique and has the long speed to stay in stride with any receiver on a go-route. He’s also explosive enough to stop and turn around if that receiver tries to stop for a curl or comeback.
Robinson uses that same backwards-to-forwards speed when stopping his pass coverage and coming up to make a tackle in the run game. He’s got some work to do with wrapping up his tackles and not just spearing into people, but he’s definitely got the ability and mentality to shoot into the backfield and take out a running back or wide receiver on a screen pass.
He’ll probably redshirt as a freshman, and I don’t see him being a starter in year two, either. His third year will see Alabama’s outside cornerback depth depleted, and there aren’t really any other players of his type in this recruiting class. So unless someone younger and more talented gets recruited in the future, he’ll be in competition to start in 2022 at best.
Moore is a versatile defensive back who’s played most every position in the backfield as well as wide receiver. All of his tests are verified numbers, though some were from different sessions and he never posted a SPARQ score. The 96.68 number is my best guess calculation based on the composite of his tests.
His impressive 37” vertical really boosted his score up to about a full standard deviation above average, and indicates elite explosiveness, if not great pure speed.
Moore is one of those guys that plays a lot bigger than his 180 pound frame. He’s a powerful form tackler with scary closing speed that can totally shut down ball carriers in open field. He mostly played safety in high school, and liked to come flying in from deep downfield to make tackles, and he has the lateral agility to keep a running back contained even if they try to beat him one-on-one to the outside.
In pass coverage, he again has that extra burst of speed at the last second to close on a receiver on a deep ball, though he doesn’t always have the best coordination to be able to actually get an interception on the ball he’s breaking up.
His lack of size and ball skills will probably keep him from being a true deep safety for Alabama, but he’ll absolutely be suited to playing a nickel corner that can rotate to safety on any given play.
I think Moore immediately makes an impact as a special teams gunner due to his tackling ability. He’s just too good at it to not play special teams immediately.
I think it will take him a couple of years to get his pass coverage ability up to par, but he’ll wind up being the 5th or 6th defensive back for a year or two as an upperclassman.
Story is one of the most interesting players in this recruiting class. Despite playing in a 1A division, he was named Alabama’s Mr. Football for 2019 while playing both quarterback and defensive back for his high school.
His stats? 2847 passing yards with 35 touchdowns, 1211 rushing yards with 17 more touchdowns, 71 tackles, and 5 interceptions.
And his junior year was nearly identical, stats-wise.
His shuttle and vertical time are verified numbers and the powerball toss is one that he self-reported. Using athletic comps, I guessed that he’d have a 4.58 forty and a 95.13 SPARQ score. Though a much different size and athletic composition, that puts him in a similar tier of athleticism as Moore.
It’s often difficult to truly judge just how these small school Ironman athletes will do in college. So much of their high school success comes from being so much bigger and faster than everyone they play against that they’re a bit of an unknown.
As a quarterback, Story is really, really tough to tackle. He’s much bigger than anyone trying to take him down and has surprising quickness and jukes for someone his size. He’s great at breaking tackles in the pocket and can turn that into a huge run or hit a deep bomb on a scramble drill.
Though not the most accurate, he’s got a powerful arm and can absolutely sling the ball way downfield, hitting receivers in stride even when he’s off balance or scrambling to his left.
On the defensive side of the ball, he’s a safety with the mentality of a linebacker. You want to catch a ball? Sure. Good luck holding on while you’re getting knocked into another universe. And running backs trying to get around the edge of the line of scrimmage just don’t stand a chance.
Though I didn’t get to see too much of his ability to cover receivers, he’s definitely got that feel for going up and over people to win jump balls, and he can turn an interception into a touchdown into a hurry.
Story really is a wildcard. If he insists on staying at QB, I find it unlikely he ever wins a starting job. On defense, he has a good chance of becoming a safety/linebacker hybrid, and his best shot might be to bulk up and play a full-time linebacker that specializes in nickel and dime passing downs.
But can/will he do it? I have no idea. He’ll have a much steeper learning curve and acclimation period than pretty much every other recruit.
Brian Branch could very well end up playing wide receiver, and I think he’d be equally as successful on offense or defense. I think most project him to be planning on playing defense, though, so that’s where we’ll put him. Branch is a top-tier 4-star recruit that has been on the borderline of earning a 5th star after having an utterly dominant senior year (1108 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, 56 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 3 touchdowns off of interceptions).
He self-reported his forty and shuttle times, but has no verified testing. Both of those numbers are very good for a safety.
Branch is absolutely a college-ready athlete, and my favorite thing about him is how every one of his skills translates to being useful on both offense and defense.
He’s a tremendously talented pass-catcher with an entire laundry list of crazy one-handed catches (on both offense and defense). He’s so consistently good and winning jump balls with defenders all over him that his high school QB would throw a fade to him in the endzone and go ahead and start walking towards the sideline with total confidence it would be completed.
When he has the ball in open space, he’s nearly impossible to tackle. He’s one of those guys that can do 45 degree changes in direction without changing speed one bit and he’ll happily do it multiple times in a row to get a defender backpedaling and spinning around. He runs routes the same way he runs with the ball in his hands, and is a nightmare for defensive backs trying to cover his double moves and going deep.
When playing safety, he’s confident enough in his assignment and ability that he will bait QBs to throw to guys they think are open, and he’ll burst in from out of nowhere and nab interceptions and be 20 yards down the field before the other team can figure out what happened.
He can also play any corner spot, and has the speed and ball skills to stick with anyone down the field in man-to-man coverage.
He’s not the most powerful tackler, and can sometimes get caught a little off-center and winds up making arm tackles around the ball-carrier’s shoulders.
Ultimately, he’s a do-it-all playmaker with great instincts, ball skills, and good athleticism. He’s a very similar player to what Eddie Jackson became at Alabama, and is more college-ready than Jackson was as a recruit.
Don’t be surprised at all if Branch makes a huge splash in fall camp and is right in the thick of things to start at safety. If he doesn’t win the job, I think he will find a starting spot by his sophomore year and will likely be a candidate for early departure to the NFL.
On top of that, I also expect him to be the one to take over for Jaylen Waddle at punt returning as soon as Waddle leaves for the pros.
The Tide’s lone JUCO commit this year, Williams was an unrated 160 lb defensive back out of Ferriday, Louisiana a couple of years before vaulting up the rankings to the #12 overall JUCO player in the nation.
The athletic testing numbers I have here are from his senior year in high school when he weighed 160. He’s developed a good bit since then (and put on 30 pounds), so I expect most of these are better numbers by now. Even still, he definitely wasn’t a bad athlete, and would have been right at average for an FBS defensive back.
Williams is very technical with his footwork, and as such is by far the best pure cover corner in this recruiting class. His transitions from backpedaling to turning and running or from a backpedal to a sprint forwards are done with perfect fluidity. He excels at pressing at the line of scrimmage and is easily fast enough on his feet to cover a man all the way down the field immediately out of their break.
With the ball in the air, he uses his long arms to break up passes and steal interceptions that he shouldn’t be able to. And he typically does it without ever even touching the receiver— a display of rare body control that will prevent him from racking up pass interference penalties.
Though he’s best in man and deep quarters coverages, he’s also good at using his height to get in the way of passes intended to go way over his head.
I think Williams is very likely to win the starting job at outside corner this year, and will be a very solid two-year starter for the Tide. Obviously the lack of spring practice will work against him getting in that early experience, but I still think he’s just too technically sound to not wind up with a starting job sooner rather than later.