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Rivals Rivalry Week: Alabama defense

The Alabama defense is obviously loaded and some are saying it’s the best defense in college football in decades. The Tide rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense and have scored an astounding nine defensive touchdowns while allowing only 12. So where did the key playmakers come from and how were they ranked out of high school? We take a lot at the big-time contributors to the defense in order by their national ranking back in the day on

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

MORE: Examining Auburn's defense | Rivals Rivalry Week


The skinny: Humphrey was long considered a lock to Alabama since his father, Bobby Humphrey, was an ex-player and top draft pick. Florida State put up a good fight, but in the end Humphrey committed to Alabama a week before Signing Day. After an impressive redshirt freshman year, Humphrey has become one of the top cover corners in the SEC this fall with 32 tackles, two tackles for a loss, two interceptions, as well as four pass breakups.

Farrell’s take: Humphrey had good size, was long and was a confident kid coming out of high school. He was a sure tackler, very smooth in his backpedal and had natural football instincts. I remember he had a poor week of practice at the Under Armour All-America Game, but shook it off and had a very good game. He’s better under the lights like that. Humphrey doesn’t get targeted a ton at Alabama, but when he does he’s always around the ball.

The skinny: Allen trimmed his list down to Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech before committing to the Crimson Tide in May of his junior year. After seeing minimal playing time as a true freshman with the Crimson Tide, Allen totaled 25.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks during the last two seasons. This season, while his statistics may not be as impressive, he continues to dominate offensive lines with 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Farrell’s take: As a five-star and No. 11 player in the 2013 class, it was clear that I loved Allen as a player. He was big, intense, ran everything down and could either go around you or bull rush you into the quarterback’s comfort zone. He played end and tackle in high school and couldn’t be stopped at either position. He was downright scary at Stone Bridge and has always been a serious worker off the field, but he has reached a new level of athleticism and dominance in his senior season.

The skinny: Foster's recruiting process was one of the more chaotic ones in recent years. Foster originally committed to Alabama but then flipped to Auburn. However, the coaching change at Auburn caused him to re-open his recruitment and take all five of his official visits. Again it came down to Auburn and Alabama, and finally he committed to the Crimson Tide two days before National Signing Day. Numerous Crimson Tide defenders have obviously excelled this season, but Foster is right there at the top with 75 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and two sacks.

Farrell’s take: Foster was a huge linebacker with a ton of potential who could thump downhill but also move laterally. He also had a major bust factor tag between a knee injury that limited him late in high school and his bizarre recruiting process. Foster waited his turn and is having a breakout season. Despite all the questions, he was so talented that we still had him ranked as the No. 13 player in 2013 and No. 1 inside linebacker. He’s showing with his play this season that he can put it all together.

The skinny: While UCLA received an official visit during his senior season, this came down to an in-state battle between Alabama and Auburn, which both received visits in January. Considering he played at Auburn High School, the Tigers were considered the favorite, but Evans pulled a Signing Day surprise by committing to the Crimson Tide. After dealing with some injuries during his first two seasons at Alabama, Evans is playing at full throttle this fall with 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Farrell’s take: Evans was a quick, athletic linebacker who played with the speed of an outside guy but could hit like an inside linebacker. I remember he completely laid out future teammate Cameron Robinson at the Under Armour All America Game practices when the offensive lineman, who had 100 pounds on him, tried to get to the next level on him. Evans was great at shocking and shedding opponents and worked well off of contact, and he could also cover in space and get skinny when he needed to.

The skinny: Payne trimmed his list down to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State before committing to the Crimson Tide at the Under Armour All-American game. As a true freshman, Payne saw time in eight games and gradually became a contributor. This season he has earned more playing time and as a result has seen his production continue to increase; he currently has 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack and a fumble recovery. Payne very well could be the next great interior defensive lineman at Alabama.

Farrell’s take: Payne was an absolute monster, build like a block and able to hold up blockers at the point of attack and push the pocket. At times on the camp circuit he would show his pass rushing moves, especially a nice inside rip, but other times he was stoned despite his size, which was puzzling. However, with the ability to bull rush and be more physical in pads, he was unstoppable and showed off light feet and the ability to shoot the gap. He was obviously a special prospect based on his ranking and has lived up to the billing.

The skinny: Fitzpatrick committed to Alabama over Florida State in April but then took an official visit to Tallahassee in October. He ultimately stuck with his word and signed with the Crimson Tide. Fitzpatrick has followed up a tremendous true freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign. Already with 48 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions, six passes defended and one forced fumble, Fitzpatrick continues to raise his level of play.

Farrell’s take: I've watched Fitzpatrick since he was a freshman in high school. He has always been a five-star talent, but scouting him so much might have led to expectations that were too high. It's why we moved him from cornerback to safety in the end because he struggled in solo coverage against elite wide receivers. So much for that, huh? Fitzpatrick's instant impact last season on the Alabama defense was amazing, and he’s taken it to the next level this season. He's living up to that five-star status but also sticking it in our face a bit about that move to safety.

The skinny: Hamilton was an early commitment to Alabama, but then took official visits to UCLA and, most notably, Auburn. He actually took several visits to Auburn during the fall, but when it came time to put pen to paper, he signed with the Crimson Tide. Hamilton, who began to emerge last season, has truly hit his stride in 2016. He currently has 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble and is an important part of the best linebacking corps in the country.

Farrell’s take: Hamilton was a Rivals100 prospect who was not only a good downhill gap filler and tackler but was also good in coverage. We liked his instincts quite a bit and the way he flowed to the ball, and he’s showing all of that now in college. Hamilton is one of the most underrated defenders on the nation’s best team. His tackling ability is up there with most linebackers in the country, which is not a surprise to us at all.

The skinny: Anderson picked up an offer from Alabama in April and waited only a few days to commit to the Crimson Tide during a visit to campus. Anderson had a big 2015 season and has followed that up with an even better 2016 performance. He currently has 42 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles and has become one of the key contributors on the Alabama defense.

Farrell’s take: Anderson was a huge linebacker out of high school at 250 pounds and was always moving with a great motor and a natural ability to get into the backfield. He was explosive, he had pass-rushing technique from the start and he got skinny when he needed to or bowled over off-balance linemen. He couldn’t be solo blocked when coming off the edge and was much faster than he looked.

The skinny: Williams committed to Alabama after a January official visit but still decided to take additional visits to both Florida State and Miami. The extra visits weren't enough to help the Seminoles and Hurricanes, however, as he decided to stick with his commitment. At Alabama, Williams began to flourish during the 2015 campaign with 18 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. After a slow start this season, he now has 24 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, eight sacks and two forced fumbles.

Farrell’s take: Williams was a lanky, skinny kid who was an excellent pass rusher out of high school. The only thing holding him back from a higher ranking was his frame. While he's not huge by defensive end standards, he has more than overcome that with his quickness off the edge. The interesting part? He was overshadowed at his school by a freshman named Dylan Moses his senior year.

The skinny: With Tomlinson only taking official visits to Alabama and Georgia Tech, this came down to a Signing Day decision between the Crimson Tide and Yellow Jackets. While Georgia Tech fought hard, Alabama won out at the end. As with many Alabama players, Tomlinson has had to wait his turn with the Crimson Tide. After impressing last season with 34 tackles, he is having his best collegiate season this fall with 45 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Farrell’s take: Tomlinson was a blocky, physical defensive tackle who played with good leverage and power and had sneaky quickness. The biggest thing about him was his ability to rush as an end with that tackle build, so he was very scheme-friendly at the next level. He had a great rip move and used his hands well, but mainly he surprised opponents with his quick get off.

The skinny: Harrison originally committed to North Carolina after his sophomore season, but after earning an offer from the Crimson Tide at an Alabama camp he flipped a couple of weeks later. While he did take official visits to Georgia and Notre Dame during his senior season, he never seriously considered another school and enrolled early at Alabama. After showing his potential as a true freshman last fall, Harrison has really established himself this fall. He currently has 57 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries as he's emerged as yet another important part of Alabama’s secondary.

Farrell’s take: Harrison was a tall and filled out safety prospect who could also play corner and had very good ball skills. He wasn’t a burner on the field, which is what held him back from being a Rivals100 prospect, but he had good hips, excellent instincts and he could catch anything. When Nick Saban covets you as a defensive back, and he wanted Harrison, then you know you’re likely looking at a playmaker, and Harrison was perhaps a bit undervalued.

The skinny: Averett committed to Alabama after a visit to campus during the spring. While programs like Penn State, Tennessee and Rutgers continued to push for visits, he stayed firm with the Crimson Tide. After a slow start to his collegiate career, Averett has burst on the scene this fall with 29 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and an impressive seven pass break-ups.

Farrell’s take: I remember Averett being a take by ‘Bama and being confused why. I saw speed but I didn’t see natural football instincts or ability -- he did most of what he did in high school because he was an elite athlete and just faster than everyone else. He was a big-time track kid who ran a 10.6 100 meters and was an amazing long jumper and he did put up stats in high school, but this one was odd to me especially since Alabama spot recruits New Jersey and he wasn’t an elite guy you’d think they’d pursue. As usual, Saban knew more than I did.