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Georgia Tech Football: Position Previews- Safety and Nickel

The back of Georgia Tech’s defense gets a fresh start, and there’s reason to see brighter days ahead here

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Georgia Tech at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Georgia Tech’s backend enters 2022 with uncertainty but also a much-needed fresh start. For years, Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter held the allure of creating one of the conference’s best safety tandems, but chemistry, coaching, and communication issues all blended together to cause year by year regression. Those two have departed to chase NFL dreams, while Nickel Wesley Walker is off to Tennessee. There’s plenty of opportunity for the returning veterans and several intriguing newcomers in this group.

Let’s take a look at the productivity and effectiveness of Georgia Tech’s Safety and Nickel players in 2021.

2021 Safety and Nickel Production

Player G Solo Ast Tot TFL Sk Int PD FR FF
Player G Solo Ast Tot TFL Sk Int PD FR FF
Juanyeh Thomas 11 37 39 76 5 1 1 5 2
Tariq Carpenter 11 40 25 65 1 0 2 1
Wesley Walker 10 24 20 44 0 0 2 1 2
Jaylon King 10 20 12 32 2 0 1 1 0
Derrik Allen 10 3 1 4 0 0
Kaleb Edwards 6 9 4 13 0 0
Miles Brooks 6 5 4 9 0 0
Jalen Huff 5 6 1 7 0 0 1 1
Sirad Bryant 1 1 0 1 0 0

2021 PFF Safety and Nickel Grades

Name Snaps Overall Grade Rush Defense Pass Coverage
Name Snaps Overall Grade Rush Defense Pass Coverage
Jaylon King 255 66.1 63.9 67.6
Juanyeh Thomas 734 62.9 78.3 51.5
Wesley Walker 567 62.3 70.2 59.5
Kaleb Edwards 95 55.6 54.6 57.8
LaMiles Brooks 91 54.5 45.8 59.6
Tariq Carpenter 498 53.2 67.5 47.4
Jalen Huff 50 51.6 50.6 54.1
Derrik Allen 133 38.5 28.7 42.4
KJ Wallace (Notre Dame) 19 36.4 62.3 30.7

Who’s Gone?

Juanyeh Thomas - The three year started remained a menace against the run, but his pass coverage skills deteriorated over the course of his GT career. His 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown against UGA in 2018 will remain a cherished memory from a career that didn’t end up progressing the way many of us hoped. Now, he will try to catch on with the Dallas Cowboys during fall camp.

Tariq Carpenter - The four year started remains inextricably linked with Thomas in the minds of many Georgia Tech fans. Unfortunately, their performances followed a similarly confusing downward trajectory towards the end. After being picked in the seventh round, Carpenter will try to make the Packers roster as a linebacker, a position that makes much more sense for his body and skillset.

Wesley Walker - Walker came on in the second half of 2020 and ended up starting most of his last season and a half at GT. He was another secondary player for GT who seemed to find more success stopping the run than the pass. Now, he’s elected to continue his playing career in Knoxville.

Who’s Back?

Jaylon King - 6’1”, 188 lbs., R-Junior

Derrik Allen - 6’2”, 208 lbs., R-Junior

LaMiles Brooks - 6’2”, 184 lbs., R-Freshman

Jalen Huff - 5’11”, 189 lbs., R-Freshman

Kaleb Edwards - 6’0” 217 lbs., Sophomore

Sirad Bryant - 6’2”, 203 lbs., R-Freshman

Who are the fresh faces?

Khari Gee - 6’2”, 195 lbs., R-Freshman - Transfer from Notre Dame, did not play in 2021

KJ Wallace - 5’10”, 185 lbs., R-Sophomore - Transfer from Notre Dame, appeared in 16 games in 3 seasons

Jaylin Marshall - 6’3”, 190 lbs., Freshman - Western HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

Clayton Powell-Lee - 6’2”, 180 lbs., Freshman - Westlake HS

Rodney Shelley - 5’11”, 175 lbs., Freshman - Langston Hughes HS


Some defenses are boom or bust, highly disruptive but also prone to giving up explosive plays. This defense was just bust in 2021, as the explosives flowed freely, while there was almost no disruption from the secondary.

All three safety positions get a fresh start in 2022, and the coaches will give King and Allen the first shot to lock up spots at free and strong safety respectively, while Edwards is the presumed leader at Nickel after earning increased snaps across his true freshman season. A healthy LaMiles Brooks, the potential of the transfer Gee, and the impressive physicality of Marshall will keep the more experienced guys on their toes. The performance against the pass absolutely cannot be worse than it was in 2021, but there is still a lot of uncertainty here. Jaylon King has been the best pass defender of the group, but Georgia Tech has to shore up the weak links across the back, and it’s not yet clear that this group has three guys who can consistently hold up against the pass. The trio of King, Edwards, and Marshall likely has the highest upside for this group.

2022 Safety and Nickel Outlook

Name 2022 Outlook Statistical Projection (Tackles-TFL-PD-Int)
Name 2022 Outlook Statistical Projection (Tackles-TFL-PD-Int)
Jaylon King King was the steadiest player in the back of GT’s defense last year, and now he will have the chance to be the clear star of the group. If he can add a bit more disruption to his reliability, he could be an all-conference type player. 61-5-5-2
Derrik Allen This one is a mystery. Allen was much better in 2020 than in 2021, and there hasn’t been a public disclosure of an injury or something similar that could have caused the performance decline. Based on the spring, he will get the first crack at the starting job. I’m not sure if he will keep it. 28-1-2-0
Kaleb Edwards Edwards kept earning more snaps as the year went along and ended up with the second highest PFF grade of the returning safety and nickel players for GT. He’s the clear starter at Nickel. 58-7-4-1
LaMiles Brooks Unlike Allen, Brooks did have significant injury issues that limited him to 6 games and kept him out of much of the spring. He is apparently healthy and is likely to be the main backup for King, as well as an extra safety in certain packages. 24-1-3-1
Jalen Huff Huff should be Allen’s backup, but he also hasn’t showing much flash yet. He’s going to have to take a step up to justify keeping Jaylin Marshall off of the field. 15-1-1-0
Sirad Bryant Bryant will compete with Brooks for backup FS snaps, but he’s likely a guy who the coaches would want to see develop for one more year before actively deploying him. 9-0-0-0
Khari Gee Gee looks like he will suit up as the primary backup for Edwards at Nickel, but he may also get snaps outside and deep. He’s raw but versatile, and the coaches will want to see if they can get him a spot on the field. 15-1-1-0
KJ Wallace Wallace looks to mostly be a special teams player after failing to crack the two deep in three seasons at Notre Dame. 8-0-0-0
Jaylin Marshall Marshall is a wildcard here. Yes, he’s a freshman, but he has the physical tools to compete, and he will likely play the position that is most up in the air right now. I wouldn’t be shocked if he earned a late season start. 25-3-2-1
Clayton Powell-Lee Powell-Lee is almost certain to redshirt, but he may get some mop up duty in games that get out of hand. 4-0-0-0
Rodney Shelley The freshman may get a chance to return kicks, but I expect his defensive snaps to be limited until at least 2023. 2-0-0-0