Though the safety position has seen it’s importance somewhat diminish in the eyes of the NFL (both in the draft and in contracts), it’s remained a major part of Alabama’s defense over the years, with many of the current top NFL talents at the position coming from Tuscaloosa.
On top of that, Pete Golding and Saban have been working more and more towards turning the slot corner, or Star, into more of a safety-like position than a cornerback. And this position metamorphosis has a good shot of being on the forefront of taking back some of the ground gained by college offenses over the last decade.
In any case, Alabama is absolutely loaded at all three spots in 2022, as all of the starters will be entering their 3rd year starting, with one key depth piece who also has been an on-and-off starter the last two seasons as well.
- Daniel Wright - A long time special teams ace for the Tide, Wright finally got his chance to start at safety in 2020. His speed and hard-hitting ability led to some really nice highlight plays, but the number of back breaking mistakes saw him eventually give up his starting job. Wright came back as a 5th year senior in 2021 and carved out a role as a dime defensive back who provided some energy on the field.
- Kaine Williams - Williams, a big, hard-hitting type, was a true freshman in 2021 who didn’t see any playing time in his first year. He hit the transfer portal this spring for some reason, and is now at Nebraska.
Jordan Battle - The senior leader of the group and a 2021 All-American, Battle is entering his third year as a full-time starter and his 4th year as a regular contributor in the defensive backfield. Battle’s leadership, smarts, work ethic, energy, and savvy are all central components to this defense. He’s a bigger player with the range and versatility to play in any package, and is one of the most consistent tacklers on the team.
He is, most importantly, a true safety blanket for the defense. When a play goes wrong, Battle is quite often the team’s very last shot at preventing a huge play.
Battle would have easily been a 2nd round NFL draft pick, but he chose to come back for his senior season for the sole purpose of winning a national championship. So you can bet the senior is going to be playing on a warpath.
DeMarcco Hellams - The “Hitman” of the defense, Hellams came into the program with Jordan Battle, but took a little longer to get onto the field. He initially found a role as the dimebacker, but wound up replacing Daniel Wright late in 2020 and put on a clinic of ferocity in the playoffs. He returned as a full-time starter in 2021, but was playing on a lame ankle the first half of the season that led to him going in and out of the lineup early. By mid-season, Hellams was back and became a forceful, impact player for the Tide in the back end for the final stretch of the season, racking up 87 tackles and 3 interceptions.
Brian Branch - The starter at Star, Brian Branch is a player who came to Alabama with a good bit of hype as a 2-way player and drew a lot of comparisons to former Tide safety Eddie Jackson for his unique blend of skills. He ultimately found a role as the dime defensive back in 2020 and then usurped his fellow classmate, Malachi Moore, for the starting nod at Star for the rest of 2021.
Branch is an explosive, hard hitting player who has been tasked time and time again with shutting down the best and most unique weapons on opposing offenses, whether that was RB/WR Ainias Smith, TE Kyle Pitts, or TE Brock Bowers. And for the most part, he’s been absolutely exceptional despite the nearly impossible multitude of tasks and roles he’s covered.
The hope is that 2022, his first full season as a starter, will be the year he totally puts it all together in an All-American caliber season.
And seriously, just don’t throw screens on his side of the field. Your poor blocker may not survive.
Returning Former Starter
Malachi Moore - Once a freshman savant who passed Brian Branch to earn the job at Star as a freshman, Moore went on a tear early in his freshman season en route to a freshman All-American campaign. Injuries led to Branch taking his spot in the 3 most important games in 2020. Moore returned in 2021, but played very hesitantly and found himself replaced again for Brian Branch. He again wound up finishing the season injured.
Moore is a versatile player with a lot of savvy, and can fill in at most any spot in the secondary. He’s the type of backup that most teams would kill to have as their starter.
- Kristian Story - Alabama’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019, Story came to the Tide in 2020 as a raw QB/WR/LB/DB hybrid with tremendous size and athleticism, but a lack of positional specialization. He’s impressed in both of the two previous A-Day games and was a special teams mainstay in 2021. Story is most likely the primary backup for Hellams/Battle, and in line to be the next starter in 2023.
- Devonta Smith - Once an Ohio State commit, Smith was a fairly under-the-radar recruit who flipped to Alabama in the 2021 cycle. Smith is a smaller guy who was recruited by most as a nickel corner, but he has been working mostly with the deep safeties in his first year with the Tide
The New Guys
- Jake Pope - A rangy, explosive freshman out of Georgia, Pope doubled as a wide receiver and kick returner. With his speed, look for him to get on the field on special teams this year as a freshman and see if he can work his way up into playing time down the road.
- Earl Little II - Little is a fiery slot corner with an NFL bloodline and coaching from the same high school that produced Pat Surtain II. He’s got amazingly quick feet and an aggressive style in both his tackling and coverage. He’ll be behind both Branch and Moore, but it’s fair to view him as a guy who can put on 10 pounds or so as a freshman and be the heir apparent for the Star position.
Predicted Depth Chart
This one is pretty set in stone, as the Tide returns everyone from the depth chart from 2021.
S- Jordan Battle, Kristian Story, Jake Pope
S- DeMarcco Hellams, Devonta Smith
Star- Brian Branch, Malachi Moore, Earl Little II
This position group should be in contention with the QB and the outside linebackers for the strongest group on the team.