Tuesday, 23 July 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 38

(photo cred: Jennifer Hilderbrand - US Presswire)
The third player on the Top 40 list comes from a third different school and a third different position as the list reveals our first All Pac-12 selection with Arizona State Safety Alden Darby. Before we get to Darby, here’s a quick recap of the list so far:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC

As has been custom with the first two posts in this series, I will first prevent Darby’s stats from 2012:
80 tackles (53 solo), 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, 7 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble

Good not great stats although 80 tackles for a deep safety is pretty good especially for a team with such a good D-Line that doesn’t need safeties to make tackles too often. What makes Darby so special is his ability to read plays and react in and instant to make a big play. This play he made against USC this past season is friggin’ incredible and illustrates his ability to read plays and flash amazing athleticism.

I apologize for the terrible quality but it's the only clip of the play I can find and it is an absolute must watch to explain why Darby is a top 40 player. You can see ASU has four defensive backs lined up deep 11-12 yards or so off the line of scrimmage. Normally, a player that far away wouldn’t make a play five yards in the back field unless he was coming in to strip the ball from a ball carrier that was already wrapped up. However, a fraction before the snap, you can see Darby figure out USC is going to run a swing pass to the left he is in full stride as the ball is snapped, makes a beeline for the passing lane, covers 15 yards in about two and a half seconds, makes the interception and houses it.

This is a guy who does his homework, he read the formation with Marqise Lee lined up at running back, saw lee’s body language and quickly figured out what he was going to do and made a 15 yard break on the ball all at the same time. It is absolutely ridiculous how good this one play is from an individual standpoint. Forget about his numbers and overall body of work, I would have been okay with Darby as 2nd team All Pac-12 based on this play alone.

Of course, like any play, Darby has his warts. He’s another guy who is a little undersized (5-11, 188) and his run coverage is hit or miss. Here is a nice game tape of Darby against Arizona that I can use to show the good and bad with him.

At 0:14 ASU gives up a touchdown but Alden makes a perfect play that would have prevented a score against any other Running Back. I’m not sure if it was by design or not but Darby was unblocked on this play. Darby is the last line of defense, they only man who can keep Ka’Deem Carey out of the endzone. The temptation for a lot of players in this situation is to attack the ball player, come in hot and take the play to the ball carrier. Had Darby done this, Carey would have just run right around him and walked into the endzone just inside the pylon. Instead, Darby plants his feet on the goal line, doesn’t give Carey a chance to go left or right and makes him go through him.

Instead, Carey makes one of the most amazing plays I have ever seen and dives over Darby’s head and into the endzone. Darby makes a perfect play but Carey made a better one, it happens.

At 2:36 you can see how Darby has problems sometimes. Occasionally, Darby forgets that he is always in that right place and doing the right thing. He reads the play and starts running toward the line of scrimmage thinking he can make another huge play like he did against USC. Instead he runs himself right out of position, leaving no one in the hole to greet Carey and keep the play to a minimal gain but instead he gives up an open alley and allows 16 yards and it would have been a lot more if not for a shoe string tackle.

Alden Darby is a very good safety, one of the better DBs in the country, not just the conference. His size is a concern and his athleticism although adequate will not wow you which doesn’t make him much of an NFL prospect. Darby just quietly does his job very effectively and every now and then he makes an amazing play that leaves me drooling. He’s a solid player and someone you would take on your team any time but just not an elite player.

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