Nick Saban actually completed a first on the recruiting trail this week. When Marlon Humphrey announced his commitment to Alabama on Wednesday afternoon, it secured the first time the noted coach has landed a pair of five-star cornerbacks in the same class during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. Tony Brown committed to Alabama on January 2 and is already enrolled in classes and participating on the track and field team.
Humphrey will also take part in Alabama track, and like Brown, he's also one of the best hurdlers in America among high school athletes. In fact, they raced once this summer, and Brown edged Humphrey, sparking a mini-rivalry between the two. Come this summer, they'll be teammates and could possibly be forever linked to one another in college and beyond.
"I really started liking track this year, I started off my year racing Tony Brown, another elite DB and hurdler," Humphrey told Scout this summer. "We raced, we tied, and then he ended up beating me by .002 (seconds) or something like that. I didn't think I was going to come close to hitting that time, but it kept dropping and I really started to like track a lot more.
"It's to the point that I don't think I can go to college without doing both of these sports."
Both players remain in that camp, and will also boost Alabama's track and field program sooner than later. But on the football field, can each live up to the five-star billing and possibly start on opposite islands within Saban's defense? Those questions will be asked for years to come, so BamaMag.com breaks down what each currently brings to the table on the football field.
For this feature, we'll break down the two in the following categories: Speed, hips, physicality, ball skills and instincts.
On the track, Brown edged Humphrey in their only race over the last year, but we're talking football here. Each competed at high level events on the combine circuit as well, but not at the same time. So throw t-shirt and shorts speed out of this race. The good ‘ole eye test, which is easier to deal with considering each has long touchdown scores this season, will settle it.
Humphrey has elite ball skills.
Both change direction incredibly well, both break on the ball well. Brown may have a slight advantage heading into the debate because he played safety and cornerback, so we saw him make plays from all angles on tape. Humphrey is more of a return specialist than Brown, and a better one which also contributed to his speed victory above, but Brown's versatility on defense alone helps him to take Round 2. He can open up laterally and break on the ball just as well as he does from a true cornerback spot or in press-man, which he may do better than Humphrey as well, again by a microscopic margin. With the ball in their hands, it's even closer, but this is about defensive back skill and Brown edges this one out with as fluid a pair of hips as you'll see from a teenager.
Again, each has his moments of physical domination at the high school level. Humphrey is violent with his hands when the ball is headed his way, and he is a very solid tackler in the open field, probably a step above Brown at the moment. But when the Texan makes contact with a ball carrier, he feels it more. Brown is vicious at the point of attack, whether in the running lane, on the sidelines or down the field, often separating the ball from its intended target. There's one particular play on his tape (sample HERE) in which he simply throws the ball carrier to the ground so hard that the ball pops out and the runner remains down on the turf from the impact Brown created.
Ball Skills: Humphrey
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but it's close. Each is an interception machine, and knows what to do with the football once in his hands, but Humphrey is ahead of Brown at this stage in his overall ball skill. He may be a better leaper, and he has great length to his frame which enables him to have a bit wider catch radius than Brown. Humphrey also has a slightly better feel for the cornerback spot on a consistent basis, apparent when he stacks wide receivers with relative ease during "go" routes straight down the field, sometimes not even having to leave his feet to make a play on the football (sample HERE). Humphrey is also slightly ahead on underneath routes, with crafty techniques on quick passes that still enable him to get around the target legally to make a play on the ball. Round 4 is his.
Of course it comes down to one final factor to breakup this tie, instincts. The complete package. Each is phenomenal in the open field, down field, with the ball in his hands, in being physical and of course with the wind at his back, but instincts are the most important factors when talking cornerbacks. Humphrey is truly elite in this category, he has the feel we mentioned in Round 4, a natural ability to make plays on the football and a break on the ball that gets him from point A to the ball as quickly as any prospect in the country. Brown, however, steals the final category because of the last part. His break on the football is simply rare. During Under Armour practices, he broke on the ball 5 yards away from the target and beat an All-American quarterback's throw to the spot, and he wasn't putting any air on the rock. That play was apparent all season for Brown, who closes gaps better than any prospect in the country with his quick-twitch, great hips, explosive drive and ball skill. It is his instincts that make him a top-five player nationally on Scout.com, and why he takes the narrow – and we stress narrow – margin over Humphrey in this debate.
Both Brown and Humphrey will look to make immediate impacts on the football field, and it wouldn't surprise many if that began in the fall of 2014, as each takes part in his true freshman campaign.
Brown is physical specimen.
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