For a fourth consecutive year, BamaOnLine is counting down Alabama’s top 25 most important players ahead of the Crimson Tide’s fast-approaching fall camp and 2018 football season.

Next up is sophomore safety Xavier McKinney at No. 21.

*** Breakdown of Alabama’s Top-25 Most Important Players for 2018: Two things went into consideration in this breakdown. One was how much the player would see the field this fall. With that condition, the list is primarily made up of starters. The second aspect is the player’s importance to the team, meaning if they are replacing a starter at a key position and how hard it would be to replace them should something occur to force them out of commission.

McKINNEY PROFILE

Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 197 pounds

Hometown: Roswell, Ga.
High School: Roswell

247Sports Composite ranking: 4-star (2017)
- No. 58 nationally
- No. 6 safety
- No. 8 in state of Georgia

2018 OUTLOOK

As a true freshman a season ago, McKinney played on special teams while seeing some action in the secondary, primarily as a reserve. He totaled eight stops with 1.5 tackles for loss while playing in 13 of the Crimson Tide’s national championship run of 14 games.

With all three safeties -- Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones -- no longer on the roster, there are holes to fill in the Alabama secondary, and McKinney looks like a strong bet to man a starting safety spot beside redshirt junior Deionte Thompson. He practiced alongside Thompson for most of the spring, was a starter on A-Day and totaled six tackles.

McKinney was also one of six Tide defensive backs Nick Saban said improved over the spring.

“Trevon (Diggs) had a really good spring, Xavier McKinney had a really good spring,” Saban said. “Deionte was solid in the two games that he played and he was solid this spring. Saivion (Smith) made a lot of improvement. I still think he’s not quite sure on what he’s doing all the time, but the fact that he was here this semester and this spring probably was a really good thing for him. Shyheim Carter made a lot of progress. So, these guys made a lot of progress.

Jared Mayden made a lot of progress and did a nice job. Now, he played with the twos today, but he’s played with the ones some. So, those six guys -- past that, we need to make a significant improvement in the players that we have and the guys that we’re bringing in.”

WHY NO. 21?

First off, let me say I think McKinney can be a special player on Alabama’s 2018 defense. The coaching staff was high on him a season ago because he brings that head-hunting mentality Crimson Tide fans have grown to expect from guys like Mark Barron, Landon Collins and most recently Harrison. And McKinney changed from No. 25 to Harrison’s old No. 15.

This ranking, though, came down to evenly distributing the five or six defensive backs that had to make the list. So McKinney, a player that hasn’t won a starting job but is expected to, brings up the rear -- for now. If he plays like some believe he can this fall and gives the Tide a pair of safeties with noses for the ball, then his postseason ranking will be much higher than 21.

But this is just the beginning for McKinney’s position group on our annual countdown. With so many spots to fill, there are more defensive backs coming that will be integral to the success of UA’s defense this fall, displaying the importance of reloading the secondary in 2018.

WHAT SAY YOU?

*** Below are the players that are ranked below McKinney at No. 21.

25. PKs Joseph Bulovas and Austin Jones

24. OT Matt Womack

23. No. 4 wide receiver

22. TE Irv Smith Jr.

Contact Charlie Potter by 247Sports' personal messaging or on Twitter (@Charlie_Potter).