Professional football is not the same as college football. One rarely hears about “the old NFL try,” or pros playing “with a big heart.”
Decades ago when Bart Starr was a lightly-regarded pro prospect after an indifferent career on very poor pre-Paul Bryant Alabama teams, the Green Bay Packers took a look at him. In a training camp session, Starr earned the respect of Coach Vince Lombardi and thereby the starting job for the Packers, and went on to be a Pro Football Hall of Fame member and the MVP of the firs two Super Bowls. Starr had impressed Lombardi by relentlessly running down a defender who had intercepted a pass.
Today a man who won’t bother to fall on his own fumble can be the NFL player of the year.
The pros want (and get) the very best players available from the college ranks, and it is no surprise that stars depart Alabama in large numbers on NFL draft day. Bama under Nick Saban is the face of college football and provides pro football with outstanding talent.
So it was no surprise when the NFL announced those who had been invited to the NFL combine, the most important of many chances for draft-eligible players to show their merits, and that Alabama was well-represented with nine selections.
So what is everyone talking about?
That the combine didn’t invite the man who quarterbacked Alabama to the 2015 national championship, Jacob Coker. Coker, who was also the Most Valuable Player in Bama’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game victory, is pretty much everything a college team would want in a quarterback. He was a captain and an obvious on-the-field leader.
In Coker’s one-year as a starter, Coker completed 263 of 393 passes (66.9 per cent) for 3,110 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. He also helped win his team with tough running.
Just because he is not invited to the NFL combine doesn’t mean that Coker won’t get a chance in professional football. Many expect him to be drafted in a middle to late round, and then to justify that selection by making an NFL team.
Meanwhile, the nine former Alabama players selected to make the combine were mostly not a surprise. They are:
Defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, and D.J. Pettway; linebacker Reggie Ragland; cornerback/punt return man Cyrus Jones; center Ryan Kelly; offensive lineman Dominick Jackson; and tailbacks Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
Here’s a brief recap of what the pro scouts think about the former Tide players:
A’Shawn Robinson – The pros find some technique criticisms, but as would be expected they mostly see a very good defensive line prospect who is strong, consistent, and a leader. Grade: 6.59.
Reggie Ragland – Called an “old school, take-on middle linebacker,” Ragland gets the praise one would expect of a unanimous All-America, with a note about joining “Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas” in that category. The closest thing to legitimate concern was a question about his ability to cover pass receivers. Grade: 6.51.
Jarran Reed – Got high marks for his run defense, but questioned about pass rush ability. A disruptive force on the defensive line with good instincts and strength. Grade: 6.42.
Derrick Henry – Pros love his size and speed and ability to force miss tackles (he led the nation with 60), but one of his strengths – his durability and workload for Bama – is also considered a question mark as to how much he has been worn down. Grade: 6.31.
Ryan Kelly – At 6-4, 302, pros think he needs to add weight to take on big nose tackles, but Kelly gets very high marks for leadership, determination, intelligence, technique, lack of penalties, etc. Grade: 5.8.
Cyrus Jones – Pro scouts see him as a very effective cornerback, “confident and tough,” but at 5-9 he doesn’t fit the NFL model and also has a lack of speed. They do like him as a punt return man. Something most thought had been put to rest, a bogus domestic violence charge, is listed as a concern. Grade: 5.4.
Kenyan Drake – Surprisingly high marks from NFL scouts for his aggressive running, getting yards after contact, and also noted as a potential “third down” back, a man who can be used as a pass catcher as well as runner. Kickoff return for touchdown in national championship game mentioned, but so were broken leg in 2014 and broken arm in 2015. Grade: 5.36.
Dominick Jackson -- gets a lot higher marks from NFL scouts than from Alabama fans, but the scouts also expect Jackson to have to move inside to a guard position because of a lack of pass blocking skills. Grade: 5.3.
D.J. Pettway – No analysis available. Grade: 4.21.
Complete NFL analysis of combine invitees is available at NFL.com/combine/participants.