Alden Darby originally arrived at Arizona State as a corner, contributing as a true freshman before making the switch to safety as a sophomore. With each year, his role and impact seems to have increased, not only playing safety but also being an integral member of their special teams unit. He has found a way to be a reliable player in the Sun Devils defensive scheme while finding ways to make big time plays each season, having one of his best games in the victory over USC that cost Lane Kiffin his job. Based on the tape, it seems like the Sun Devils are going to really miss just how much Darby did for that team and may have been underrated in just how much of an impact he had.
For the NFL, Darby is an undersized defensive back that seems to do a little bit of everything and is an incredibly intelligent player. Darby shows good vision, anticipates plays well, and shows a ton of effort on just about every play. His size will be held against him, but he is an aggressive run defender, does a nice job in pass coverage and has shown a knack for making big plays. There are some confusing mental breakdowns at times, but overall, Darby seems reliable in his role on defense. Darby projects as a day three pick, but he could be a surprise on draft day that sneaks into the second day of the draft if he works out well and impresses teams in interviews.
Vitals & Build
Darby is listed at 5’11” 195lbs with a somewhat undersized build. He still looks the part of a corner even though he is on the back end and his strength can sometimes be lacking as a result. His athleticism is impressive and he has great burst, good speed and fluid hips. Darby has shown good feet and body control. His potential lies in how much strength he can add going to the next level and if it will come at the cost of his athleticism. If he can do that, he has a good amount of physical upside. The good news is that he appears to have put on about 20lbs since he arrived in Tempe.
Darby’s tackling is inconsistent and seems to depend on how much time he has to prepare. When he is simply reacting to an opponent and needs to make a quick tackle, he breaks down, wraps up and while he is not a powerful, thumping tackler, gets the job done effectively.
The times when Darby has time to wind up so to speak, he will put his head down, drop his arms and throw his shoulder at the opponent, which is far more risky. There are times nice hits on his record doing this, but there are also some ugly looking swings and misses.
If he can just stay with the better, form tackles and add power to them, he can be a really effective tackler. He also does a pretty good job of raking at the football when he or opponents are taking the ball carrier to the ground with a few successful strips after initial contact.
Darby shows an impressive amount of diagnostic skills and attacks downhill fast as soon as he reads run. He sees the field well and while he will occasionally take some bad angles, usually flows well to the football, fills well and is consistently filling his gap and in position. For the most part, he does a nice job of breaking down and not just running past opposing ball carriers in space.
Darby is not someone who is going to shed many blocks, but he does do a nice job of slipping blockers and shocking them to get to the football efficiently. Some of what he does well is beating opponents to the spot and avoiding blocks before they get in position.
The key with Darby is going to be getting strong enough to prove that he can stay on the field, but it is difficult to argue how well he sees, reads, and attacks plays. It seems like once he proves he can hold up physically, he is going to be difficult to keep off of the field.
The Sun Devils mix up their coverages quite a bit, but Darby is often used in man coverage. Like with his ability to diagnose running plays, Darby seems to really process information quickly and is able to react accordingly. He not only gets to his cover quickly, but he does so while not getting himself in a bad position to react to the route.
In part because of his experience as well as athleticism of being a former corner, Darby has shown he can help out on receivers in the slot. Big, physical tight ends could prove problematic for him. He should be able to run and keep up with them, but they may overpower him at times. Darby should be able to help with running backs.
Darby is extremely aggressive when facing the line of scrimmage and breaks on the ball well. He has shown he can get his hands on the football to break up passes as well as shaking the ball loose while hitting the opponent. There are certainly situations where he goes for the big hit, but seems able to discern when he should go for the ball and when he should take out the man.
Darby does not have as much experience in zone, but he is able to hold up in space well and shows pretty good vision. At times, he will make some bad misreads and get caught in an awful position, but these are few and far between. The overwhelming amount of time, he is in position and taking away an option for the opponent.
Because he reads well and anticipates effectively, he displays an impressive amount of range. Typically, when Arizona State uses zone, they seem to use a one deep zone and have their deep safety playing center field. Darby is able to cover a good amount of ground, provide a threat to punish opponents for making mistakes in his zone and does a good job of protecting teammates.
Darby can help after the catch, tracking down opponents and making tackles, but this is the area where his homerun swings in tackling show up the most. He can also take some bizarre angles at times that can get him beaten badly after the catch. Still, Darby seems to be consistently able to provide help in coverage, finding ways to make plays and doing his job.
Darby has shown impressive ball skills at times, not afraid to use his hands and catches the ball naturally. When he has had opportunities to make plays, he seems to make the most of them. He has also shown the ability to be a threat after the catch, being a former corner with enough speed to score when he has a lane.
Blitzing off the Edge
Darby certainly has the acceleration and speed to attack from the edge, but most all of the blitzes he has been used from are from the back end. He has shown great timing and snap anticipation, so even if he is coming from the back level or sliding up to the second level, he is able to be a threat to get into the backfield and make a play.
Darby has experience as a gunner as well as on coverage units. He should be able to make a quick transition and help an NFL team immediately in this capacity; it just remains to be seen how much teams feel he can do.
Darby may be more suited for strong safety if he can add the heft, purely because he is more effective in man coverage and is not afraid to play the run, but there is nothing to suggest he cannot play either safety spot. Some might call him a tweener based on his size but he genuinely seems to be able to perform the responsibilities of either spot and it just depends on what teams picks him and what they want him to do; he seems able to pick up and adapt to scheme effectively.
Darby might be best suited to start out as depth, but he might be difficult to get off of the field. Because of his athleticism and skill set, he could contribute as a nickel option in the slot. Darby should find a fast home on special teams. He seemed to do a little of everything for the Sun Devils in that capacity and could really make himself tough to dispose of as a result.
Darby has some similarities with Thomas DeCoud of the Atlanta Falcons. Both are pretty light for the position and DeCoud was relatively anonymous when he was a third round pick out of Cal, who has found success by being an effective player who simply does his job. Like with Darby, being effective in his role has allowed the spotlight on others while their role is still integral to the overall team success.
Alden Darby is undersized but he seems to be a really, good, sound safety prospect that does a little bit of everything. Perhaps a victim of circumstance and being overlooked because of the defense he was a part of, it seems like Darby’s ability is undersold and underappreciated. He seems to be a player who can help with the run, pass, and on special teams. His long term upside is pretty high if he can keep adding strength and eliminate the few mental mistakes he makes. Darby seems likely to go on day three of the draft, but his talent and polish suggests that he might warrant going in the top 100 picks.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com