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2023 NFL Scouting Combine

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NFL Combine Notebook: Xavier McKinney helped pave way for Alabama DBs 


It's no secret that Alabama football has become a direct pipeline to the NFL since Nick Saban took over the program in 2009.

In this year's class, two of the top five expected picks alone come from the Crimson Tide (QB Bryce Young, DE Will Anderson Jr.), with countless others expected to hear their names called at some point during the 2023 NFL Draft.

One of those players is Jordan Battle, who is looking to continue the trend of Alabama safeties dominating at the next level.

Some of the NFL's most talented safeties once called Tuscaloosa home, including Pittsburgh's Minkah Fitzpatrick, Chicago's Eddie Jackson and Denver's Kareem Jackson.

Giants safety Xavier McKinney is another ascending player who used to don the crimson and white. In fact, McKinney shared the field with Battle during the latter's freshman season, a campaign that ended with McKinney being selected Third-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC by the Associated Press.

While McKinney was one of the leaders of the defense, Battle was just getting his feet wet at the collegiate level. However, the 2023 draft prospect was thrust into action during his freshman season, playing 13 games with four starts alongside McKinney. The 22-year-old credited the Giants safety, whom he still talks to, for helping prepare him during his first season at 'Bama.

"Xavier McKinney was another one of those great mentors…" Battle told during Thursday's Combine Media Day. "Just growing up alongside X, he helped me understand the playbook faster. I had to get on the field early as a freshman when I got to 'Bama. I started about four games my freshman year. Just knowing that I didn't have that pressure on me because I was so prepared, X was a big part of that."

Battle enjoyed a lot of success over the next three seasons. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound safety was a part of the program's National Championship team in 2020, starting 12 games as a sophomore and ranking third on the team with 66 total tackles. In each of the previous two seasons, Battle earned both Third-Team All-American and All-SEC honors from the AP. However, Mel Kiper's No. 10 ranked safety did not lead the Alabama defense in tackles in 2022.

That honor belonged to DeMarcco Hellams, another safety prospect in the 2023 draft class.

Hellams earned a spot in the starting lineup in each of the last two seasons. After totaling 87 tackles in 14 games during the 2021 campaign, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound DB racked up an impressive 108 tackles in 13 games this past season, his fourth at Alabama.

While he only played in two games as a freshman back in 2019, Hellams also recalled McKinney's leadership in the DB room.

"Xavier McKinney was a guy I learned a lot from when I was a freshman," Hellams said. "Bringing me up, showing me the way to practice, showing me the way to watch film. Just the way he played, he was definitely a guy that I learned a lot from and a guy I looked up to… I saw how he paid attention in meetings, how he took notes in meetings, how he approached the game. I saw him late nights in the film room, early mornings. Just how he played the game, on and off the field, I definitely learned a lot from X."

McKinney was voted by his teammates as one of the Giants' team captains this past season, continuing his display of great leadership that dates back to his time in Tuscaloosa.

"X is a great leader, as well," defensive lineman DJ Dale said during Wednesday's Media Day. "X tolerated nothing but your best. Him being a leader on the defense, he kind of got us going. When things weren't what they were supposed to be, he was the guy to speak up. Even from watching him now, X is still that guy to this day. It was great playing with X."

View photos of the Giants participating at the NFL Combine.