Alabama Coach Nick Saban certainly is fine with Crimson Tide players leaving for the NFL as soon as they are ready, meaning a first or second round draft selection for those who have eligibility remaining. This year, the lost Bama players with a year of eligibility remaining going in the first two rounds were wide receiver Amari Cooper in the first round and safety Landon Collins and running back T.J. Yeldon, both early in the second round.
Alabama had seven players drafted this year.
Others have also spent time on the relatively fruitless task of projecting players for the 2016 draft, including Scout’s CFN.com site.
Our thought about the first Bama player to be drafted in 2016 was along the lines of the CFN.com projection, but there were some surprises from CFN, which had a look at the order of the first 32 selections. Obviously, this is a questionable projection since these players have another year of competition (as do hundreds of other draft-eligible players) and the NFL teams have a year of play to determine draft order and needs.
In other words, it’s a limited-dimensional projection: who are the best players at positions pro teams usually want.
CFN listed A'Shawn Robinson as the second defensive tackle and fifth overall pick in next year’s draft. Robinson is a 6-4, 320-pound upcoming junior.
Robinson is certainly among those we would put among the first Alabama players to be taken in the 2016 draft. We veered a bit from CFN after that, though.
Also among our top four are two other defensive front men, players we expected to be in the 2015 draft.
Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, 6-2, 252, had a fine junior year, but elected to follow recent Tide precedent among inside linebackers (C.J. Mosley, who was a first round pick following his senior year, and Trey DePriest, who was not drafted this year) and return for his senior season. Last year Ragland was in on 95 tackles (second only to Collins) and was All-Southeastern Conference and a Butkus Award semifinalist.
Defensive lineman Jarran Reed, 6-4, 313, finished his first year at Bama last season in outstanding fashion, notably the 15-tackle game he had against LSU. The junior college transfer also elected to return for his senior season. Reed had 55 tackles for the season, the most by an Alabama defensive lineman since Wallace Gilberry in 2007.
Neither of those made the CFN first round, but three other Tide players joined Robinson in the projection. They are:
O.J. Howard, a 6-6, 237-pound upcoming junior, was projected as the sixth player taken and the top tight end.
Derrick Henry, a 6-3, 238-pound upcoming junior, was CFN’s top running back and 12th overall selection.
Eddie Jackson, another upcoming junior, is a 6-3, 175-pound defensive back who is projected as 25th overall and the fourth cornerback. Jackson, who was hampered last season after suffering a spring 2014 knee injury, was moved to safety in the spring.
Henry certainly looks like a reasonable guess. Last year as a back-up to Yeldon he was Bama’s leading rusher with 172 carries for 990 yards (5.8 yards per carry) 11 touchdowns and had five pass receptions for 113 yards and two TDs.
Howard has been only a sometimes starter as he is not a typical up-on--the-line blocker. He has the potential to be outstanding as a receiver. Last year he was somewhat disappointing with only 17 catches for 260 yards.
CFN did project Ragland as the second inside linebacker on its 2016 list. A bit of a surprise is that Reuben Foster, a 6-1, 240-pound upcoming junior, was the ninth inside linebacker. Foster has been a back-up on defense, but a terror on special teams coverage. He has also had some injury problems.
There are some other possibilities for good draft status next year.
With Robinson and Reed on the defensive front is Jonathan Allen, a 6-3, 283-pound upcoming junior who was in the rotation as a true freshman and was All-SEC last season as a sophomore. He was in on 33 tackles last year and one-third of them were for lost yardage. He had six sacks, seven quarterback pressures, and broke up a pass.
Upcoming senior cornerback Cyrus Jones had a tough time making the transition to defense in 2013, but had a solid season last year – particularly in the last half of 2014. Jones, 5-10, 196, had three interceptions and broke up 13 passes last year.
Sticking with the defense, it looks like Alabama will have some outside linebackers who are capable of having success in 2014. The question is: Which one? Or: Which ones?
There aren’t as many draft eligible Alabama players on offense as on defense.
Center Ryan Kelly, 6-5, 300, has many of the qualities one looks for in a center, including intelligence and leadership. The upcoming senior will be starting for the third year at the key position.
Dominick Jackson, a 6-7, 330-pound offensive lineman, came to Alabama as the top junior college transfer in the nation, but was a little-used back-up in his first season. This year he’ll get a crack at right tackle as a starter.
One possibility for the 2016 draft might be Jake Coker…if he can win the Alabama starting job. Coker, 6-5, 235, was a one-time back-up to Jameis Winston – 2015’s number one draft pick – at Florida State, but played little. He was also little-used as a back-up to Blake Sims at Bama last year. But if Coker can win the job and put up numbers in the Lane Kiffin offense the way Sims did, he might get an NFL shot.
One thing about having so many likely draft choices is that it makes for a good picture to paint for upcoming Alabama recruiting prospects.
Of more importance in Tuscaloosa, having that many potential NFL prospects in 2016 should mean good things for the Crimson Tide on the field in 2015.