TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The list is impressive, although one thing they have in common isn’t overly obvious.
Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Marlon Humphrey.
All standout defensive backs for the University of Alabama. All named an All-American. All selected in the NFL Draft.
All left Alabama early.
You could add Vinnie Sunseri in that respect as well, minus the All-American part. All but Collins also were first-round picks, but one can make a really strong argument that he should have been, especially since the safety was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl along with Clinton-Dix.
The point is, that’s a lot of talented players Alabama wasn’t able to enjoy when each was arguably at his best. It’s a consequence of continually recruiting top-notch talent, although there were some repercussions for the Crimson Tide.
Since Alabama won the 2012 national championship it was forced to play a younger secondary during a time in which experienced defensive backs have been a premium.
The 2017 NFL Draft set numerous records including 19 defensive backs being selected during the first two rounds. Nine of the first 33 picks were either cornerbacks or safeties, and 56 of the 253 overall selections (22 percent).
Moreover, Alabama’s had to look in different places for contributors, like junior college transfer DeQuan Menzie, and develop defensive backs from other positions. Eddie Jackson was a high school wide receiver who went to cornerback and finally safety with the Crimson Tide, and Cyrus Jones was converted from wide receiver to cornerback en route to becoming a 2016 second-round pick by the New England Patriots.
Saban’s at it again this year with sophomore Trevon Diggs, who spent the spring not only at cornerback, but taking reps with the first unit.
Should he stick as the starter, the other five will be the same as the second half of last season: Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison at safety, Anthony Averett at cornerback, Tony Brown in the nickel package (called star in Saban’s system) and Hootie Jones in the dime (money).
Every one of those five players is going into his junior or senior season, and they’ve combined to play in 149 games for the Crimson Tide.
Based on that alone Alabama could be poised for a bump in pickoffs this year:
Alabama interceptions, Nick Saban era (picks lost)
Since Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama is averaging 16.8 interceptions per season and a +9 ratio in its favor.
Before Saban, the last time the Crimson Tide had at least 20 interceptions in a single season was when they had 22 in 1992, the most recent national championship. The 24 interceptions in 2009 tied for the second most in Alabama history (with 1968), behind the 25 recorded in 1979.
Saban’s Michigan State teams (1995-99) averaged 12.4 pickoffs, with a high of 15 in 1995, and his LSU teams (2000-04) averaged 15.2, with 21 in 2003.
Going back to Alabama’s established five, they’ve made 14 career interceptions. Returning All-American Fitzpatrick, who figures to be a Thorpe Award frontrunner, leads with 8, having returned 4 for touchdowns (Harrison has returned one and Jones forced a fumble that resulted in a score).
Considering he’s in Jackson’s former spot it seems likely that he’ll add to his pickoff total. He needs two to overtake Jackson’s career total and eight to match the most ever by a Saban-coached player.
Most single-season interceptions by Saban–coached player
Most career interceptions by Saban–coached player
|Aric Morris||Michigan State||1996-99||9|
Although the pass rush and ability to stop the run will obviously play large parts in determining how many interceptions the 2017 Crimson Tide will have, during the Saban era Alabama has had a lot more success against certain teams (note: Texas A&M has only been in the SEC since 2012):
Interceptions against teams Alabama plays every year
- Arkansas 20
- Ole Miss 15
- LSU 14
- Mississippi State 13
- Tennessee 12
- Texas A&M 8*
- Auburn 7
Interceptions against non–division SEC opponents
- Florida 11
- Georgia 7
- Kentucky 4
- Vanderbilt 3
- Missouri 2
- South Carolina 2
Interceptions against non–SEC opponents
- Chattanooga 4
- Georgia State 4
- Penn State 4
- Texas 4
- Western Kentucky 4