Unsurprisingly, the reigning national champions once again have one of the most talented rosters in the country, boosted by hanging on to a number of draft-eligible prospects who chose to return for a shot at another title and further prepare themselves for the step up to the NFL. Expect them to once again have a number of those players high on draft boards for the 2017 NFL draft.
The Top 5
Tim Williams, Sr, EDGE, #56 – 6ft 4, 237 lbs
The Crimson Tide’s top prospect for the next draft arguably is a player who only actually played in around 20% of the team’s defensive snaps last year. That just sums up what an impact the designated situational pass rusher was able to make in a limited capacity. In 2015, Williams’ brief appearances on the field amounted to 12.5 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 10.5 sacks. That led to him considering entering the last draft, where despite his relative lack of national recognition at the time, he almost certainly would have gone in the first round had he done so. Unless there are unforeseen circumstances, he most definitely should be a high pick in 2017 instead. Williams brings outstanding disruption with his fast, explosive rushes. His initial burst off the snap gives him the edge immediately, and he backs that up with effective rip and swim pass rush moves to leave offensive tackles scrambling to try and recover, more often than not to no avail. He is quick to finish by closing on the quarterback or ball carrier for impact plays. It’ll be interesting to see just how much, if at all, his role expands as a senior this coming season, but either way, all he has to do is continue doing what he’s doing to solidify his place as a coveted edge rusher in 2017.
Reuben Foster, Sr, LB, #10 – 6ft 1, 240 lbs
Ragland was the big name at linebacker last season, but the better all-round player and athlete in that unit was Foster, and he should end up a higher pick than his former teammate in the end as well. Foster quickly developed a reputation for his impact big hits, but his overall game and effectiveness has continued to grow as his game time increased. Foster has a short but very sturdy build with superb quickness and range to cover in space and close quickly. His physical play against the run instantly stood out in his first year as a full time starter in 2015, but in the modern day NFL, the ability to excel in defending the pass from the second level is crucial, and Foster does not disappoint. Though he has yet to record an interception in his career, he broke up 9 passes last year, and looks a natural in space. His instincts are impressive, to quickly diagnose plays then accelerate into position to make the play. His versatility continues with the extra pressure he can effectively provide on blitzes. If there’s anything to question, it might be his motor, which can occasionally run a little cold; there are times he can get a little lazy in pursuit. Otherwise, there’s not much to fault, and looks the part of a first round linebacker.
O.J. Howard, Sr, TE, #88 – 6ft 6, 242 lbs
Finally, finally, Howard had a game that reflected the upside of what his physical and athletic measurables were built for, and what a stage on which to do it in playing a massive role in the Crimson Tide’s national title win in January. He had a career day against Clemson with 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The trouble was that those were his only two end zone trips of the season, and the yardage amounted to around a third of his total on the year. That really factored into his decision to return for his senior season, with Nick Saban promising to better utilise his abilities. Howard has imposing size and scary speed to go with it, that the upside as a receiving tight end is exciting, giving him the potential to be the top tight end off the board in the next draft, and possibly in the first round. What was clearly evident from his 2015 season was the excellent improvements in his run blocking. On top of the size and speed, Howard is naturally very powerful. His blocking technique, body positioning, and balance were not great in previous years, and he got his wins purely through being bigger and stronger. That area of his game was notably better this past year, and he really stood out finding blocks on the second level. He has a complete game, effective inline and from the slot. More production in the red zone as something in particular I’d like to see from him next year – 4 TDs in 3 years is not enough.
Marlon Humphrey, rSo, CB, #26 – 6ft 0, 192 lbs
He is only a redshirt sophomore, but having watched Eli Apple play a big role in a national championship winning side as a redshirt freshman with Ohio State then go on to be a top 10 pick the following year, Humphrey has to be excited about potentially being able to do very similar. Like Apple, he took to the big stage in his first season playing in college with ease, demonstrating his coverage skills that led to 8 pass breakups and 3 interceptions on the year, while chipping in with 45 tackles with solid run support. There’s a lot to like about his game. He clearly has ball skills to attack the ball in the air, while also mirroring and reacting well with his receiver to keep separation to a minimum. His awareness and general composure suggest a smart defender with the right mentality to excel. Though his size is good, his footwork and speed are a bit more solid than elite, that maybe doesn’t match up with some other top corners, and may factor into debates on whether he’s a high or later first round pick. That said, he doesn’t get beat deep often, really looking the part, and is trusted to be left 1-on-1 on an island. He should at least have a high floor as a relatively safe choice next draft, should he choose to leave with a couple years remaining.
Jonathan Allen, Sr, EDGE, #93 – 6ft 3, 283 lbs
On many early looks at the top college players going into the new season, and the top prospects for the next draft, Allen is almost universally mentioned. However, he looked a late first-early second round range of player before he decided to return, and that’s my thinking as of right now as well. Alabama players know very well that being talked about highly at this time of the year doesn’t mean a day 1 pick, with the likes of Reed, Robinson and Ragland all ending up on day 2. Allen’s biggest issue might be with his length. He’s a bit short and stocky, which might see him marked down a little by many teams who desire a certain wingspan. Outside of that, there’s plenty to like. He has an ultra-physical game, and is powerfully built, with the versatility to position himself across the defensive line – sounds like your typical ‘Bama lineman. Similar to Tim Williams above, Allen only played in a relatively low percentage of the defensive snaps last year, but was devastating and productive when he was on the field, leading to 14.5 TFLs and 12 sacks. His strong motor, angry rush style and excellent technique and use of his hands make him an imposing and daunting assignment to match up with.
Other Prospects to Watch
Cam Robinson, Jr, OT, #74 – 6ft 5, 326 lbs
A late update to this article was required, as news broke that Robinson had been let off for his illegal possession of stolen firearms and drug charges, essentially because he is a good football player. The farcical explanation that Judge Jerry Jones (…yup) gave to try and justify it as not being because he happens to be a good football player made for pretty embarrassing reading. But it has happened, and that is that. You can count on it that his interviews with NFL personnel are going to be ruthless in the questioning over the character red flags, and whatever else the repercussions should have been, it will at the very least affect his draft stock. He’s certainly a first round talent in terms of the on-field ability. His run blocking especially is absolutely devastating, charging around in space at his huge size, and throwing his brute strength around to great effect. His pass protection is not quite to the same standard however, and can certainly be beaten. His kick slide, which is solid at best, can quickly regress into choppy unconvincing steps. He gives tricky rushers opportunities. If he cleans that up though, with his physical gifts, the ceiling couldn’t be higher. The risk becomes with the now significant off field concerns.
Ryan Anderson, rSr, EDGE, #22 – 6ft 2, 250 lbs
The other two pass rushers may get all the attention, but Alabama have a third who has the potential to be an early pick as well. The career backup only played around 15 to 20% of the snaps last year but was a nightmare to try and handle and contain when he got his opportunities. His performance in the playoff game against Michigan State in particular was outstanding; he was practically unblockable all night. His combination of explosiveness, athleticism and power led to 11.5 TFLs, 6 sacks and a further 10 quarterback hurries last season. There’s early round talent, but there’s also been some off-field red flags to check into as well.
Eddie Jackson, Sr, S, #4 – 6ft 0, 195 lbs
One of the best ball hawking safeties in the country, and he proved that with 6 interceptions as a junior, taking two back for touchdowns. Jackson converted inside after playing corner previously. He’d had struggles handling fast receivers, and the issue wasn’t helped by an ACL knee injury in April 2014 prior to his change in position. He’s taken well to playing safety, but at just under six foot and a fairly thin frame, he’s still built like a corner, and his run defense in the box is still a work in progress. That plus his long term durability might keep him out of the first few rounds, but his coverage skills are undeniable.
Alphonse Taylor, rSr, OG, #50 – 6ft 5, 325 lbs
Taylor will start at right guard for the second straight season, and certainly has NFL size. He shows good power and strength, anchoring well in pass protection and has a nasty streak when it comes to his run blocking. That said, he gets it wrong at times when establishing blocks, in particular missing a few blocks in space once breaking into the second level. Though he only gave up one sack in 2015, his hand placement frequently lets him down, and he looks a borderline draft prospect with his big frame his main asset.
Dalvin Tomlinson, rSr, DL, #54 – 6ft 2, 294 lbs
A backup / rotational player who lacks ideal size, but has developed a knack for batting down passes at the line, doing so 6 times last season. His stock is limited by his lack of an interior pass rush threat, despite some good energy and motor.
Gehrig Dieter, rSr, WR, – 6ft 2, 207 lbs
Alabama got a lot out of Oregon State graduate transfer Richard Mullaney last year, and they’ll be hoping for the same with Dieter, who joins the Tide from Bowling Green after contributing 94 receptions, over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. He’s limited athletically and struggles to generate separation – the system the Falcons run helped his numbers. He has potential as a possession receiver with a good build, but would need a big year to be drafted.
Korren Kirven, rSr, OG/DL, #78 – 6ft 4, 300 lbs
A converted defensive tackle, Kirven hasn’t offered much on the offensive line. What was really concerning was that in his first career start against Charleston Southern last year, his effort looked extremely poor and lazy, not fighting to the end of plays. Despite having a rare chance to show what he could do, he looked like he’d rather be back on the sidelines. His lack of experience on this side of the ball is clear in his awareness and adjustments, and though he offers decent size, looks a long shot to continue his career beyond college.
Juniors to Keep an Eye on
Robert Foster, rJr, WR, #8 – 6ft 2, 194 lbs
I’m really excited to see a healthy Foster hopefully show what he can do over a full season as a starter. The dynamic athletic receiver was all set for a breakout year in 2015, and made a very bright start, before a shoulder injury ended his season after just 3 games. Foster is an explosive athlete with dangerous speed to utilise in space, and on deep targets.
DaShawn Hand, Jr, DL, #9 – 6ft 4, 273 lbs
The former top recruit out of high school in his class, Hand earned early playing time in the defensive line rotation his first couple seasons, and could be poised to breakout in 2016. He certainly has the size, and manages to overpower some blockers to make a few plays in the backfield, but his game is extremely raw and lacks anything outside of just ploughing forward. He has no rush moves to offer right now and will need to develop something more for the next level, especially as he has a slow first step, lacking any explosion off the snap. His effort is certainly not in question though, with a high motor in pursuit.
ArDarius Stewart, rJr, WR, #13 – 6ft 0, 204 lbs
With Foster out injured, it was Stewart who instead was able to establish himself as a reliable target, collecting 63 receptions in 2015. His touches mostly were based around short quick passes and the occasional hand off, looking to give the talented athlete a chance to make yards with the ball in his hands. As a result, his yards per catch total is a bit low and his route tree limited, but he’s still learning the position, and hopefully will expand his repertoire going into his redshirt junior season. Though he has a concerning habit of mishandling the ball, he also came up with some highlight catches as well.
Shaun Dion Hamilton, Jr, LB, #20 – 6ft 0, 230 lbs
I came away very impressed with his film and despite some size limitations see a lot of potential. Hamilton has the athleticism to make plays in space, looking smooth and natural dropping into coverage, very much desired abilities in modern linebacker prospects. He’s so tenacious that sees him play bigger than he is, and to play a key role on special teams. He can get a little grabby and undisciplined, pulling illegally at the player he’s marking while covering, but clean that up, and there’s a lot to like.
Cooper Bateman, rJr, QB, #18 – 6ft 3, 220 lbs
He lost the job to Jake Coker last year, and hasn’t yet won the job this year either, so it would take a hugely unexpected turn of events to see Bateman as an early declaring underclassmen for the 2017 draft. However, if he wins the job, he’ll be leading this talented squad so for that reason alone he’ll be worth keeping an eye on.