The Safety position has the greatest combination of returning experience, production, and talent on the defensive side of the ball. Starters return across the board, redshirt freshmen gained valuable experience last year, and the positional transfer of Charlie Thomas ratchets up the ceiling for the back end of the defense.
There are two losses from this position group. Christian Campbell graduated after a steady career. In 6 starts and 12 appearances last year, he piled up 44 tackles, 2 TFL, and 2 PBU. Ajani Kerr was lost to the transfer portal after a season cut short bu injury in which he recorded 18 tackles in 5 games.
Let’s go through the returning players and the new faces at Safety, and I’ll offer my best guess whether each guy will be Above the Line this season. Levi covered the Nickel guys in his Cornerback preview yesterday, but we will look at them here as well for two reasons. 1) There is overlap in guys who will get snaps at nickel and safety. 2) I’m really excited about Charlie Thomas.
Juanyeh Thomas — 6-3, 216 JR, 60 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF in 2019
A three star prospect in the 2018 class from Niceville, FL, Juanyeh Thomas burst onto the scene as a true freshman returning kickoffs and added a few highlight plays at safety while backing up Malik Rivera, Last year, he assumed the starting safety spot and made impressive strides. He was 5th on the team in overall havoc plays (TFL + INT + PBU + FF), and I expect his havoc contributions to increase this year as he is more experienced and knowledgable in Coach Thacker’s Defense. As Ben pointed out in his Juanyeh Thomas column, Juanyeh led the ACC by allowing only 3.4 yards/attempt against him on pass plays. That’s awesome.
Tariq Carpenter — 6-2, 222 SR, 62 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF in 2019
Returning at the other safety position is veteran Tariq Carpenter. Originally a three star prospect in the 2017 class from Ludowici, GA, Carpenter has started at safety the last two years and looks to bring high level experience and playmaking to the backend. Despite being injured during the NC State Game and missing the UGA game, Tariq ranked third on the team in havoc plays, and he comes into the 2020 season hoping to set himself up for an NFL shot in 2021. Keep this up, and I like his chances:
Fewest yards per catch allowed in coverage among returning DBs:— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 16, 2020
1. Nick Pickett, Oregon - 6.5
2. Tariq Carpenter, GA Tech - 6.9
3. Yusuf Corker, Kentucky - 7.7
3. Tre Sterling, Oklahoma St - 7.7 pic.twitter.com/BYqfl12LXw
Avery Showell — 6-1, 208 RS JR, 16 tackles, 1 PBU
Avery Showell came to GT as a three star prospect in the class of 2017 from Alpharetta, GA. After redshirting in 2017, he appeared in 6 games as a freshman and 11 games as a sophomore, tallying 3 tackles in 2018 and 16 in 2019. He is a capable backup behind the entrenched starters, but he may see some of his playing time usurped by the talented younger guys.
Jaylon King — 6-1, 186 RS SO, 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
Originally a four star prospect in the 2018 class from Nashville, King appeared in all 12 games last year and began to pop towards the end of the year, including 6 tackles with 1 TFL against UGA. He is aggressive and a good tackler in the open field who needs to get on the field more this year. Expect him to get snaps at both safety and the nickel spot.
Kaleb Oliver — 6-4, 212 RS JR, 39 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF
Kaleb Oliver entered GT as a three star prospect in 2017 from Murfreesboro, TN. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, he appeared in all 13 games and racked up 21 tackles with 2.5 TFL. Last year, he started 6 games and appeared in 11 at the nickel spot. He was able to make plays on the ball in the passing game, but he struggled to set the edge on outside zone running plays. He will contribute this year, but expect Charlie Thomas to overtake him in snaps.
Jaytlin Askew — 5-11, 180 SR, 5 tackles, 1 FR
Arriving at Georgia Tech as a three star prospect from Douglasville, GA in 2017, Jaytlin Askew has provided a steady presence on the field and in the locker room for the last 3 years. He appeared in 10 games as a true freshman before starting 5 games and appearing in 11 as a sophomore. He recorded 26 tackles while battling injuries as a sophomore, but he was not able to climb up the depth chart in his junior year. Last week, Coach Collins announced that Askew earned a coveted single digit number for 2020, but expect his contributions to come more in leadership and mentoring roles this year.
Wesley Walker — 6-1, 194 RS FR, 3 tackles
One of the two freshman safeties to play but keep his redshirt, Wesley Walker came to Tech as a three star prospect in the 2019 class from Nashville, TN. In his 3 appearances, he showed promising athleticism and will continue to grow in his instincts and positioning. I expect Walker to receive backup snaps at both safety and nickel this year.
Kenan Johnson — 6-1, 176 RS FR, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF
Kenan Johnson is the other redshirt freshman who fits the above description, having come to Tech as a three star from Lake Minneola, FL. In his appearances, he made a few impressive plays in the opening game against Clemson, including a TFL, while forcing a fumble in his final appearance of the year against NC State. As he continues to develop strength and his body matures, Kenan Johnson has the makings of a promising young defensive back at GT. With the depth at safety, don’t be surprised to see him get snaps all over the defensive backfield this year.
Charlie Thomas — 6-2, 210 JR, 65 tackles, 9.5 TFL, PBU, 2 FF
The defensive backfield adds the guy who may be the best overall player on the Georgia Tech defense. After coming to GT as a three star prospect in 2018 from Thomasville, GA, Charlie Thomas started six games and played in 10 as a true freshman before really asserting himself in his sophomore year. Although he started only 5 games at his outside linebacker spot in 2019, he easily led the defensive in havoc plays. His athleticism, quickness, and instincts will make him an excellent defender against the run and pass from the Nickel spot. Having Tariq Carpenter and the two Thomases across the back makes for an imposing and disruptive group.
Derrik Allen — 6-2, 213 RS SO
Originally a four star in the 2018 Class from Marietta, GA, Derrik Allen enrolled at Notre Dame but transferred back home to Georgia Tech after his redshirt year. He sat out last year and regains his eligibility for the fall of 2020. Though he was lauded for his leadership and character on the developmental team in 2019, injuries prevented him from practicing for most of the year, and his ability to contribute this year is uncertain. Allen is a guy who cultivates excitement amongst the Tech fanbase, but I need to see him on the field before I buy in.
The quality of the safety and nickel spots is the surest bet you could find on this roster. Three of the defense’s top five in havoc plays from 2019 anchor this group, and they are backed up by young talent that will continue to grow and benefit from the threesome on the top of the depth chart.