Many consider cornerback to be the hardest position to play in football. You have to be the BEST athlete on the field, since you’re having to run stride-for-stride with the best athletes on offense, while operating in the disadvantage of not knowing where they’re going.
Corners are rarely seen making good plays on TV cameras, instead mostly only being highlighted when they got beat. It’s a thankless job that requires outstanding athleticism, nearly inhuman reaction time, and a whole lot of pre-play studying. Oh, and on top of that, you also have to break up passes and make tackles while complying with rules around touching the receiver that get tighter every year.
Despite all of that, Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty has a history of elite level guys— Kareem Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pat Surtain II— who have come in and jumped right into the mix as first or second year players and went on to become superstars.
The Tide also has two distinct types of cornerback roles: There’s the outside, traditional cornerback, and then there’s the Star, or nickelback.
The former generally plays by themselves on the outside, having to run down the field and cover deep passes, while the latter acts as a hybrid safety/linebacker/corner who has to cover slot receivers, tight ends, and make tackles around the line of scrimmage.
Pat Surtain II
After a phenomenal 2020 season, Surtain declared for the NFL draft, where’s he likely to be a top-10 pick next month. He arrived on campus and immediately won the starting job as a true freshman back in 2018, and then went on to improve every season after that on his way to becoming a lockdown force. His combination of size, athleticism, game smarts, and absolute mastery of the position will be impossible to replace.
The senior out of Miami came to Alabama in the same class as Surtain, and while he hasn’t garnered quite the list of accolades, he’s been a major contributor for the Tide the past three season. As a backup as a true freshman, he was suddenly thrust into the limelight in the national championship against Clemson when starter Saivion Smith twisted his leg trying (unsuccessfully) to cover superstar Justyn Ross. Jobe stepped in on the biggest stage and played admirably despite the total team collapse that night.
He initially won the starting corner job in 2019, but after drawing multiple penalty flags and getting visibly frustrated, Saban pushed him back to the top reserve role while having him focus on mentality and letting him unleash his hard-hitting energy on special teams.
As a junior in 2020, Jobe had matured enough to really come into his own and lock down the other side opposite Surtain. QBs tried their best to pick on him early in the season, and Jobe played phenomenally, breaking up 11 passes and getting 55 tackles on the year.
A true freshman phenom that seemed to come out of nowhere right before the season started last year, Moore went from a recruit that was rarely talked about to the starter at Star in week 1. After some shaky play early on, Moore became a fiery, energetic force with a whole lot of speed and a whole lot tackling power in a rather small frame. He was named to the Freshman All-American team, but unfortunately was injured in the SEC Championship and had to sit out the CFB Playoffs.
Moore picked off 3 passes, including a 3rd quarter dagger that ended Georgia’s chances in a heavyweight matchup, broke up 9 passes, and forced a fumble and then recovered it for a scoop and score against Tennessee.
Malachi is a FRESHMAN— All-American Bowl (@AABonNBC) October 18, 2020
2020 All-American Malachi Moore (@malachi_moore13) with his 2nd interception of the season.#RollTide#AllAmericanBowl
Another true freshman, Branch was tagged by many to be one of the most likely players in the class to come in and make an immediate impact. While he was initially passed up by Moore for the Star spot, Branch found ways to get on the field— whether it was coming in as the dime back against Mississippi State and shutting down every pass, or subbing in at safety any time Jordan Battle, DeMarcco Hellams, or Daniel Wright got thrown out for targeting.
In the SEC Championship, he was tasked with trying to cover the uber-athlete TE Kyle Pitts. And while he gave up a couple of passes, he was in perfect coverage the whole time, and that he was the guy tasked with covering a potential top-10 NFL draft pick says a lot about what the coaches think about him.
He stepped in as the starter at Star in the final two games of the season as Moore sat out with injury.
The 4th year man out of St. Pauls in Mobile came to Alabama as a known speedster, but unfortunately suffered a knee injury before his freshman year kicked off. After taking a redshirt season, Armour-Davis has been a primary back-up for the Tide at both outside corner and Star the past two seasons, and is likely the favorite to step into a starting role this season.
Ronald Williams, Jr.
A junior college transfer in 2020, many thought Williams would be able to come in and supplant Jobe to win the starting job, but he wound up missing the first 1⁄3 of the season with a broken arm. At 6’2”, he’s a rangy corner with great footwork, and is expected to be a candidate for a starting job.
Once an undersized sub 4.4 forty player, Banks has slowly added some weight to his frame over the last two seasons as a backup for Alabama. He played very well in his first A-Day game two years ago, and has been a regular fixture on kickoff coverage and the occasional mop-up duty in the secondary ever since.
A redshirt sophomore out of Oxford, Turnage came to Alabama as a small school “athlete” that played pretty much every position on the football field. Thus far, we’ve only seen him only special teams a couple of times in his career.
A 6’2” second-year player out of Jacksonville, Robinson was one of those tall, less recruited cornerback prospects that Saban likes to pick up whenever he gets the chance. He did not see any playing as a true freshman last year.
The five-star recruit out of the Birmingham metro, “Kool-Aid” was probably the most talked-about recruit in Alabama’s 2021 class. On top of being a 5-star player at defensive back and receiver, he was a legitimate collegiate prospect in basketball and has spent some time practicing with Nate Oats and the hoops team since enrolled in January.
In the first couple of weeks of spring practice, Nick Saban has already name-dropped him twice, talking about wanting to see how he’d handle his first scrimmage and talking about his progress so far.
Many expect him to be the next true freshman superstar to break into the line up, though there’s some significant experience in front of him, and only one open spot.
Predicted Depth Chart
For the record, this is NOT my prediction for the depth chart next fall. There are more freshmen coming in that could shake things up. This is more trying to guess how the players will be arranged come A-Day. Also, don’t forget that Malachi Moore is recovering from his injury and likely will not be playing this spring.