Stuart McNair

If it was possible to bring back an Alabama player gone to the NFL, which would be best?

Cam Robinson had another year of eligibility

Almost all Alabama fans have now seen the A-Day Game to get a glance at various newcomers to the Crimson Tide lineup. Also, all are aware of the losses to the NFL draft.
Suppose one of those 10 drafted players could return to the 2017 Alabama team. Which one would be chosen?

It’s not going to happen, of course. There is some sentiment to allow players who leave early for the draft to return to their college teams if they are not drafted, but that’s a completely different story than this exercise in fantasy.

Here’s a look at the stars who have departed Alabama and been taken in the draft and at their possible successors for 2017. As we all know, things can change and those we foresee as moving up may not be the replacements selected by Coach Nick Saban and his staff when the Tide opens the season Sept. 2 against Florida State.

Now, though, the ball is in your court. If you could select one of those drafted players to return, which do you believe would be most valuable to Bama’s needs this fall? That’s not necessarily the best player.

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Our suspicion is not many would select the first Crimson Tide player who was taken in the draft, but perhaps if Marlon Humphrey had returned for just one of the two years of college eligibility he had remaining he would be invaluable. Humphrey has the measurables the pros love — size and speed. He may go on to be a fantastic cornerback in the NFL. Last year for Bama’s 14-1 team he had two interceptions returned for 18 yards, broke up five passes, and was in on 36 tackles.
Based on the end of spring practice, it appears Trevon Diggs is the most likely replacement for Humphrey at left cornerback in 2017. Diggs was a wide receiver in his freshman year last season with 11 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown and was also an outstanding punt return (13 for 130 yards) and kickoff return 8-161 yards) man.
Defensive end Jonathan Allen was Alabama’s most decorated player last year and the unanimous All-America was in on 69 tackles, including 11 sacks and for 82yards and had 15 quarterback pressures and broke up two passes. Most spectacular were his fumble returns, two of the three going for touchdowns.
Senior Da’Shawn Hand (6-4, 282) is poised to replace Allen on the defensive line. He has been a backup to the likes of Allen and A’Shawn Robinson the past two years, playing in every Tide game. Last year he was in on 21 tackles, including two sacks, and had five quarterback pressures and caused a fumble.

O.J. Howard had spectacular moments in his Crimson Tide career at tight end, particularly as a receiver from the slot. His MVP performance in Alabama’s 2015 national championship game win ranks among the best post-season performances in college football history Last year Howard had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Miller Forristall (6-5, 238) was the man in the slot tight end position as a backup last fall and as No. 1 in the spring. In played in all 15 games for Bama last year, including starting in the opener against Southern Cal and against Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Last year he had five receptions for 73 yards.
Inside linebacker Reuben Foster had an outstanding senior season, including winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best middle linebacker. He did a few stupid things leading up to the draft and fell from an expected top 10 selection to next-to-last in the first round. That doesn’t take away from his 2016 season, though, as he led Bama in tackles with 115 tackles including 13 for lost yardage, had 8 quarterback pressures, and 2 pass break-ups.

Rashaan Evans (6-3, 234) is the obvious replacement for Foster. The two former teammates at Auburn High School have both performed well for Alabama. Last season Evans split time at outside and inside linebacker spots before taking over at middle linebacker for Shaun Dion Hamilton when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the SEC Championship Game. Evans was in on 53 tackles, including 4 sacks, had 6 quarterback pressures and 2 pass break-ups, and caused and recovered a fumble.

Cam Robinson elected to take his All-America credentials to the NFL a year early after winning the Outland Award as the nation’s top interior lineman. Robinson was a three-year starter on Alabama teams that had a three-year record of 40-4, won three SEC championships, and one national title.

His left tackle spot has already been filled by Jonah Williams (6-5, 301), who started last year and was Freshman All-America at right tackle. Thus, the departure of Robinson means a replacement must be found at right tackle. Depending on which inside source is asked, it could be true freshman Alex Leatherwood (6-6, 327), redshirt freshman Scott Lashley (6-7, 310), or sophomore Matt Womack (6-7, 326), who was Robinson’s back-up last year and emerged as No. 1 in the spring.

Who was the man making the most tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the Alabama defense last season? It might surprise many to learn it was strongside linebacker Ryan Anderson, who was involved in 60 tackles, including 19 for lost yardage (96 yards). He also forced a team high 4 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles which he returned for 14 yards, had 10 quarterback hurries, broke up 3 passes, and returned a highlight video interception 26 yards for a touchdown in a key play in the Tide’s Peach Bowl win over Washington.

Christian Miller (6-4, 240, junior) emerged in the spring as the apparent No. 1 at strongside linebacker, but soph Terrell Hall (6-5, 251) and redshirt freshman Ben Davis (6-4, 234) could be in the mix. Miller has seen much of his action on special teams. Last year he had 16 tackles, including 2 sacks, and 4 quarterback pressures. Hall played in 11 games last year with 11 tackles, including one sack.

Asked to name the 10 Alabama players taken in the draft, our guess is that the one many would have the most difficulty remembering would be Dalvin Tomlinson (“The other defensive end”). Tomlinson was solid on the front whether playing end or tackle, finishing with 62 tackles, including 5 for loss, 7 quarterback hurries, 4 passes broken up, and a caused fumble.

In addition to Hand moving up as the likely replacement for Allen, Bama will have another new defensive lineman flanking DaRon Payne in the middle. It could be soph Raekwon Davis (6-7, 303), redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams (6-4, 285), or junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs (6-5, 292).

More than half of Tim Williams’ 31 tackles in 2014 were behind the line of scrimmage. He was in on 16 tackles for 125 yards in losses from his jack linebacker position. He also had 12 quarterback pressures, broke up 2 passes, caused two fumbles, and returned a recovered fumble 23 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. Off-the-field issues may have hurt Williams in the draft.

Anfernee Jennings (6-3, 265) was Williams’ primary back-up last year and was in on 19 tackles (2 for loss) and 3 quarterback pressures. Fellow sophomore Mekhi Brown (6-5, 241) also is in the picture.

Many Tide fans had hoped that ArDarius Stewart would return for his final season of eligibility, but Stewart is off to the NFL. Last year he was second to Calvin Ridley in number of receptions with 54 and first for Bama in yards receiving with 864 and in receiving touchdowns with 8.

Alabama also lost Gehrig Dieter (15 catches, 214 yards, 4 TDs) from the three-man receiving corps last year.

The A-Day Game was a showcase for Alabama’s potential new starting receivers with true freshman Jerry Jeudy (6-1, 184) taking 5 receptions for 134 yards and 2 TDs; senior Robert Foster (6-2, 196) handling 2 passes for 115 yards and 1 TD; redshirt freshman T.J. Simmons (6-2, 202) grabbing 6 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama lost safety Eddie Jackson before the draft as he suffered a season-ending injury on a punt return against Texas A&M. Although he played in only eight of Bama’s 15 games, he was selected second team All-Southeastern Conference. In addition to his play at safety (he had 24 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, and returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown – the third pick-six of his career --, Jackson also has to be replaced as a punt return man. Last year he had 11 punt returns for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Part of the replacement process started last season. Minkah Fitzpatrick moved from Star (nickel) to safety and the 6-1, 201-pound upcoming junior was All-America was fourth on the team in tackles with 66 and led Bama with 6 interceptions for 186 yards in returns and 2 TDs – including a record 100-yard return against Arkansas.

Jackson’s punt return duties were taken over by Trevon Diggs, who had 13 for 130 yards.

So there you have it. If you could bring back one draftee for one more season, who would it be?

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