What intangibles does a 5-star defensive back possess that allows them to be a superstar at the college level?
Speed, quickness and athletes are of course a given for players in the defensive secondary, but what is it that sets a 5-star defensive back apart from the rest?
In the past few months, I’ve been breaking down those traits of 5-star players at different positions. So far, I’ve covered quarterbacks and wide receivers. It’s time to move over to the defensive side of the ball, though.
Here are the traits that make a 5-star defensive back a superstar:
Having a proper backpedal is essential to being a good corner at any level of football. Being able to quickly and swiftly move backward while facing forward and having your eyes on what’s happening in front of you is integral.
5-star corners and safeties can backpedal in their sleep, and they may be able to do it faster than many of us can run forward.
Having a good backpedal means that they are staying low with their knees bent in an athletic position, chest is low, back is straight and eyes are up. They aren’t simply chopping their feet backward, though—more so pushing off and exploding backward.
Footwork is key here, and 5-star defensive backs must be impeccable at this.
Having a great backpedal means nothing if you can’t turn your hips and run with the receiver. Defensive backs aren’t meant to just backpedal along with a receiver, so being able to quickly flip the hips, get vertical and then sprint with the receiver is a must.
This all depends on having a quick hip turn.
Whether it’s a speed turn in or out, or even a baseball turn, which is more like a 180, being able to break out of the backpedal, catch up to the receiver and then get into his hip is what sets apart the good defensive backs from the great.
Strong Against the Run
A defensive back is not always asked to be just a pass defender, so having the ability to play strong against the run is huge. This is actually one of the biggest dividing lines between just good and elite-level players.
I talked a lot about the backpedal and how important it was, but equally as important is the ability to quickly stick the foot and come back down to the line of scrimmage against the run. Great defensive backs can transition their footwork from pass coverage to run in a split second, and a lot of that has to do with their footwork. They can stick, plant and get downhill extremely fast, and that allows them to make a lot of plays at or near the line of scrimmage against the run.
They also can’t be afraid of contact, and good defensive backs normally initiate it. Whether it be taking on a block to set the edge and force the runner back inside to help or simply making an open-field tackle against a bigger runner, 5-star defensive backs find a way to be more than just pass defenders.
5-star Alabama defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick really personified these characteristics during his time with the Crimson Tide. He was extremely physical at the line of scrimmage against the run. He was known for coming down and making big hits that oftentimes stopped the ball-carrier in his htracks.
He notched 66 solo tackles and 90 total tackles in three years at Alabama, which is great for a defensive back.
5-star defensive backs just have a natural instinct. Somehow, they are always around the football and always make big plays. What separates the good from the great in the defensive secondary is the ability to take the ball away from the offense.
Great defensive backs just find a way to get it done. They can make athletic plays on the ball in coverage that lead to interceptions, and they aren’t afraid to come down to the line and pounce on a ball that was knocked loose by a linebacker or lineman.
Somehow, someway, 5-star defensive backs find a way to get the ball back for their team and change possession, all the while chancing momentum.
Having a 5-star defensive back on your team can be a game-changer. They can seal the deal for you with a huge interception or give you a chance when you desperately need to get the ball and momentum back.
They are constantly around the football, and with the amount of talent they possess, 5-star defensive backs find a way to get it into their possession.
One of the best examples of a ball hawk in recent years is former Tennessee Volunteers' 5-star Eric Berry. He finished his career at Tennessee with 14 interceptions, three touchdowns and two forced fumbles.
He was undoubtedly a superstar at the college level, and he's one of the best examples of a great 5-star defensive back we have.