It’s time to roll (Tide) back through the Alabama football archives to review some of the all-time best Crimson Tide defensive players. Who had the best defensive stats, earned the most All-America honors, or had the biggest influence on the program? Let’s find out.

Who played on the Alabama starting defensive line in the 2023-24 season?

Dallas Turner led the charge for the Alabama defensive linemen in 2023, and he will go on to become yet another first-round NFL Draft selection of the Nick Saban era later this year. Turner was joined by talented edge rusher Chris Braswell, who really improved his production in 2023 by leading the defense with 13 sacks.

Tim Keenan III plugged the middle for the Alabama defense in 2023, and Justin Eboigbe added another 10 sacks as part of a productive defensive front for the Tide throughout the season.

Alabama Defensive Backs History

Cornerback Patrick Surtain II is the most recent DB star to come out of Alabama. He won the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and was named a unanimous First Team All-American in the process.

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was a back-to-back All-American for the Tide in 2016 and 2017, and corner Antonio Langham was the star of the secondary in the early 1990s.

Mark Barron was one of the most feared safeties in college football during his prime, earning back-to-back All-America honors in 2010 and 2011. He was a do-it-all safety who posted 237 total tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, and two interceptions in his four seasons with the Tide.

Famous Alabama Defensive Backs

Minkah Fitzpatrick is among the best Alabama defensive backs in recent memory, but many current elite NFL talents also came out of Tuscaloosa.

Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey played at ‘Bama, as did the Dallas Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs, Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson, Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II, and several others.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Alabama Defensive Players of All Time

  1. Antonio Langham

Position: Defensive Back
Seasons at Alabama:
1990 to 1993
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (1992), Consensus All-American (1993), Jim Thorpe Award (1993), Jack Tatum Trophy (1993)

Many great defensive backs have graced the football field for Alabama, but Antonio Langham is one of the best.

A three-year starter for the Tide, Langham holds the school record for career interceptions with 19. He was a stunningly talented ball-hawk, and a football thrown even slightly late or imperfectly placed was always at risk of being picked off when he was in the secondary.

As a senior, Langham was voted a Consensus All-American and won both the Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum awards for his performance that season.

Whenever Langham intercepted a pass, he was looking to take it all the way to the house, and his speed and agility made him a superb athlete for Alabama during his prime years with the program. He helped the Tide win the national championship in 1992 on a team that ended its 12-0 season with a dominant win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl.

Langham was selected by Cleveland in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft. He would go on to spend more than 15 years in the league -- totaling 245 tackles and 14 interceptions in more than 100 games.

  1. Dont’a Hightower

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Alabama:
2008 to 2011
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (2009, 2011), Consensus All-American (2011), First Team All-SEC (2011), Second Team All-SEC (2010)

Dont’a Hightower established himself as one of the best leaders and professional linebackers in the NFL, finding success as a long-term member of the New England Patriots, with whom he won three Super Bowl championships.

Before he saw the confetti fall on those three Super Bowl wins, Hightower was one of many elite linebackers who suited up for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

As a freshman in 2008, he played alongside Rolando McClain. Two years later, he took over from McClain as the team’s defensive leader in the middle of the field.

In his final season, Hightower captained an Alabama defense ranked No. 1 in the nation. He led by example that year with 81 tackles, while also picking up three sacks, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, and an interception.

During his years at Alabama, Hightower was a two-time BCS national champion (which included his 2011 senior season), was voted to the All-SEC Team twice, and was a Consensus All American as a senior.

  1. Minkah Fitzpatrick

Position: Safety
Seasons at Alabama:
2015 to 2017
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (2015, 2017), Chuck Bednarik Award (2017), Jim Thorpe Award (2017), Unanimous All-American (2017), Consensus All-American (2016), First Team All-SEC (2016, 2017)

Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick emerged as one of the best talents on the team as a true freshman, starting 10 games. He had two interceptions during that 2015 season and returned both for touchdowns.

Over the next two years, the talented safety went from strength to strength, showing his versatility in different alignments and positions within the defense and emerging as one of the best Alabama DBs in a generation.

Despite playing against some of college football’s most talented offenses week in and week out, Fitzpatrick had some of the best grades of any player in the Alabama secondary during the modern era. His success helped the Tide win two national championships in a span of three seasons, and he had two pass break-ups in the 2015 national championship game against Clemson.

Fitzpatrick was a two-time First Team All-SEC honoree at Alabama as well as a Consensus All-American in 2016 and unanimous All-American in 2017. In his final years of college, he received both the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards, and was projected to be one of the first names called in the NFL Draft.

He was eventually selected 11th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, and during his NFL career with both Miami and Pittsburgh, he has continued his run of success as one of the league’s best former Alabama defensive backs.

Now an NFL veteran, Fitzpatrick has earned three First Team All-Pro selections, been invited to four Pro Bowls, and co-led the NFL in interceptions in 2022.

  1. Leroy Cook

Position: Defensive End
Seasons at Alabama: 1972 to 1975
Awards and Honors: All-America Team (1974, 1975), All-SEC Team (1974, 1975)

Leroy Cook worked his way onto the Crimson Tide football team as a sophomore in 1973, but it was his third year with the program that really put him on the map.

Playing on an Alabama defense along with players such as Woodrow Lowe and E.J. Junior, Cook became a major playmaker for the Tide. Over the course of his career, he made 200 tackles, including 27 for a loss. He also accumulated 15 sacks and forced 10 fumbles.

His tackles-for-loss, sacks, and forced fumbles were all Alabama career records at the time. Indeed, Cook made a statement on the Alabama rushing defense, setting the tone for many of the great defensive ends who came after him.

Cook was voted to the All-America and All-SEC teams in both in 1974 and 1975. He was also named to the program’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s. Unfortunately, a freak knee injury suffered during a celebration with a teammate hurt his NFL draft stock. He was selected in the 10th round by the Dallas Cowboys, but he never made it onto the field in the NFL.

  1. C.J. Mosley

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Alabama:
2010 to 2013
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (2011, 2012), Butkus Award (2013), SEC Defensive Player of the Year (2013), Consensus All-American (2012, 2013), First Team All-SEC (2012, 2013)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has made quite a habit of seeing his players get taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, but the Crimson Tide product he is proudest of might just be C.J. Mosley. The NFL veteran was selected 17th overall by Baltimore in the 2014 draft, and Saban had nothing but praise for him coming out of college.

"I think C.J. Mosley is one of the finest football players and finest people I've ever had the opportunity to coach," Saban said in an interview on ESPN. "This guy actually makes more plays on the football field, plays faster, reacts more quickly than anybody that I've ever had the opportunity to coach."

Mosley was a superstar for the Tide, stepping into a starting role over his final two years with the program. He had waited in the wings for his shot at maximum reps, and when he got them, he took full advantage.

In his junior and senior seasons Mosley posted over 100 tackles in back-to-back years. He earned First Team All-SEC and Consensus All-America honors in each year, and won both the Butkus Award and SEC Defensive Player of the Year award as a senior in 2013. His 319 career tackles rank third on the Alabama all-time leaderboard in that category, proving that he was one of the most effective defensive players in Alabama football history.

Mosley helped the Tide win BCS national championships in both 2011 and 2012. He then went into the NFL and has built a fine career as a pro.

  1. Woodrow Lowe

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Alabama:
1972 to 1975
Awards and Honors:
Consensus All American (1974), First Team All-American (1973, 1975), College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 2009)

Along with Cornelius Bennett, Woodrow Lowe is one of just two players in Tide history to be named a three-time All-American. That fact alone makes him one of the best defensive players the Alabama program has ever seen.

Lowe racked up 315 career tackles during his four years in the program and holds the single-season record of 134, which he set during the 1973 season. That year was especially significant as Lowe led the charge for an Alabama team that won the national championship.

In his four years at Alabama, Lowe played on four SEC champion defenses, and earned All-America honors in all three of his years as a starter.

He went on to spend over a decade in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers after sliding into the fifth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. He is a College Football Hall of Famer and still ranks amongst the program’s elite defenders.

  1. Cornelius Bennett

Position: Defensive End
Seasons at Alabama:
1983 to 1986
Awards and Honors: SEC Player of the Year (1986), First Team All-American (1984, 1985, 1986), Lombardi Award (1986), All-SEC Team (1984, 1985, 1986), College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 2005)

As the second overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, Cornelius Bennett entered the pro game with quite a reputation. He had been named a three-time First Team All-American at Alabama and is one of only two players in school history who can claim that distinction (the other is Woodrow Lowe).

Bennett’s production on the Alabama defense in 1986 marked the peak of his career with the Tide, as he reached a double-digit sack total in wreaking havoc on opposition offenses all year long. He was named the the SEC Player of the Year and won the Lombardi Award that season in addition to making his third appearance on the All-SEC team.

Bennett was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 overall, but was dealt to the Buffalo Bills after a breakdown in his contract negotiations. In Buffalo, he went on to be one of the key pieces of the team’s standout defense during the early 1990s -- earning three First Team All-Pro selections and making five trips to the Pro Bowl.

Bennett is one of the most talented players who has ever been part of the Alabama defense, and many undoubtedly might believe he could be the No. 1 player on this list.

  1. Lee Roy Jordan

Position: Defensive Back
Seasons at Alabama: 1960 to 1962
Awards and Honors:
Unanimous All-American (1962), All-SEC Team (1962) Second Team All-SEC (1961), College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 1983)

Lee Roy Jordan was one of the most instinctive and threatening players to ever play on an Alabama defense.

The legendary linebacker played under Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and received nothing but praise from his coach for the way he played the game.

"If they stay inside the boundaries, Lee Roy will get 'em," Bryant once said, and he wasn’t wrong.

In 1962, Jordan finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman trophy. In Alabama’s Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma to close that season, Jordan notched a rather unthinkable 31 tackles.

That performance remains the Alabama record for tackles in a single game, and Jordan earned unanimous All America and All-SEC honors for that season. He also helped the Tide win a national championship in 1961, and the team was just one loss shy of doing it again in 1962.

Jordan went on to a successful NFL career, spent entirely with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl -- posting 32 interceptions during his pro career.

Voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, Jordan remains among the best Alabama linebackers of all time.

  1. Will Anderson Jr.

Position: Defensive End
Seasons at Alabama:
2020 to 2022
Awards and Honors:
National Champion (2020), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (2021, 2022), Chuck Bednarik Award (2022), Lott Trophy (2022), SEC Defensive Player of the Year (2021, 2022), Unanimous All-American (2021, 2022), First Team All-SEC (2021, 2022), Second Team All-SEC (2020)

Will Anderson Jr was one of the highest-graded high school recruits in history, and the Tide secured the Georgia native’s signature by beating out rivals Auburn, Georgia Tech, and LSU.

Anderson started in all three of his seasons at Alabama, proving to be one of the most productive Tide defensive ends of all time. He had eight sacks as a freshman, but hit double figures in the two seasons that followed -- notching 15 sacks in 2021 and 14 in 2022.

The promising young defensive talent was an elite pass-rusher as well as a superb run-defender with a great ability to hunt down the ball-carrier. He totaled 112 career tackles in three seasons with the Tide, often stepping up as one of the most influential game-changers on the defense.

His years at Alabama earned him three All-SEC honors in three seasons, including two First Team mentions, and he was voted a unanimous All-American in both 2021 and 2022. In addition, Anderson was crowned the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and capped off his college career by winning the Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, and Lott awards in 2022.

The NFL’s Houston Texans thought so much of Anderson that they traded up into the top three of the 2023 draft to select him with the third overall pick, right behind franchise quarterback C.J. Stroud.   

  1. Derrick Thomas

Position: Linebacker
Seasons at Alabama: 1985 to 1988
Awards and Honors:
Butkus Award (1988), Consensus All American (1988), College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 2014)

While the No. 1 spot on this list might not be as clear-cut as some of the other top 10s we have covered from college football history, the late Derrick Thomas gets the nod.

In this writer’s opinion, Thomas was the greatest Alabama defensive player of all time and continued to prove his greatness after turning pro.

Thomas teamed up with Cornelius Bennett and Keith McCants to form some of the best Alabama defensive lines in the famed program’s history. He holds the record for career sacks at Alabama with 52, which puts him 17.5 ahead of Will Anderson, who is in second place. Thomas notched a school-record 27 sacks in 1988 alone, making him one of the most electrifying defenders in college football that season.

His ability as a pass-rusher was elite. Thomas was relentless in blowing up plays in the backfield, often fighting through double-teams and overwhelming offensive linemen with his blend of speed and power.

Once Thomas got into the backfield, it was rare for anybody to get away from him. He could run down running backs and would lay hits on quarterbacks that they were not soon to forget.

Thomas won the Butkus Award, presented to college football's best linebacker, in 1988 and was also named a Consensus All-American that year. He was taken fourth overall in the 1989 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent his entire pro career.

During his 11 NFL seasons, Thomas won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, earned three First Team All-Pro and two Second Team All-Pro selections, and went to nine straight Pro Bowls. He is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame as well as both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame.

Parameters for Rankings

These all-time greatest Alabama defensive players have been ranked based solely on their years with the Tide. Alabama football fans will surely remember all of their talents fondly, since many celebrated national championships as part of the program.


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