Alabama 2015 NFL Draft Recap

Players tapped to be early round selections in the NFL Draft are usually proven commodities on the field. Top level performers on the collegiate level earn a high grade from front office personnel. Three Alabama all-star talents fit the low-risk category – Amari Cooper, Landon Collins and T.J. Yeldon. All were tapped by teams at the 2015 NFL Draft held in Chicago.

The Oakland Raiders chose Alabama All-America wide receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 pick in the first round to fill a specific void. An entire decade has passed since the organization could boast of a 1,000-yard receiver. The serious minded Cooper aims to reverse the trend. “A combination of things: a great team, guys who want the best for each other, a great quarterback and a lot of hard work,” said the talented wide receiver who compiled prolific reception, yardage and touchdown numbers under Nick Saban. The junior eligible Cooper intends to wear no. 19 for the AFC West team.

Coach Jack Del Rio believes the explosive receiver is poised to contribute immediately, and emphatically states the reasons for optimism. “I think that’s (SEC competition) all part of his development and where he is,” Del Rio said. “One thing about him – you’ll see that when he’s here – you’ll notice, I think, that he’s very serious about football. He’s very much businesslike in his approach. [He is] a fairly quiet, soft-spoken young man; mature. Football is important to him. He knows what it looks like to work and to prepare the way you need to prepare to play well. Those things are all things that coaches, personnel people, we all appreciate those qualities.”

Seven Tide players were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft the lowest since the 2011 total of five. Several milestones were achieved, though. Amari Cooper at no. 4 overall surpassed Julio Jones, No. 6 in 2011, as the highest an Alabama receiver has ever been chosen. Additionally, he is the first Bama wide receiver to be the top selection at the position in the entire NFL Draft. The honor was one of his aspirations. “Yeah, of course I wanted to be the first receiver taken, just because it’s been a dream of mine for so long,” replied the 6-1, 211 pound speedster. “But I also understand that it really doesn’t matter, because what matters is what you do once you get to the NFL,”

Alabama tied Pittsburgh (1983-89), Ohio State (1991-97) and Florida (1997-2003) for the third-longest consecutive streak with a first round selection for seven consecutive years since the advent of common draft in 1967. Miami (1995-2008) holds the record with a 14-year run and Florida (1983-91) is second with nine.

Landon Collins is noted for being a sure tackler in space capable of run support. Although listed as a strong safety, the New York Giants selected him in the second round, 33rd overall, believing he can cover in space. They were secure enough in the decision willing to trade up sending their own second round pick (40th overall, fourth round (108th) and a seventh round choice (245th) to the Tennessee Titans to draft the 6-0, 228 pound safety. Coach Tom Coughlin said, “Everybody thinks of him as a solid hitter. They kept saying over and over on television about being in the box. That will be a part of it, but you can’t play in this level as a safety without having to defend the middle of the field. I think he will be able to do that.”

He added, “Many times you see on film (Collins) is down low and doesn’t get in a position where he can see the entire field. The deep of the deepest is going to be a factor, no doubt. He is very skilled and very motivated. He will help us on special teams. He will compete for a starting job. He is a smart guy. He has contributed at Alabama in many different ways, as a leader and as a guy in the secondary making the calls. We are excited about the pick.”

Collins is highly motivated and was disappointed he was not a first round pick. The junior eligible safety hoping to wear No. 26 exudes confidence. Earning a starting spot at either safety position is the goal. Collins, the first strong safety chosen at the position, said, “All I know is that I’m going to be a dominant player when I touch the field. I can play sides of the field, strong or free. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been doing it in college. It does not matter which safety I play.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round, 36th overall. Three years of consistent production as a runner and pass catcher out of the backfield impressed the AFC South team. “I think to me what really shows up in watching it (film) with the offensive staff, he has great vision, really, really good instincts, great anticipation,” said Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley. “Dave (Caldwell – General Manager) talked about the second level and that’s very accurate.”

Experience in a pro-style offense, playmaking ability, and his versatility lured the Jaguars to choose Yeldon, a 6-1, 226 pound running back. “His size, his foot quickness, his instincts, his run vision, his three-down ability, ability to catch the ball, he’s got excellent hands, he’s got the size to be a very good pass protector,” said Caldwell. “Other than that I think the way he runs he’s got the ability to break long ones. He’s a patient runner and he gets the most out of what’s there.”

Yeldon displayed a refreshing attitude rarely expressed these days. Opportunity was the focus, not placement in the draft. “I honestly had no idea where I was going to go,” said the junior eligible running back wishing to wear no. 24 in the NFL. “I was just praying and hoping that I’d get picked, so I had no idea where I was going to go I just wanted to get picked by a team and showcase what I can do on the field, so I wasn’t really disappointed at all.”

Jalston Fowler, 5-11, 254 pounds (Round 4, 108th overall) was the first fullback off the board, equaling Le’Ron McClain’s selection in 2007 (Round 4, 137th overall). Butch Avinger, a first round choice, ninth overall in 1951, was the highest ever prior to the 1967 common draft. The Tennessee Titans are convinced Fowler is versatile enough to be inserted at various positions. “No, they are just going to use me more like Alabama did - a move-around guy,” said Fowler, a fourth-year junior. “I might be a tight end some, sometimes a single back, and sometimes fullback.”

Former Tide player and the current Titans Running Backs Coach Sylvester Croom was promoting the selection of Fowler. Fowler said, “Yeah, I got an idea (about selection by the Titans) because I always talk to Coach (Sylvester) Croom. Every time I saw him he was like, ‘I’m going to try my best to get you.’ Every time, ‘I’m trying my best, I’m trying my best.’”

Tennessee Titans General Manager Ruston Webster said, “Jalston Fowler gives us a fullback who can also be a really good special teams player and also probably do some other things with him, move him as a tight end and do some of those things. He’s a player we’ve always liked from the beginning going back to during the season. I think the other thing he does is he can run the ball a little bit and he’s got good hands.”

Head coach of the AFC South team, Ken Whisenhunt, was pleased with the value of the fourth round pick, stating, “If you just look at the tape, you see him catching balls out of the backfield, lining up as a tight end, and playing fullback, lined up in the backfield as a single back running the football, also in protection. Whatever those roles he can contribute will get him a lot of snaps on Sunday. I think you like the flexibility of being able to block the edge as a tight end. You like the ability to be a lead back as a fullback. You can use him as running the football especially in that role sometimes to finish off games. It’s really going to be up to him what he can contribute but he’s shown, from what you’ve seen, a high level of football. He can play a lot of roles.”

Offensive guard Arie Kouandjio was the choice for Washington in the fourth round, 112th overall. The fifth-year senior prepped at nearby DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. Washington Coach Jay Gruden said of the powerful run blocker, “He is a tough guy. Arie Kouandjio from Alabama, big, physical offensive guard. You talk about offensive line depth; you can never have too many big guys that can move the pile – powerful people. Knowing him and talking to him at the combine, he’s a very good person who works very, very hard. Very detailed in what he does, and he’ll be a good fit for us.”

Austin Shepherd was the chosen by the Minnesota Vikings in the seventh round, 228th overall. The 6-4, 315 pound red-shirted senior tackle may be asked to be a utility type player for the NFC North team switching inside to guard on occasion. He is noted as an effective mirror pass blocker and very coachable.

The New England Patriots looked South to draft another Nick Saban defensive player. Xzavier Dickson, 6-3, 260 pound senior outside linebacker, was the seventh round, 253rd overall pick, taken by the AFC East team. He believes pass rushing is the strength of his game. A similar scheme employed at Alabama should accelerate the transition. He is projected as an outside linebacker or defensive end by the coaching staff.

Position Selection Rank in the 2015 NFL Draft

Three players were first off the board at their position *

Amari Cooper WR – 1st of 35*

Landon Collins SS – 1st of 7 *

T.J. Yeldon RB – 3rd of 18

Jalston Fowler FB – 1st of 4*

Arie Kouandjio G – 10th of 20

Austin Shepherd T – 15th of 18

Xzavier Dickson OLB – 23rd of 23

Undrafted Free Agents, Tryouts, To Be Determined

Trey DePriest, ILB, 6-0, 254 pounds – Baltimore Ravens

Brandon Ivory DT, 6-2, 309 pounds – Houston Texans

Christion Jones WR/Return Specialist, 5-10, 182 pounds – Miami Dolphins

Nick Perry FS, 6-0, 205 pounds – Baltimore Ravens

Blake Sims, QB, 5-11, 218 pounds – will have a tryout at min-camp with the Green Bay Packers

Brian Vogler, TE, 6-7, 263 pounds - Chicago Bears

DeAndrew White, WR, 5-11, 193 pounds – San Francisco 49ers

Leon Brown, G, 6-6, 320 pounds – TBD

Jarrick Williams, SS, 6-1, 207 pounds - TBD

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