It’s one of the biggest regular season matchups the college football world has seen in the last decade – Tua Tagovailoa’s Alabama Crimson Tide versus Joe Burrow’s LSU Tigers. It’s the battle for QB1, and our team will be there to cover it live in Tuscaloosa this weekend.
With that being said, the defensive backs group each quarterback faces on Saturday will be their biggest test of the season. Both Alabama and LSU have loaded secondaries, full of NFL talent. It is why scouts will have all eyes on these defensive playmakers as they face off against the two best quarterback prospects in the country. From Trevon Diggs to Grant Delpit, NFL teams are going to take a hard look at these talented DB prospects on both sides of the ball, as early as the first round.
Thus, I have matched each of the notable draft-eligible defensive backs in this game to where I believe would be their best NFL team fit in next April’s draft.
Alabama Defensive Backs
Trevon Diggs, CB – Dallas Cowboys
Addressing the future of the cornerback depth chart will be one of the biggest questions the Dallas Cowboys have to answer this offseason. Byron Jones and Anthony Brown are set to be free agents, and I can’t see this team bringing both back under their current situation with the salary cap. In addition, Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie enter the final year of their contracts next season. Kris Richard has yet to draft one of “his guys” at the cornerback position since arriving to Dallas, and it is clear that he has a type – Long and physical playmakers at the catch point. It is a big reason why Lewis is not favored on the Cowboys’ depth chart.
This upcoming 2020 NFL Draft seems like the right time for Richard to finally get one of those guys with all of these contract implications, and Alabama senior cornerback Trevon Diggs fits his strict ideology of what a player on the boundary looks like. At 6’2, Diggs has 4.4 speed, and in terms of his frame, ball skills and physicality, he’s the most NFL-ready cornerback in this class. Not to mention, the only college that Jason Garrett likes drafting players from more than Boise State is the home of Nick Saban.
Xavier McKinney, S – Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins traded safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for their 2019 first-round pick earlier in the season, meaning they now have three first rounders and two second rounders as ammunition in next April’s draft. With that much draft capital, it is needless to say that these moves could alter the course of this franchise for the next decade.
With that being said, I think there is a real shot that the Dolphins can get a player who is almost a carbon copy of Minkah Fitzpatrick in Xavier McKinney, one round later than the original price. He is a do-it-all defensive back who thrives in the slot as a man coverage defender, while also having productive experience both deep and in the box. In fact, our Benjamin Solak wrote about McKinney’s parallels to Fitzpatrick as a prospect in September. Quite simply, McKinney is a player you never have to take off of the field. He is a natural playmaker in coverage, as well as one of the most aggressive run defending safeties in the 2020 NFL draft.
Shyheim Carter, S – New England Patriots
Defensive back is not an urgent need for New England, but Devin McCourty is set to be a free agent in the offseason, and Patrick Chung is only getting older. This is why I could see the Patriots spend a Day 2 pick on a defensive back like Alabama’s Shyheim Carter, who could potentially play any position in the secondary at the next level. He’s a true Swiss army knife, and you know Bill Belichick loves drafting defensive backs who can do a bit of everything.
Even if Carter is not a year-one starter for New England, he would provide excellent depth and versatility at multiple spots in the secondary, as well as immediate value on special teams. I’m a big Shyheim Carter fan, and I think his position-flexible skill set will have him rated highly on the Patriots’ 2020 NFL draft board.
Jared Mayden, S – New York Giants
Senior safety Jared Mayden is not the most flashy player for the Crimson Tide, but he consistently does his job as a physical presence in the box. The New York Giants already have a hole at the safety position, and special teams ace Michael Thomas is a free agent in the offseason, meaning the team will need to at least find some depth in the 2020 NFL draft. If the team does not address the position early with someone like Xavier McKinney or Brandon Jones, Jared Mayden could provide immediate special teams value and depth as a versatile defensive back on Day 3.
LSU Defensive Backs
Grant Delpit, S – Cleveland Browns
It has been a whirlwind of a 2019 season for the Cleveland Browns’ safeties. Damarious Randall has been inconsistent and injured. Morgan Burnett does not look like he belongs on an NFL roster. Also, reserve safety Jermaine Whitehead tweeted out death threats to fans last weekend after a poor outing against Denver, resulting in his release from the team. The dreadful play from the Browns’ offensive line and Baker Mayfield’s regression has captured everybody’s attention, but it is evident this team also has to figure out their future at the safety position.
They’re getting zero production deep in the secondary, and one player who can really help turn that around is LSU’s Grant Delpit. His aggression and physicality fits what GM John Dorsey looks for in a defensive playmaker, as Delpit provides value both deep and in the box. His coverage potential in the back end is unlimited, and because the Browns are struggling so bad, they might have a shot to land someone of his caliber in the first round.
Kristian Fulton, CB – Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have had the worst cornerback group in football this season. It has been their Achilles heel so far in 2019. They have been plagued by big plays all year, and it is clear that this cornerback depth chart is in severe need of a boost.
Enter LSU’s Kristian Fulton, who is one of college football’s most productive and reliable cornerbacks in man coverage. He has an excellent press man skill set with his combination of play strength and physicality to re-route receivers at the LOS, while also having the foot quickness to consistently mirror and match.The Eagles need to find a plug-and-play starter at cornerback in the 2020 NFL draft, and I think Fulton could be exactly that for this team.