The latest batch of Crimson Tide players headed to the NFL have bright futures but not all of them can go in the first round. It would be quite a sight, but several players are going to fall lower than they should in the draft.
The NFL Draft can be a strange thing. Last year, ex-Tide offensive tackle James Carpenter went in the first round to the Seattle Seahawks. It was an enormous surprise, a stark contrast to the surprise of seeing Mark Ingram fall all the way to the New Orleans Saints with the 28th overall pick.
Here are five players that won't be drafted as high as they should be.
Dont'a Hightower is a great talent that has proven he has fully recovered from his torn ACL. He's been fast, brutal and smart. He's also a great leader to boot.
He should be a first round pick but here are three reasons why he won't be.
• Boston College's Luke Kuechly seems to be the undisputed best inside linebacker in the upcoming draft. He had a ridiculous 191 total tackles in the 2011 season.
• Even with a reputation as a dirty player, Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict looks like the second best inside linebacker. Though the NFL is cracking down on dirty hits, a team will ignore that and take Burfict ahead of Hightower.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers could be the most likely team to take Hightower in the first round, but they need better manpower on the offensive line. After they were beaten by the Denver Broncos in the playoffs due to an injured and hobbling Ben Roethlisberger, it was apparent they needed some new blood on the line. They will take an offensive lineman over Hightower in the first round.
DeQuan Menzie may be the most underrated Alabama player heading into the draft. I honestly see him being a future Darrelle Revis becuase of his cover ability and physical stature (which is nearly identical).
I won't go so far as to say he's first round talent, but the second round should be possible. He will drop lower, and here's why:
• He's had a lack of exposure. With only one solid season under his belt (injury limited him in 2010) he doesn't have a full career's worth of exploits to boast about like Revis did.
• Menzie has outstanding coverage ability but the cornerback class is pretty stacked. With Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins, it could be very possible to see four or five cornerbacks go in the first round of the draft.
It was somewhat of a surprise for some to see that Marquis Maze got an invite to the NFL Combine, though there's no question that he'll play in the NFL soon.
Maze has a lot going against him, despite being a great prospect for playing in the slot at the next level.
Here are the things that will hold him back:
• Size. He is around 5'8". You can play at that size at the next level, but the upcoming draft is filled with huge, roughly 6'4" receivers.
• Maze played against the toughest defenses in the land behind Julio Jones most of his career and with non-elite quarterbacks (A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy, though McCarron could develop into one). He didn't get enough time to prove his potential. Fellow small receiver Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma had Landry Jones throwing to him and Kendall Write had Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Both played in the Big 12, a land of porous defenses. Maze just couldn't get the stats they had.
• Maze missed his golden opportunity in the national championship game due to a pulled hamstring early in the game. It didn't hurt his stock but he could have raised it so much in the game when A.J. McCarron went into beast mode.
William Vlachos is an outstanding, consistent center and was on the Rimington watch list for two straight years. He has had trouble at times, but what offensive lineman doesn't?
He's widely known to have been the strongest player on an offensive line that included Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and massive, dominating run blocker D.J. Fluker.
Vlachos will have to wait until his first Pro Bowl (yea, I said it) appearance to say, "I told you so," and here's why.
• Vlachos is closer to six-foot-nothing than he is to 6'1". He's learned to use that to his advantage, but the "eyeball test" can be brutal on a player's draft stock.
• Centers are not highly regarded unless they are ultimate talent. Good but not great players of other positions can go in the first round, but not centers.
• The center class this year has the likes of Wisconsin's Peter Konz and Ohio State's Michael Brewster. Top-tier talent in a low priority position hurts Vlachos.
• He did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine, which I examined in a previous article. Not getting the chance to compare himself directly against the other centers is a serious blow for a guy not already regarded as an elite player.
Trent Richardson is one of the best running back prospects in the history of the NFL Draft. He was a Heisman finalist and contributed heavily during two national championship seasons.
He ran over linebackers and defensive tackles alike, juked speedy defensive backs after catches and benches more than Chuck Norris.
He is the third best player on Mel Kiper's Big Board, but there's only one reason why Trent Richardson won't be taken as high as he should be.
Running backs just aren't as important as they used to be and he'll be a mid-first round pick instead of a top 3 pick.