We’re nearing the end of the defensive voting for the All-Saban team, and will be moving on to the cornerbacks today.
The rules are fairly simple here, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.
In this case, we’re doing things a little differently. Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t exactly play any specific position in the secondary. He was really a position all on his own. He’s also, without a doubt, the best player in the secondary during the Nick Saban years. There just wasn’t a good way to set up any vote, as Minkah was always going to crush the competition at whatever position I put him in.
So, Minkah is the first team Star (the nickel corner), and that’s that. This ain’t no democracy.
Instead enjoy this video:
Not only was he extremely athletically gifted, Minkah is also the only player to ever have a direct match with Nick Saban on Alabama’s personality tests.
Two national championships. Two-time consensus All-American. Bednarik Award winner. Thorpe Award winner. 11th overall NFL draft pick.
Oh, and then worth another 1st round pick in a blockbuster trade to the Steelers. Minkah went on to be named 1st team All-Pro in only his second year in the pros.
Yeah. He’s good.
Anyway, next we’ll have a poll where you guys will decide between Marlon Humphrey, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson, and Dee Milliner for the Tide’s best true cornerback. The top two vote-getters will be named to the first team along with Minkah, and and the other two will be second teamers.
Roger on Marlon Humphrey:
Marlon Humphrey is Crimson Tide Royalty. The son of the great Bobby Humphrey came to Tuscaloosa from Hoover High as a consensus 5 star and the number one ranked cornerback and 10th ranked overall player in the 2014 recruiting class.
After a redshirt year to gain weight and get stronger Humphrey became a freshman All American in 2015 and a consensus first team All American in 2016. His overall statistics don’t jump off the page, but when you are a shutdown corner that comes with the territory.
Humphrey finished his two year career with 81 total tackles, 13 passes defended, and five interceptions with one touch down. The 6’1” 200 pound athlete also forced three fumbles and defended 13 passes. Humphrey entered the draft after his sophomore season and was a first roundselection by the Baltimore Ravens, and became a first team all NFL player this past season. Please consider Marlon for a place on the All Saban team. RTR Believe in the Process
DrWhosOnFirst on Dre Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick was a 5 star, top 15 recruit in the Class of 2009 out of Gadsen. He contributed sparingly as a true freshman, notching 8 tackles. He was set for success as a sophomore, however, with Alabama losing both starting corners - Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas - from the 2009 championship team.
Kirkpatrick started all 13 games in 2010, putting together an impressive campaign. He finished with 53 tackles, good for fourth on the team. He finished second on the team with 3 interceptions and tied for second with 7 pass break-ups. The performance was enough to earn him second team All-SEC honors.
Kirkpatrick followed up with another excellent campaign in 2011. He once again finished tied for second in pass break-ups, this time with 9. The rest of his numbers aren’t necessarily impressive on the face of it; but that’s largely because opposing quarterbacks often avoided throwing his way, deciding instead to test DeQuan Menzie and Dee Milliner. For instance, Kirkpatrick was targeted just once in the Iron Bowl. The result? A pass break-up.
In addition to the PBUs, Kirkpatrick recorded 29 tackles, 4 of which went for a loss. He forced two fumbles and returned a blocked kick 55 yards for a touchdown.
Kirkpatrick was again named second team All-SEC, behind Mo Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu of LSU, both of whom, I’ll begrudgingly admit, had excellent seasons. Kirkpatrick was also named a first team All-American by the one of the selectors, the FWAA (Claiborne, Mathieu, and Menzie, who put up good numbers while being targeted more than Kirkpatrick, sucked up first team votes over Kirkpatrick). Again, the numbers probably won’t wow you; but forcing quarterbacks to ignore your side of the field is pretty darn impressive.
Kirkpatrick declared early for the draft and was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals 17th overall. He had spent his entire eight year NFL career with the Bengals before getting released at the end of March.
Kirkpatrick was a physical, shutdown defensive back at Alabama. He could cover like a corner and hit like a safety. He needs to be one of your two starting All-Saban cornerbacks.
CB969 on Kareem Jackson
Although 2007 was only 13 years ago, it was a much different world in Tuscaloosa. Mike Shula had just been fired and Bama AD Mal Moore backed up a Brinks truck to Nick Saban’s Miami home. From the moment Saban first stepped to the podium for his first Alabama press conference, it was clear that he was going to do things his way, old school boosters be damned.
One of his first moves was to recruit a little known 2 to 3-star cornerback from Macon, Georgia who had committed to Vanderbilt. As we have all learned, Saban knows what he is doing and not only signed Kareem Jackson but gave him an opportunity to start as a true freshman - an unheard of at notion at that point at Alabama.
Perhaps the most impressive feat was that Jackson did just that, starting 12 of 13 games in 2007. He swiped three interceptions and tallied four pass breakups. He recorded 66 tackles and was named a Freshman All-American.
*** Many talented defensive backs have struggled to learn the intricate Saban defense upon first arriving at the Capstone. Conversely, Jackson thrived. ***
Jackson’s reputation as a shutdown cornerback season caused opposing teams to shy away from his side of the field in his sophomore campaign. Even still, he registered 10 pass breakups and one interception on the year. He also blocked a Mississippi State punt that was recovered by a Bulldog in their end zone for a safety.
In 2009, it all came together for the Crimson Tide as the secondary finished ranked second nationally in pass efficiency defense at 90.43. Jackson helped anchor the National Champion defensive backfield by recording 49 tackles and breaking up 13 passes. He also had a huge interception against Ole Miss that was picked at the 5-yard line and returned for 79 yards.
After his junior season, Jackson chose to enter the NFL Draft. He had an impressive showing at the 2010 NFL Combine (4.40 in the 40) and was taken 20th overall by the Houston Texans. In his ten professional seasons, he has been one of the more durable and consistent DBs, playing in 145 games - the same total as retired Darrelle Revis. Jackson is entering the second year of a 3-year deal with the Broncos.
Josh on Dee Milliner:
Dee Milliner checks all the boxes of an All-Saban team starter. An in-state five star who never seriously considered any other suitors, Milliner infamously took some freshman lumps in 2010 before cementing himself as a starter on back-to-back national championship squads. He was the prototypical Saban corner, touching those key benchmarks of six feet and 200 lbs. While he had plenty of speed as evidenced by the blistering 4.37 he ran at the NFL Combine, it was his physical play in both the run and pass game that set him apart. Who could forget this play against Michigan in the 2012 opener?
That man has a family, Dee.
When all was said and done, Dee left with 133 tackles, six interceptions, All-American honors, the aforementioned two national titles, and was a finalist for both the Nagurski and Thorpe awards. He joins Minkah Fitzpatrick as the only corners to start on two national champions under Saban, and should also join him on the first team.
Who was Nick Saban’s best cornerback?
This poll is closed
Next up, we have a competition for the 2nd team nickel/all-purpose cornerback behind Minkah Fitzpatrick
Alabama has typically put their best defensive backs at either outside corner or safety, so this is a bit of an unheralded position, Minkah notwithstanding. Cyrus Jones technically played outside corner more often, but he has the body type of a slot guy. Ultimately, the rules for this 6th spot on the All-Saban team has some loose parameters. Deal with it.
BamaBrave4 on Cyrus Jones:
Cyrus Jones, A.K.A Javy 2.0, arrived at the Capstone as a wide receiver, which is what he actually played his freshman season in 2012, catching four passes for 51 yards in mostly mop-up duty. However, with the defense having lost the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, and DeQuan Menzie at cornerback in consecutive seasons, Jones stepped up and decided to make the switch over to the secondary in 2013. In nine games, he posted 25 tackles, 1.5 TFL, a sack, a pick, and five PBUs, all while learning the complexities of playing the most difficult position in all of sports on the fly.
Once he was able to find his footing on the defensive side of the ball, he really started to emerge as ‘Bama’s top corner in 2014. His junior season saw him rack up 44 tackles, 13 PBUs (which led the SEC), a trio of interceptions, and a pair of forced fumbles, including this memorable strip and score against Ole Miss:
The Tide, of course, ended up winning the SEC Championship and reached the first ever College Football Playoff that season, and Jones was named to the All-SEC 2nd Team for his work.
Cyrus’s senior year wasn’t as productive statistically (37 tackles, 7 PBUs, and a pair of picks and forced fumbles), in large part because of the incredible influx of talent in the secondary with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey joining the rotation. However, he was still a season-long starter for a legendary 2015 Tide defense that will go down in the records of college football history as one of the very best of all-time. Plus, the addition of some help in the secondary allowed Cyrus to finally take on the role he was truly destined to play: punt returner. He returned 42 punts for 530 yards and four touchdowns that season, each stat of which led the entire country. Despite this, he was grossly snubbed by all the postseason awards, not even making the All-SEC team for returner. How that was possible, I’ll never know.
Alabama won both the SEC and National Championship that season, and Jones was able to make his mark in a number of big games, most memorably the 2015 Cotton Bowl, when he was named the Defensive MVP:
After his time at Alabama concluded, Jones was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, where he added to his personal trophy collection by way of a Super Bowl LI ring. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the 2017 preseason, and has been unable to keep steady work since, having bounced around a few different teams. Still, Cyrus was an explosive, underrated star during his time in Tuscaloosa, and was a major piece of multiple championship seasons. His decision to switch over to the defensive side of the ball helped keep the secondary from floundering before Saban rebuilt it in the mid-2010s.
Brent on Javier Arenas:
Mostly seen as a track guy and middling football prospect out of Arkansas, Arenas came to Alabama in 2006 to play for Mike Shula. He was strictly viewed as a return specialist, and he immediately made an impact there. But his special teams exploits are for -SPOILER ALERT- a future article.
After a couple of seasons spent on only special teams, Arenas made it very clear that he was determined to become a full-time defensive player. He broke into the starting lineup as a nickel corner in that 2008 season that saw Alabama change from a mediocre SEC team to the powerhouse we know today.
He followed that up with a stellar 2009 on the Tide’s first national championship team. His high energy playstyle led to a lot of big tackles despite his short stature, and was a blitz aficionado, racking up 5 sacks that season.
This one in particular has been in the Requiem for a Dream intro videos in Bryant-Denny Stadium for years:
And who could forget that time he sealed the game against the reigning Florida Gators by intercepting Tim Tebow in the endzone?
Arenas, for all of his notoriety as a return man, was a downright dominant sparkplug of energy as an upperclassman. He added a whole lot of muscle prior to 2008 for the sole intent of becoming a defensive player, and that work ethic paid off as he became one of the more forceful tacklers for a sub 5’10” guy you’ll ever see.
Few will ever match his impact and energy on that 2009 defense.
Roger on Tony Brown:
Tony Brown, Crazy Tony, deserves a spot for two reasons. His shirtless strolls through the opponents while they warmed up and his classic video with Simone Eli after the Tide defeated Clemson in the semifinals in 2017.
His statistics were modest, but his impact was not. Brown was a consensus 5 star out of Texas and came to Tuscaloosa to play football and run track. Brown won All American honors on the track, but never quite lived up to the hype on the gridiron. After not being drafted Brown has carved out a career in the NFL, and had some nice moments with the Green Bay Packers, and now is with the Cincinnati Bengals. Vote Tony for the entertainment value alone.
RTR Believe in the process
Who should be Minkah Fitzpatrick’s backup on the All-Saban 2nd-team?
This poll is closed
Other (this is the only time you get an option for a write-in). If you select this, we expect your candidate in the comments.