Over the past few weeks there has been much conversation about Alabama safety Mark Barron on both ESPN and the NFL Network. While everyone agrees that he is a top prospect, I can’t believe that they are describing him as a “box safety.” That can’t be further from the truth.
I wrote up Barron a few months ago at the NFP and I don’t remember ever seeing him as a box safety type. The other thing the network analysts are saying is that he doesn’t have man to man cover skills.
Whenever I hear things that I feel are wrong I always go back to the tape to see if I was in fact right about my opinion. You know the old saying “the eye in the sky don’t lie.” In this case I still had 4 tapes of Alabama's defense to refer to.
One of the tapes was the TV version of the national championship game so I didn’t watch that…the reason being you can’t always see alignments on TV tape. I did have the “coaches” tape of the games against Mississippi, Tennessee and the first LSU game. In those 3 games Barron did not play as a “box safety” more than a few (less than 6) plays. In their base defense he lined up at either free or strong depending on the offensive alignment. In the Tennessee game for instance he was at free safety 17 plays. Where people could get the misconception that he plays in the box is that in some of Alabama’s sub packages Alabama brings in a third safety and moves Barron to linebacker as a nickel linebacker. He is not used in a box safety role. When he is at that nickel linebacker position he will sometimes blitz, sometimes have the TE in man to man coverage or he can be walked off and play man on a slot. I have also seen him have a back in man coverage when at linebacker.
There are other packages where he is also man up on a slot or if they are against trips to one side the inside slot. While he does not have corner cover skills he is a good man to man cover guy showing good hips and a burst. His mirror skills and ball reactions are very good. When playing deep as a free he has range to the sideline and again very good ball awareness.
The thing that stands out about Barron is that he was obviously the quarterback of the Alabama defense and his instincts and overall ability are so good that they trusted him in a variety of roles. There is no doubt that he is one of the more versatile safeties in this draft and for people to say he is just a box safety is wrong.