Top Safeties in NFL Draft: Xavier McKinney

Bill Huber

Alabama’s do-it-all Xavier McKinney checks in at No. 1 in our ranking of the top safeties in the NFL Draft.

Alabama’s Xavier McKinney is an artist.

Frequently, the drawings are motivational in nature and wind up on his practice pants. None hang on the wall but some are tattooed to his body, such as “Humble” on one bicep and “Hungry” on the other.

Humble and hungry, confident and productive. Those words describe McKinney and why he’s our top-ranked safety prospect. McKinney earned second-team All-American in 2019. Among our top 22 safety prospects, McKinney ranked No. 1 with 95 tackles, No. 1 with four forced fumbles, No. 4 with 5.5 tackles for losses and tied for fifth with three interceptions. In his two years as a starter, he tallied 169 tackles, six sacks, 11.5 TFLs, five interceptions, 20 total passes defensed and six forced fumbles.

“Just the versatility I had at school, being able to do different things at different positions, at different times of the game, I think that will help me in the league,” McKinney said at the Scouting Combine. “I think just being able to do that will show coaches that I am able to do that at a high level. I think that will help me succeed in the league.”

Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama is a defensive back factory. Over the previous six drafts, 10 Crimson Tide defensive backs were drafted by NFL teams. Five of them have earned Pro Bowl honors and four have been All-Pro.

“I think he would say a lot of great things,” McKinney said of his relationship with the renowned coach. “Me and him, over the years, we’ve grown, our relationship has grown. At first, it was a little rough my freshman year. I used to think he didn’t really like me. But over the years, I think we’ve grown. He’s come to trust me, have a lot of trust in me and a lot of faith in me.”

What we like

Wherever McKinney lined up, he made an impact. According to Sports Info Solutions, he lined up in the slot 20 percent of the time and in the box 27 percent of the time. He didn’t blitz often but had a pressure rate of 31 percent. “I think my coverage ability (is) not talked about enough. If you ask anybody that I’ve played against or even my teammates, they’ll say that I can cover and I can do it very well. I think I’m a technician, so I think that’s something that’s not really talked about that I can really do well.”

What we don’t like

At 6-foot 3/8 and 201 pounds, McKinney’s 4.63 in the 40 is just below what teams want to see from their safeties. In two seasons, McKinney had five interceptions but dropped six others. And he missed 12 tackles – a missed-tackle rate of 11 percent that’s not bad but isn’t great, either. While he lined up frequently in the slot at Alabama, he won’t be able to keep up with some of the smaller, shiftier slots.

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