The next entry in the Film Room series takes a look at Tech’s 2018 defensive back class. Collectively, the new DBs mark a distinct upgrade in terms of size; they’ll need to add muscle, but all are at least 6-0 in height, and only one DB on the roster is taller than signees Zamari Walton and Juanyeh Thomas. That size comes paired with capable coverage abilities, and between the 2017 and 2018 classes, Tech seems to be building a strong foundation in the secondary for the years ahead.
The same 1-5 scoring system will be maintained. The score definitions follow:
- 5: Power-5 Elite
- 4: Power-5 Above Average
- 3: Power-5 Average
- 2: G5
- 1: FCS or lower
The following tools will be graded for defensive backs:
Size: To some extent, a DB’s frame can determine where he best fits on the field. Length is useful for boundary corners who typically face bigger receivers. Added muscle is beneficial for a safety who plays up in the box a lot, but he could potentially cover more ground without the extra weight.
Speed: Even a technically sound DB will have a bad time if he can’t run with the guy he’s covering. A key component of this will be recovery speed: if the DB gets beaten, can he close the distance enough to make a play on the ball downfield?
Fluidity: This is a mash-up of the prospect’s agility and his ability to rotate his hips to change direction quickly. The latter is especially important in man coverage for sticking with receivers on routes.
Coverage Skills: This covers general man and zone coverage skills, but it also extends to elements such as the player’s ability to read the quarterback.
Run Support: A defensive back who can take on running backs—especially bigger ones—is an asset. This correlates with size, but size is no guarantee of run support ability.
Jaylon King (S)
Hometown: Nashville, TN
Height/Weight: 6-1, 180
Coverage Skills: 4
Run Support: 4
Assistant coach Andy McCollum specifically mentioned King’s talents at corner when he signed in December, so he seems likely to start off there, but he’s versatile enough to play at any position in the secondary. There isn’t one specific element of King’s game that stands out as a transcendent skill... but that’s fine, because he’s a very polished prospect with no glaring weaknesses and a high ceiling. There’s a reason he’s the top-rated recruit in Tech’s latest class on the 247Sports Composite rankings.
King will need to add some weight if he ends up at safety, but he’s got great length regardless of the position he plays. He has good speed and should have no trouble running with ACC receivers, but his bigger assets are his ability to accelerate and to change direction quickly. In coverage, King does a great job of tracking his man while following the quarterback’s eyes, and that helps him get in position to play the ball when it arrives. The concerns here are that 1) his film doesn’t show much zone or press coverage and 2) he seems willing to gamble often to break up passes.
His senior film also has only a limited sample of him in run support, but in that limited sample, he shows off very good tackling form. When King takes on a ballcarrier, he goes low to make the tackle, aiming for the waist instead of the chest. That’s a promising sign for a young player. All in all, he should be considered one of the top candidates in the class to earn playing time as a true freshman.
Also, while it’s unrelated to his defensive outlook, King would be a very interesting option at kick returner. That could very well be his fastest ticket to playing time this fall.
Zamari Walton (CB)
Hometown: Melbourne, FL
Height/Weight: 6-3, 175
Coverage Skills: 3
Run Support: 2
Walton is a tall, lanky athlete who lined up at both safety and corner for his high school team. He could be a fit just about anywhere in the secondary for Tech, but at a listed weight of 175 pounds, he’ll need to add a good amount of weight to be a viable safety. As a corner, though, his length makes him a very intriguing prospect and he would almost certainly be ready to contribute sooner. (His “size” score is based mainly on this and the fact that he can and probably will add muscle over the next couple years.)
Walton has plenty of speed, and he changes direction with ease when running with and without the ball. He has little trouble keeping pace with receivers downfield even when marking them right off the line of scrimmage. It’s possible he loses a step if he has to add some weight, but it’s hard to imagine his speed falling off the map from that alone. Plus there’s at least one mitigating factor: thanks to the fact that he’s played corner and safety, Walton’s film shows plenty of man and zone coverage, and he thrives in both arenas.
The big question mark will be how well he can shed blockers and bring down the ballcarrier, regardless of whether he adds some muscle. There isn’t much tackling in general in his film, and his form is nothing special in what is there. Walton has the raw talent to contribute as a freshman, but given Tech’s returning depth at boundary corner—the position Walton would be most suited to play right now—it would be no surprise if he redshirts to add weight and adapt to his new position.
Juanyeh Thomas (CB)
Hometown: Niceville, FL
Height/Weight: 6-3, 205
Coverage Skills: 3
Run Support: 4
Thomas is another guy who could end up at either corner or safety. Most of his junior and senior film focuses on offensive highlights, so it’s hard to truly gauge his defensive skills, especially his coverage abilities.
His biggest asset is size: by height and weight, Thomas is the biggest defensive back prospect in the class, and he has room to add some muscle. A decent chunk of his defensive film focuses on his tackling ability, and while he could work on hitting lower, he hits hard and wraps up well. He could profile as a long boundary corner, but between his size and the presence of King and Walton in the class, it’s easier to envision Thomas as a hard-hitting strong safety.
Thomas has decent speed—good enough to be a viable ACC defensive back, but not really game-changing. He shows good burst and changes direction quickly, though the latter is clear more in the context of offense and punt returns, and it’s not so clear how well he turns his hips in coverage. He’s good enough to play as a true freshman if needed, but it’s more likely that Thomas redshirts and becomes a contributor down the line.
Jaylen Jackson (CB)
Hometown: Brunswick, GA
Height/Weight: 6-0, 195
Coverage Skills: 3
Run Support: 2
It’s not 100% clear where Jackson will play, as he’s listed as an athlete on the official roster. He could be a fit at wide receiver or A-back, but if he does end up in the secondary, he most likely profiles as a field cornerback.
Jackson can leave opposing players in the dust in the open field, but it can take him a little time to reach top speed. That’s a little concerning with respect to recovery speed as he moves up to collegiate competition. Still, his film does include a few plays where he gets beaten but manages to catch up and break up a pass.
The film also shows at least one example of Jackson pressing effectively, as he rattles a receiver at the line and sticks with him to make a play downfield. His best coverage skill seems to be positioning himself well in zone, but he flashes skills in all three general types of coverage (man, zone, and press). He’s a raw prospect and is likely to redshirt this fall, but Jackson could emerge as a key contributor in time.
All four of the defensive back prospects have the potential to be solid contributors down the line and are (mostly) versatile enough to move around the secondary as needed. The biggest thing holding them back might simply be the huge defensive back class that Tech brought in a year ago. Because of that, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if all four players end up redshirting—though one or more of them could see time on special teams, and King in particular has a good shot to play as a reserve defensive back.
It’s also worth noting that positions tend to be in flux for incoming freshmen. Three-star signee Charlie Thomas was originally projected to play safety (and is still listed as a defensive back), but according to Paul Johnson near the end of his National Signing Day presser, Charlie asked to play wide receiver and will start out there. Other players may end up moving around—particularly Jackson, who has no official position for the moment.