Alabama Football: Three Crimson Tide ‘Breakout Candidates’

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

This is an inexact science, of course, but based off spring practice and the first weeks of fall camp, here are my potential breakout candidates for Alabama football in 2019.

This is a continuation of Bama Hammer’s look at the top candidates for Alabama football’s breakout stars in 2019.

Miller Forristall (TE)

While I’m not sure that Forristall will put up the relatively (for an Alabama football tight end) gaudy numbers that Irv Smith, Jr. had in 2018, I do believe that the Tide needs to locate a guy who can at least be a solid blocker in the run game and a decoy in the passing.

And this is not a knock on Forristall. The truth is, there’s been such a small sample size to go on during his previous three seasons, we don’t know what he can do. Unfortunately for him, he was a true freshman during O.J. Howard’s final season in Tuscaloosa, got injured early in his sophomore year and then had to play behind Smith and Hale Hentges in his third season.

Forristall doesn’t need to be Howard or Smith. He doesn’t even have to be Michael Williams. There’s room to believe that a guy with Forristall’s size (6’5″, 242 lbs.) can be effective enough to sneak through coverage with the formidable quadrangle of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle running about.

This is how Smith was successful in 2018. While there’s a pretty stiff competition going on at the position between Forristall, Cam Latu and Giles Amos, Forristall will most likely be the first one out against Duke. From there, I believe he’ll be the most prominently used at the position in 2019.

Emil Ekiyor (OG/C)

This large (6’3″, 326 lbs.) interior lineman is pretty much what scouts dream up for the prototypical “road grader”. Ekiyor, a redshirt freshman, has consistently impressed the Alabama football coaching staff since arriving on campus a year ago and, with the four-game suspension of supposed incumbent Deonte Brown, he’s solidified his place as a starter at left guard.

This is only a piece of the equation, though, because it looks as though Ekiyor has also received first-team reps at center and right guard. And if you think it’s simply easy for a lineman to play either guard position at a high level, ask Lester Cotten or Ross Pierschbacher. The footwork of one is the inverse for another and, by all accounts, Ekiyor can be trusted with both.

And if that wasn’t enough, the precocious big man is doing a pretty good job as the squad’s signal-caller at center. The assumption coming out of the spring for many was that Ekiyor was a mere placeholder until Brown returned, but with Ekiyor’s pliability, there could be up to three different linemen fending him off.

Alabama football is in a very good position right now with up to six guys who could start in the interior of the offensive line, but the safe money is on Ekiyor being one of them at any of the three in 2019.

Xavier McKinney (S)

I know. This one’s not necessarily a “breakout” relative to the rest of the defense. He was a starter on last year’s defense and was the defensive MVP in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. And certainly, all signs point to him being a vocal leader on a defense that is looking to get back an edge that was missing in 2018.

I’m talking Xavier McKinney on a national level. Most knew who Minkah Fitzpatrick was heading into 2017, but there was another defensive back who was viewed as the safety that season: FSU’s Derwin James. James did have a great year for a mediocre team, but it was Fitzpatrick that walked away with Alabama football’s second Thorpe Award.

McKinney is in a similar boat in 2019. LSU’s Grant Delpit is rightfully garnering most of the preseason hype at the position, but I believe that it’s McKinney that will be the name on everyone’s lips by early December. His footwork, his instincts and his experience will make for a truly dangerous player.

And like Fitzpatrick, we’ll probably see McKinney line up as a high safety in base, a decoy pass rusher in a six-DB set and, possibly, middle linebacker in nickel. He’s a strong safety with good enough coverage skills to be effective on crossing routes and if he can put it all together, he’ll be a Thorpe finalist at the very least in 2019.

Next. A different take on 'Breakout Candidates'. dark

In a roster so filled with blue-chip players, ‘breaking through’ is never easy. But in Tuscaloosa, more so than on any other campus, the cream rises to the top.