There are 32 teams in the National Football League, and that is too many. For a number of us, that could be the end of this discussion; but there is more. Thirty-two teams looking for help in the upcoming NFL Draft means there are not enough Alabama players entering the draft to help them all.
The draft will begin next Thursday, April 28, and continue through April 30 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. This is the second year for the draft to be held in Chicago after many years as a staple in New York.
Under Nick Saban, the NFL Draft has become an important part of Crimson Tide football. Prior to Saban’s arrival for the 2007 season, no Bama player had been drafted in the first round since both offensive tackle Chris Samuels (third overall) and tailback Shaun Alexander (19th overall) in the 2000 draft.
In the last seven drafts, 2009 through 2015, there have been 48 Alabama players drafted, including 17 first round selections. In both the 2011 and 2012 drafts, four Tide players were taken in the first round.
This success pays dividends for Alabama when Saban and his staff are on the recruiting trail, pointing out to potential future Tide players that Bama has a track record for putting players into “The League.” That is, if those prospects are interested in that sort of thing. And, by the way, every single one of them expects to play in the NFL, so Saban-Alabama training is a logical choice.
Good thing, too. Otherwise, how could Alabama lose so many players to the NFL each year and continue to be competitive for the national championship each year?
This year’s selection process has the chance to put Alabama at yet a new plateau in NFL Draft lore.
There are probably dozens of mock drafts conducted by media outlets, not including the ones that count – the ones conducted behind closed doors by those 32 NFL teams. Among the many media mock drafts there is almost a certainty that three Tide players will be selected in the first round, and an outside chance that as many as five will go from Alabama in the first round.
Making a prediction as to which team will select which players is almost impossible. Not only must the quality of the players be considered, but also the needs of the team making the selection. Even then, if one pick is not as expected, the rest of the draft can go askew. And, of course, teams have the ability to make deals that change the selection process.
Nevertheless, when mock draft after mock draft includes the same players being selected, it is reasonable to make a guess at first round picks.
From Alabama, the three considered almost certain to be drafted in the first round are all defensive players. They are defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Many expected Reed and/or Ragland to make themselves available for the 2015 draft, but both returned for their senior seasons to help the Tide to the national championship. Robinson is one of two Alabama players who could have returned for 2016, but who elected to take the early opportunity for the draft. The other is Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
Saban has very good information for Alabama underclassmen before they must declare for the draft. He has pointed out in the past that a man such as Jarran Reed was “a third or fourth round” selection following his junior year, but will be a first round pick this year. Saban also points out how many millions of dollars that is going to be worth to the player, not to mention the value of reaching (or at least nearing) a college degree.
The Tide coach also encourages those juniors to go the NFL if Saban thinks they have proved all they can in college football. Both Robinson and Henry got that grateful sendoff this year.
In addition to Robinson, Reed, and Ragland, two others are considered possibilities for the first round. In fact, center Ryan Kelly, who Saban said is capable of playing any offensive line position, is listed by quite a few experts as a likely first-rounder.
As for a possible fifth Alabama player taken in the first round, some team may think about taking the player with the most athletic ability remaining. What might propel Derrick Henry from second round, which most mock drafts expect, to first round is not his Heisman Trophy. That doesn’t impress the pros. But Henry’s durability is a plus, Indeed, the primary reason that running backs usually fall out of the first round is their short career expectancy.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones has been listed as a possible second round draft choice.
Kenyan Drake wasn’t a starter for the Tide, but he is versatile and capable of making explosive plays in a number of ways – witness the kickoff return for a touchdown in the national championship game win over Clemson – and will likely be drafted.
There are other possibilities, including quarterback Jake Coker, wide receiver Richard Mullaney, and tackle Dominick Jackson on offense, and safety Geno Matias-Smith and linebackers Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee on defense.
Thus, Alabama loses a number of good players to the NFL Draft, but that success keeps the pipeline flowing, more good prospects wanting to be a part of the Crimson Tide.