Some of the most heart burn-inducing seasons in the Nick Saban era came due to weak play from cornerbacks. The “deep-down-the-right-sideline” meme became a meme for a reason in 2013-2014, and the horrendous game that shall-not-be-named at the end of the 2018 season saw one guy getting as routinely toasted as my morning bagels.
Alabama’s put elite corner after elite corner into the pros consistently in Saban’s tenure, but often times at this position, it only takes a single weak link to bring down an entire group. The Tide will be breaking in a couple of new starters in 2020. Will they be up to the task?
Trevon Diggs- Initially a wide receiver, the uber-talented athlete carved a role out as a special teams return man as a freshman before switching to defense the following offseason. A testament to his ability and trustworthiness, he made the start at outside corner in the first game of the season. Some poor play on wide receiver screens saw him benched for a more veteran player, but Diggs came back his junior year as a full-time starter.
He quickly gained notoriety and was on all the awards watch lists before a season-ending injury cut his season before it was even halfway through. Diggs returned as a senior to become a top-tier cover man at outside corner. He was on the wrong end of a few critical plays by Biletnikoff-winning receiver Ja’marr Chase, but had an otherwise solid season and was still an early 2nd round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
Shyheim Carter- Possibly the most underrated defensive back of Saban’s time at Alabama, Carter stepped into the 99-play abomination of a championship game against Clemson as a true freshman with no prior critical experience due to the rest of the secondary dealing with fatigue, and performed admirably. He went on to become a 3-year starter at the nickel corner (Star) and safety spots, and was basically ignored by every announcer for all three years.
Which, as a cornerback, should be a good thing. Despite his limited size, Carter was a sticky cover man who tackled like he was 20 pounds bigger.
Patrick Surtain II- The son of an NFL legend, Surtain used his tremendous size, athleticism, and innate feel for the game of football to become a day 1 starter at outside corner for the Tide as a true freshman— a nearly unheard of feat. Two seasons later, he’s now the veteran of the group and easily a top-5 cornerback in the entire nation. He’s shown a knack for interceptions and is almost impossible to throw against on short to mid-length routes. He’ll look to round out his game with shoring up his deep ball coverage and tackling in run support in 2020 to cement his status as a top NFL draft-pick.
Josh Jobe- A junior from the same class as Surtain, Jobe was initially thought by many to be recruited as a safety. He played sparingly his freshman year until the national championship game, where the aforementioned piece of burnt toast got burned one too many times, and Jobe was thrust into the midst of a blowout to cover one of the best receivers in the nation. It wasn’t pretty, but Jobe strongly contested every catch.
He then doubled down his efforts to become a starter, and was rewarded by supplanting the multi-year starter in Shyheim Carter in the season opener against Duke. Unfortunately, Jobe drew a couple of penalties and lost his temper a bit, and Carter played the rest of the season.
When Trevon Diggs opted out of the bowl game, Jobe had his shot again, and this time he performed perfectly.
With his size, tenacity, and energy, Jobe is now expected to be the other veteran opposite Surtain at outside corner.
Jalyn Armour-Davis- The speedy corner out of Mobile is entering his 3rd year as a redshirt sophomore and was one of the first guys off the bench last season. He missed his entire freshman season with a preseason injury that took a while to heal, but is by all reports at 100% now that he’s two years removed.
A speedy press-man corner in high school Armour-Davis is a bigger corner who’s played both outside and at star. He’ll be right in the thick of the competition for a starting/contributing role somewhere.
Marcus Banks- After arriving at Alabama near 160 pounds, Banks is now up to 180 after redshirting last season. Banks has mostly been talked about as a pure outside corner, and is often mentioned in the same breath as Armour-Davis in that tier of back-ups right below Surtain and Jobe.
Brandon Turnage- A bit of a project as a small-school do-everything athlete last season, Turnage took a redshirt and saw minimal time on the field. He can play corner, star or safety, and is most likely viewed as a versatile depth piece for this season.
Brian Branch- A true freshman who had a meteoric rise in the recruiting rankings his senior season, Branch got a lot of publicity for his one-handed catches as a wide receiver and jaw-dropping interceptions as a defensive back. He’s earned more than his fair share of comparisons to Eddie Jackson as someone who could be a receiver, safety, or corner.
Once arriving on campus, it didn’t take long for it to come out that Branch is competing for the 1st team star position already, and Saban has mentioned him by name as a freshman that’s really making waves.
Malachi Moore- Less heralded as a recruit, Moore is another safety/corner hybrid player that most assumed would be a safety in college once he added a little size. Instead of accepting that he’d need a redshirt year, Moore has impressed to the point of being mentioned in the same breath as Branch by reporters and Saban alike, and is neck-and-neck with Branch to be the team’s day 1 starter at star.
Jahquez Robinson- One of the more lower rated recruits of the 2020 class, Robinson is a tall, lengthy prospect adept at bump-n-run vertical coverage, but is slotted behind Surtain and Jobe as a pure outside corner. I expect him to fill out the depth with Turnage.
Ronald Williams, Jr.- The JUCO transfer of the most recent class, many thought Williams would take over at outside corner and let Surtain slide inside to star. With the emergence of Branch and Moore, it seems that may not be the case. In any case, Williams is a 6’2” player with highly technical footwork that can work at either outside corner or at star, and will be pushing everyone out there for their starting roles.
Finally, here’s the fun part. What does the depth chart look like? There’s always some fluidity between the corners and safeties in Saban’s defense, so this may not always be exact. And guys like Surtain will often travel from outside to nickel for certain packages. However, here’s my best guess at what the base depth chart will be in a few weeks
Left Outside Corner- Patrick Surtain II, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Brandon Turnage
Right Outside Corner- Josh Jobe, Ronald Williams, Jr., Marcus Banks
Star- Brian Branch, Malachi Moore, Ronald Williams, Jr.
Who do you predict wins the battle for the starting star?
This poll is closed
Ronald Williams, Jr.
Other (explain your galaxy brain prediction in the comments)
Check out all 2020 Position Previews.