Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 25: Alabama S Xavier McKinney

Eric Edholm
·7 min read
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

25. Alabama S Xavier McKinney

6-foot, 201 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 - possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Versatile, hard-nosed safety who might not be a master of one thing but projects as a 10-year pro

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, McKinney picked the Crimson Tide over Clemson and Ohio State. As a true freshman in 2017, he played in 13 of the team’s 14 games as a special teamer and a defensive backup. Earning a startling role at safety in 2018, McKinney made 73 tackles (six for losses), three sacks, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 15 starts.

As a junior, McKinney started all 13 games and was named third-team AP All-American and first-team All-SEC. He led Alabama with 95 tackles (5.5 for loss), three sacks, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, five passes defended and a blocked extra-point try against LSU.

McKinney, who turns 22 years old in August, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and participated in the field drills and all the testing except the 3-cone and shuttle drills.

Upside: Extremely versatile. Listed as starting free safety last season but lined up with almost equal frequency there as he did as a box defender and covering the slot. Often asked to defend tight ends and backs and did a respectable job in most assignments. Can interchange and alternate based on matchup or package.

Very talented blitzer — 10 pressures on 34 pass-rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Disguises his intentions and times up his pass rushes very well.

This incredibly well-timed blitz against LSU by McKinney starts with him lurking at the line but not tipping his hand, and it ends with a strip sack of Joe Burrow and a crucial turnover:

McKinney times up this blitz well and makes the play.
McKinney times up this blitz well and makes the play.

Playmaker — five sacks, five interceptions, 11 passes defended and five forced fumbles past two seasons combined. Averaged more than 20 yards per INT return in career and had a pick-six each of the past two seasons. Nice job reading quarterbacks’ eyes in zone coverage. Also good peripheral vision to see routes develop around him.

Great positional instincts and able to break down plays from multiple spots and angles. Will come in and strike the ball with quick hands to make surprising strips. Drives and closes quickly on routes. Good finisher — hard hitter for his size. Cleaned up some tackling issues last season that had cropped up in the 2018 season.

Asked to do a lot by Nick Saban and his staff — earned rare high-level trust for an underclassman. Considered a coach on the field who also had to mentor and help line up Bama’s young linebackers. Good back-end communicator. Staff said he had strong work ethic, excellent practice mentality and great tape-study habits.

Tough and reliable — a pro in the making. Resets his focus quickly after poor plays. Showed up in big games. Willing to take on any role in a defense. Profiles as core special teamer. Fierce competitor.

Downside: Average size — ordinary height and weight, small hands and short arms. Could limit him a bit in terms of press-coverage ability, playmaking ability and matchups with bigger players. Tended to struggle against bigger targets he matched up against. Physical but has his limitations vs. length.

Not an elite athlete. Ran a pedestrian 40 (4.63 seconds), and his 10-yard split (1.65 seconds) puts him in the bottom 10th percentile among safeties (but did suffer from cramping during his first 40). Marginal short-area quickness — can’t be asked to match up with speed receivers or quick slot guys.

Interceptions tended to come against lesser teams and less-talented quarterbacks, often on fluttery or mistimed passes — might not be a supreme playmaker on the ball vs. precise NFL QBs. A tad stiff — can’t flip hips, plant and drive at highest level.

Can overplay routes and take poor angles to the ball at times. Will sink too far in coverage and test his range. Still getting a feel for spacing, which is why some NFL teams don’t believe he’s a free safety. Still has room to improve as a tackler.

Here’s one of those tackling-in-space issues that showed up against LSU last season, as McKinney (No. 15) can’t bring down Ja’Marr Chase in the open field:

McKinney needs to improve his open-field tackling.
McKinney needs to improve his open-field tackling.

Best-suited destination: McKinney can fill a number of roles on an NFL defense, but we assume that he will have his assignments a bit streamlined until it’s clear where his strengths lie. He also figures to be a Day 1 contributor on special teams.

Among the teams we feel could be fits for McKinney include the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills.

Did you know: McKinney originally committed to Bama but decided to open up his recruiting. The Tide were not swayed and continued to covet him hard. Then during the second quarter of the Under Armour All-America Game in 2017, McKinney announced his intentions to recommit to Bama live on ESPN.

“I just feel like that will be the best place for me to strive as a player and a person,” McKinney said.

They said it: “It’s tough. It’s a lot more studying than the average player, I guess, would have to do for one position. It can be difficult trying to learn more than one ... position and know what you have to do. During the week I try to make sure after every practice that I go upstairs and watch film. I try to make sure that I get the game plan and know what I’m doing and make sure that I do my job.

“Every day before practice starts, I would go upstairs and watch film, and then we’d practice, and then after practice I would go upstairs and watch film again and I’d watch film on the other team to see how maybe I can do something or how something can be done.”

— McKinney at the combine on how he handled such diverse assignments

Player comp: Patrick Chung.

Expected draft range: Late first round to early second.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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