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Vote for the RBR All-Saban Team: Safeties

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Might this be consistently the best position of Nick Saban’s time at Alabama?

Arkansas v Alabama

Today, we close out the last position of the defensive unit for the Roll Bama Roll All-Saban team: safeties. While Alabama has been best known for the elite running backs and inside linebackers over the last 13 years, the safety group might be where Alabama has most consistently fielded top-tier college football players.

The rules for this voting process are fairly simple, 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.

If you missed the last piece on Alabama’s cornerbacks, just note that Minkah Fitzpatrick was included in that grouping, although he played just as much safety in his career. The idea was to get the best possible players on the All-Saban team, and it made sense to keep Fitzpatrick there so that we could then still field two safeties.

You’ll hear arguments for 6 different players, and then two polls will follow. The first will ask who you think is the best safety of the group, and the second will be for who you think is next in line. I’ll tally the votes at the end and we’ll have two first-teamers and two second-teamers.

DrWhosOnFirst on Eddie Jackson

Jackson arrived as a lightly-recruited 3 star athlete in the Class of 2013. Still, he made a quick impression. With Deion Belue nursing a toe injury, Jackson started three games at cornerback early on as a true freshman before starting against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Jackson looked set to move to a full-time starting role in 2014 before tearing his ACL in the spring. He bounced back quickly, however, returning in time for Alabama’s second game of the season. It was an up-and-down year for Jackson, though, in part because he was just months removed from the injury. He finished with 10 starts in 11 games and did earn Defensive Player of the Week honors twice from the coaching staff.

The 2015 offseason is really when things changed, however. Alabama lost a number of its safeties, so Jackson was asked to convert from cornerback. He embraced the move and absolutely thrived. Jackson led the team with 6 interceptions (no one else had more than 3) and returned 2 of them for touchdowns. He returned his 6 picks for 230 yards, easily setting a new Alabama record. The previous record was 163 yards, and Hootie Ingram needed 10 interceptions to get that much in 1952 (Minkah Fitzpatrick would move to second on the list in 2016 but his 6 interceptions netted just 186 yards). Jackson also holds the school record for most interception return yards in a single game with 119 against Texas A&M (his 93 yarder is the fourth longest in school history).

He was named first team All-SEC by the coaches and the AP. He was named as a second team All-American by the FWAA and Walter Camp and third team by the AP (give me Eddie Jackson’s 2015 campaign over Jeremy Cash’s 2015 all day, every day).

Jackson returned for his senior season and was putting together another quality season, though largely without the gaudy stats of 2015. He hauled in another interception, the ninth of his career, and returned it for a touchdown, the third of his career. His 3 career pick sixes are tied for second in school history. As I mentioned, Jackson wasn’t putting up eye-catching numbers; but he was an unquestioned leader on the defense and his mere presence boosted the secondary.

Since Jackson was an absolute playmaker with the ball in his hand, the coaches had him return punts as well; and of course he excelled at it. His very first punt return went for an 85 yard touchdown. He returned another for a touchdown a few weeks later, and both of them are in the top 10 for longest punt returns in school history. Unfortunately, it was on a punt return that Jackson suffered a broken leg, ending his college career.

Despite playing in just 8 games, Jackson made the second team All-SEC. NFL teams, scared by the injury, passed on him again and again in the draft before the Chicago Bears finally traded up in the 4th round to get him; and it was a steal. In three seasons, he’s made the Pro Bowl twice and All Pro once.

We only got to see him start for a season and a half at safety at Alabama, but you have to have Eddie Jackson as one of your starting safeties for the All-Saban team. Enjoy some highlights and then go vote for him.

Josh on Mark Barron:

Mark Barron is an easy choice for one of the safety spots. the captain of the secondary on both of Saban’s first two national championship teams, he served as not only a punishing enforcer in the run game but also ball hawked to the tune of 12 career interceptions. He was selected first team All-SEC three times and first team All-American twice before hearing his name called 7th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, even higher than the great Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Barron brought great leadership and a toughness to the secondary that we really haven’t seen since. He did his level best to play through a torn pectoral muscle in the 2010 Iron Bowl. The results were disastrous, but nobody can question Mark’s pain tolerance. He led the heralded 2011 unit to hold opposing QBs under 50% passing on the season and well under a five yards per pass. Oh, and did I mention that he was an enforcer?

Don’t overthink this one, folks. Barron is the best pure safety of the Saban era, and you should vote accordingly.

Roger on Rashad Johnson:

Rashad Johnson will likely get overlooked in this poll, just like he has been most of his life. However he refused to quit, and I will not let him be the forgotten man.

Coming out of Sulligent High School, Johnson had exactly two scholarship offers, from The Citadel and from The University of North Alabama. After visiting a camp at Alabama, Johnson chose to walk on as a running back for the Crimson Tide.

After a redshirt year, and a spring and summer of staying at running back, the staff made the wise decision to move the 5’11”, 204 pound project to safety. The move turned out brilliantly as Johnson turned himself into a three year starter, a two time All SEC performer, and a first team All American by the time he left the Capstone. Johnson also became one of the very few two time captains in the storied history of Alabama football. His biggest moment in Crimson was his three interception game vs LSU in 2008, including one returned for a touchdown, and the over the shoulder pick he hauled in in overtime to seal the victory.

Overlooked no longer, Johnson was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals and carved out a very productive nine year NFL career, the first seven in the desert and the final two for the Tennessee Titans. Johnson is now the sideline reporter for the Alabama football broadcast team.

For heart, pluck, and grit, alone, Johnson deserves your consideration.

Roll Tide

Believe in the process

Brent on Landon Collins:

Collins’s career at Alabama started out with a legendary commitment announcement that went against his mom’s wishes:

A five-star prospect and top-ten overall recruit, Landon Collins posted one of the best all-time SPARQ scores on his way to becoming a player very near and dear to my heart. Like most defensive players at Alabama, Collins spent his freshman season as a backup on defense and a stalwart special teamer who made himself a fan-favorite with his soul-eviscerating tackles on kick coverage.

As a sophomore, Collins again started on the bench, but became a starter halfway through the season when Vinnie Sunseri was injured. Despite only starting about half the season, Collins wound up second on the team with 70 tackles, and quickly became a steady presence on the defense at cleaning up ball-carriers in the open field from sideline to sideline.

His junior year, Collins broke 100 tackles in a full season of starting on his way to becoming a Consensus All-American. One of the best pure tacklers in Saban’s 13 years at Alabama, Collins also developed into a turnover magnet, whether it was nabbing leaping interception or forcing fumbles. As a student at Alabama during that time, there was nothing more exhilarating than watching Collins stand over carcasses of his quarry after every tackle. In that 2014 season, it got to a point where if an opponent ran a play to the outside— either side— I knew with absolute certainty that Collins was going to come flying in from center field to make the tackle well short of a first down marker.

You want to see 6 minutes of pure tackling bliss? Watch this video:

Collins went on to become an All-Pro Safety with the New York Giants before signing a massive $84 million deal with the Washington Redskins in 2019 after his rookie contract ended.

Not only is he the best safety of the bunch, Collins is also in the running for my favorite Alabama player overall since Saban started this historic run. Vote for Landon.

CB969 on HaHa Clinton-Dix

At Alabama, HaHa Clinton-Dix had amazing range and an instinct for the direction that plays were going that just can’t be taught. His ability in the secondary allowed the Crimson Tide more opportunities for blitzes, trusting that he could hold his own and make up for the absence of others. He was a sure tackler and had a nose for the ball at the Capstone.

HaHa was a 5-star recruit out of Orlando who picked Alabama over Florida and FSU. He saw immediate playing time as a true freshman on the 2011 National Championship team.

In 2012, he became a starter in a crazy good secondary that allowed only 8 passing scores on the entire season and pitched four shutouts. He personally intercepted five passes, including a huge one against UGA’s Aaron Murray in the instant-classic 2012 SEC Championship Game. He followed that game up with an incredible diving pick versus Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.

For his efforts, he was named named to the AP All-SEC Honorable Mention Team - a bit of a slight IMHO.

With Dee Milliner and Robert Lester moving onto the NFL, it was up to HaHa to run the show with a good but lesser-talented secondary in 2013. He certainly lived up to the expectations, tallying 51 tackles and 2 interceptions - victimizing Arkansas’s Brandon Allen for a second straight year. He was a first-team All-SEC selection and a consensus All-American.

The Green Bay Packers selected him in the first round, 21st overall of the 2014 NFL Draft. Now starting his seventh NFL season, he recently signed a $3,750,000 contract with the Dallas Cowboys, including a $1,250,000 signing bonus, $2,250,000 guaranteed. Most observers have already penciled his name in as a starter at safety.

BamaBrave4 on Xavier McKinney:

Xavier McKinney will always be known as one of the few defensive stalwarts during the Tua era of Alabama football. With injuries absolutely piling up all over the place during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, McKinney was relied upon heavily to lead the defense and help make plays both in the run game and in the back end in coverage.

After spending a year on special teams during the Tide’s 2017 National Championship run, McKinney stepped up and became the Tide’s best DB immediately during his sophomore year in 2018. With the top six players in the secondary all departing that legendary 2017 unit, Saban was really looking for answers for most of each of the past two seasons. The one steady presence was McKinney. In 28 games as a two-year starter, ‘X’ totaled 175 tackles, 13 TFL, six sacks, five interceptions, six forced fumbles, and a pair of touchdowns.

Again, it can not be overstated how massive his presence was on the defensive side, particularly this past season. With a pair of true freshmen having to start at inside linebacker, McKinney took on the role of captain and play-caller for Saban’s defense. He also ended up playing a hybrid safety-linebacker role in Alabama’s dime package in order to better clean up the short-to-intermediate parts of the field. In the LSU game, McKinney was just about the only member of the backfield that had a legitimately good game against Joe Burrow and company.

For his work leading the Tide’s maligned defense, McKinney was named 1st-Team All SEC. He was recently drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, and will almost certainly become an instant starter for the New York Giants. McKinney wasn’t able to come away with the hardware that others on this list did, but he was put in, by far, the worst position of any of them. He absolutely deserves a mention.

Poll

Who was Alabama’s best safety?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Xavier McKinney
    (5 votes)
  • 33%
    Eddie Jackson
    (156 votes)
  • 29%
    Landon Collins
    (136 votes)
  • 1%
    Rashad Johnson
    (6 votes)
  • 29%
    Mark Barron
    (136 votes)
  • 6%
    HaHa Clinton-Dix
    (29 votes)
468 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who was Alabama’s second best safety?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Xavier McKinney
    (10 votes)
  • 32%
    Eddie Jackson
    (124 votes)
  • 26%
    Landon Collins
    (101 votes)
  • 2%
    Rashad Johnson
    (9 votes)
  • 25%
    Mark Barron
    (99 votes)
  • 11%
    HaHa Clinton-Dix
    (44 votes)
387 votes total Vote Now