Tracking Alabama Football Players in the 2012 NFL Draft

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIApril 26, 2012

Tracking Alabama Football Players in the 2012 NFL Draft

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    Post-draft update:

    If you're wondering where Alabama ranks as far as total number of draft picks, here's the article.

    Apr 28 Intro:

    Alabama's Courtney Upshaw finally went yesterday, leaving Josh Chapman and William Vlachos as my personal best Tiders remaining in the draft.

    Rounds four through seven will be lightning-fast, and here at Bleacher Report, we will be keeping you up-to-date on all the latest picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Apr 27 Intro:

    Alabama just produced four first-round draft picks last night—the most of any school in the 2012 NFL Draft. (Truthfully, Alabama had more defensive players picked in the first round than any other team had total players selected.)

    Congrats to Saban and company for stamping out another production run of ridiculously skilled players!

    The biggest question Tiders have coming into the second round is this: When will Upshaw go?

    Bookmark this page for updates on every Alabama player that gets drafted in any of the seven rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.

    ROLL TIDE!

    Original Intro:

    Nick Saban just finished coaching his second national championship team in three years. The on-field leadership that was responsible for the defensive masterpiece that was the 2011 Tide is about to exit to the NFL.

    In fact, other than Trent Richardson, every potential first-round pick is from the defensive unit. Alabama's suffocating defensive coaching staff produces the nation's No. 1 safety in Mark Barron.

    Of course, Trent Richardson will be headlining this year's draft class as the No. 1 running back and likely as Alabama's first player drafted.

    Alabama's defense must overcome the losses of many great players in 2012, and the NFL will benefit from the mass exodus.

    Bookmark this page for updates on every player leaving the Capstone for the NFL in 2012.

    The list of potential draftees from Alabama:

    1) Trent Richardson, RB

    2) Courtney Upshaw, OLB

    3) Dont'a Hightower, ILB

    4) Mark Barron, SS

    5) Dre Kirkpatrick, CB

    6) Josh Chapman, DT

    7) DeQuan Menzie, CB

    8) Brad Smelley, FB

    9) Marquis Maze, WR

    10) William Vlachos, C

    11) Jerrell Harris, OLB

    There are some HUGE values on this list. William Vlachos may be the biggest steal in this year's draft, as he is not projected to go high. Whoever picks him up (if anyone) will be getting one of the most consistent centers in college football today.

    The top of the list is stacked, too. It's hard to overrate Trent Richardson. Even if he goes as high as No. 3, he would be a steal.

Trent Richardson, RB: Drafted by Cleveland Browns, First Round (3rd Overall)

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    A do-it-all running back who can run between the tackles, has the speed to break to the edge, can catch and block—Trent Richardson combines the best of these traits to be an elite running back prospect.

    Richardson defies the argument of a specialized running back. He's a throwback in the style of Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson as a true triple-threat at the position. You won't take Richardson off the field and replace him with a third-down back who can catch or block, because chances are, you won't be able to find a player who can catch or block better.

    Richardson was a star at Alabama, but he also only carried the ball 540 times in his career, as he spent his two seasons playing in tandem with Mark Barron. Richardson comes to the league with very little wear and tear and unmeasurable upside as a feature back.

    Pick Analysis

    The Cleveland Browns gave up their fourth, fifth and seventh-rounder to move up from the fourth-overall pick to the third-overall pick in an effort to ensure themselves that they'd land Trent Richardson. It might seem like a lot, but Trent Richardson is one of the few sure things in this year's draft class. He'll be the Browns' best offensive player from the first day of training camp.

Mark Barron, SS: Drafted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers, First Round (7th Overall)

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    Regarded by most as the premiere safety prospect in the 2012 NFL draft, Alabama's Mark Barron has the build of a small linebacker. While he may not have the dynamic range of some of the star safeties in the NFL, Barron more than makes up for that with his tenaciousness and overall physical play.

    The 6'1", 213-pound former Crimson Tide player recently underwent double hernia surgery earlier in the spring and did not participate at the NFL Scouting Combine. But Barron is a two-time captain who was the quarterback of Nick Saban's complex and downright dominating defense. 

    What the Experts Are Saying

    Strengths

    From NFL Network's Chad Reuter:

    Barron reads routes and defends the run well. He has good hands and reacts quickly, allowing him to make plays on the ball, which he is often near. He is a sure tackler and uses sound foot technique to put himself in great position. He transitions well in coverage and can defend a variety of offensive players in different positions. Against the run, Barron comes downfield with a head of steam; he can also fluidly run down and cover fast receivers against the pass.

    Weaknesses

    From CBS Sports' Rob Rang:

    Isn't as reliable an open-field tackler as you'd think, considering his reputation. Flies upfield in run support and can fail to break down properly. Doesn't possess the elite agility to dance with runners in the open field and always make the secure stop. Physical hitter who teases with textbook hit-lift-drive technique, but will also duck his head occasion to make the big hit and miss entirely or fail to wrap up securely and have the ball-carrier spin through his attempted tackle. 

    Saban spent the 2011 season hiding Barron in coverage and allowing him to play down near the line of scrimmage extensively. However, he was not asked to drop down and cover the slot in Saban's scheme. While he can be stiff in the hips, he certainly shows enough burst to close and makes plays on the ball. 

    Barron should be able to walk into any defensive huddle in the NFL on day one of training camp and be an instant starter.

    Draft Analysis

    The Bucs grab one of the top defensive prospects in the draft in safety Mark Barron. However, safety isn't considered an elite position in the NFL these days, so some of this may view this as a bit of a reach. The Bucs certainly have an aging secondary, so Barron should add some youth immediately and has the character to be a team leader by year two.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB: Drafted by Cincinatti Bengals, First Round (17th Overall)

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    A cornerback with a short memory and an ability to quickly forget a bad play is what you want in an NFL  corner. A cornerback with an attitude, as Dre Kirkpatrick certainly has, can be a blessing or a curse. While Kirkpatrick is aggressive and unafraid to mix it up with receivers at the line of scrimmage, he is also prone to big misses and tends to lose focus with alarming regularity.

    The 6'1" 186-pound former member of the Crimson Tide can be a good addition to an NFL secondary, but he needs to take to his coaching, keep his head down, work on his technique and focus on playing within the scheme rather than succumbing to the temptation to freelance.

    What the Experts Are Saying:

    Strength:

    From NFL Network's Chad Reuter:

    Athletes like Kirkpatrick are able to defy the perception that taller skill players don't have the footwork and agility that shorter players do. Kirkpatrick will thrive initially within a zone scheme, where he can use his burst and length to cover ground and remain active. He is so talented athletically that he could likely be tested early on an island in man coverage and excel, and he possesses the confidence and field presence necessary to take on such a task.

    Weakness:

    From Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki:

    Has short arms and is extremely lean. Modest overall career production. Lacks elite speed to carry receivers vertically. Freelances too much and lacks discipline. Can do a better job coming to balance in space — overruns the ball and arrives out of control. Average recovery burst. Gave up two TDs against Arkansas. Has only three career interceptions. Not dependable. Has identity and entitlement issues. Can be lured by the trappings of the game and easily distracted. Will need to be managed closely. Has been injury-prone and body is not built to withstand contact — long-term durability could be an issue. Average Combine workout and interviews.

    Kirkpatrick should be able to step in and take on a nickel corner role from the start. With some work and a patient coaching staff, he should be a starter within a year.

Dont'a Hightower, ILB: Drafted by New England Patriots, 1st Round (25th Overall)

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    The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide defense was the stuff that legends are made of, and you can tell by the number of players that were taken early in the draft. Dont'a Hightower was one of the leaders of that crew. He started as a true freshman, and he became a captain as a junior. More of a thumper at 6'2" 265 pounds, he isn't a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but Hightower can rush the passer from the edge on third down, where he often looked as good as teammate Courtney Upshaw.

    Hightower's scouting reports emphasize the strength and physicality in his game.

    CBS Sports:

    Productive, combines good instincts and fair reaction time for his size. Missing the quick-twitch acceleration, and thus reaction speed, to project as an All-Pro type. Stonewalls ballcarriers in the hole with the size and leverages one-on-one to churn legs and prevent forward push. Big-bodied with a defensive end's frame to drive linemen blocks inside with the thick arms to maintain distance and shed or scrape to the play. Lacks speed to beat the ball outside without taking the perfect angle. Top zone awareness kept him on the field in passing situations despite average speed. Drops to first-down marker quickly and watches for crossers in front of him. Very aware of RB routes with effort to attack throws to the sideline. Lacks speed and short-area quickness to handle NFL  slot receivers and better tight ends in man coverage; can struggle to track and catch up with misdirection. Manhandles receivers at the line of scrimmage. Strong head-on tackler. Gets low and wraps ballcarriers of any size. Reacts quickly enough to shed blocks or grab the legs of backs through a hole. Does not have elite edge speed but started to beat tackles with quickness and violent hands consistently. Heady player, often directed traffic. Took the leadership handoff from Rolando McClain as a redshirt sophomore. Spends a lot of time in the weight and film room.

    Pro Football Weekly:

    A big-bodied, physical run stuffer with deceptive movement skill and edge-setting strength to play outside, Hightower took time to recover from the ACL injury he suffered two years ago and has shown a tendency to play too cautiously since returning to the field. Is regarded as a two-down 3-4 "Mike" linebacker by some NFL teams but might fit best outside in an odd front given his physicality to control the line of scrimmage and stack the corner. His ability to kick outside on third downs enhances his value. Is scheme-diverse and versatile and has Pro Bowl potential when healthy.

    After 2008, Dont'a Hightower would have probably projected as a top 10 pick, like the player he replaced, Rolando McClain. Now, he may get his start in the base defense on run downs, but he won't be dropping into pass coverage. As a result, he could wait to work his way onto the field.

    Once he does, he'll be hard to get off as he's a hard-nosed player who sets an example on and off the field. He won't be one of the dominant inside linebackers in the game, but he'll be known as one of the most punishing in the league.

    Pick Analysis:

    The Patriots trade up AGAIN, this time grabbing Alabama's Dont'a Hightower. He'll immediately bolster New England's tattered front seven and should be a rotational player, if not a starter, from day one.

Courtney Upshaw, DE: Drafted by Baltimore Ravens, Second Round (35th Overall)

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    Few players embodied the spirit of the legendary Alabama defense that is stacking the draft like Courtney Upshaw. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban called him the "meanest player he ever coached" and opponents would probably agree. The 6'2" 272 lb defensive end/outside linebacker 'tweener is very effective setting the edge against the run and he hand fights relentlessly as a pass rusher. His play recognition and reaction is probably the best at his position in this class. He was defensive MVP of the national championship game and led his team in sacks and tackles for loss in his senior year.

    Upshaw's scouting report emphasizes the difference between his film/intangibles, his measureables and his fit at the next level:

    Pro Football Weekly:

    Positives:

    Very strong, power-based edge-setter — presses the line and can jolt and even ragdoll blockers. Plays with consistent leverage. Can sort out play action and quickly locate the ball. Strong bullrush and quick counter swim move. Strong-handed to play off blocks. Drive-through, wrap tackler. Hits with power. Chases down backs from behind. Defensive tempo-setter — highly competitive and it shows. Runs to the ball. Extremely tough mentally and physically. Excellent weight-room strength and body power.

    Negatives:

    Has small hands. Average arm length — can be engulfed by bigger blockers (and was swallowed in drills at the Senior Bowl). Is wound tightly and lacks ideal edge burst and acceleration to take the corner. Average agility and coverage range — labors to flip his hips and can be stressed by quick backs in space. Is best when he is turned loose with simple assignments and allowed to attack. Average Combine showing — appeared out of shape, turned off coaches with lack of urgency jogging between drills, was very late to react and transition in change of direction and opted not to run. Character requires some scrutiny. Average booksmarts.

    Summary:

    A very thickly-built, high-intensity, power-leverage rusher best with his hand in the ground moving forward. Is not as athletic as LaMarr Woodley but could best fit a similar type of role as an intimidating 3-4 rush linebacker.

    Wes Bunting, National Football Post:

    A physically imposing put together linebacker/defensive end hybrid who will stand up and play with his hand on the ground... only average straight-line speed... is quicker/more coordinated than fast in tight areas and gets up to speed quickly. Generates a lot of natural power on contact... Reads and reacts well in space, deciphers information quickly... isn't going to hold up at the next level in space or man consistently... is extremely violent/powerful with his hands when attacking downhill. Consistently is able to take on blocks, disengage... is at his best as a pass rusher standing up... looks more sudden/shifty laterally off the ball from a two point stance.. when run at has the power to anchor at the point vs. SEC offensive tackles.. is a bit inconsistent getting off the snap on time and is more of a power player only.

    Impression: I like him as a 34 outside backer who can play on the strong side, take on linemen at the point and also rush the passer. He's at his best attacking downhill, using his strong hands to disengage and always is around the football.

    Upshaw's energy and edge are contagious. It's hard to imagine he won't at least be used as a situational pass rusher right off the bat, but his advanced ability to read and react should get him on the field as a starter very early in his career. Some even project him as a 3-4 inside linebacker, and he certainly fits in the new NFL that emphasizes scheme versatility on defense.

    While he'll never lead the league in sacks, Upshaw will be a very strong every-down player who creates as many plays with his head and hustle as he does by initially defeating his opponent with the tools at his disposal. He's almost certain to be a stalwart starter and fan favorite who lifts the level of play around him.

    Pick Analysis:

    OLB was a glaring hole for the Ravens entering the offseason, and Upshaw should help mitigate the loss of Jarret Johnson to San Diego . B/R's draft experts  thought this would be a good fit, and the Ravens smartly pulled the trigger.

Josh Chapman, DT: Drafted by Indianapolis Colts, Fifth Round (136th Overall)

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    The Alabama Crimson Tide had one of the most dominant collegiate defenses in recent memory, and many agree that the cornerstone of their success was Josh Chapman in the middle of their defensive line.

    The individual stats of an interior defensive lineman are usually less important than how effectively their defense was able to limit the opposition's run game. Based on that metric, Chapman and the Tide defense were exceptional, only allowing 74.3 yards rushing per game. The contributions of Chapman are made all the more impressive when it is taken into account that Chapman played the entire season with a torn ACL.

    The sturdy lineman chose to have the injury surgically repaired in mid-January, which has cooled the hype surrounding his draft status. Still, even playing injured he was incredibly effective in the physical SEC, and in the one game that he missed Alabama was torched on the ground by Georgia Southern for over 300 yards rushing.

    The scouts at CBS Sports view Chapman's rush defense this way:

    Clearly his best trait. Has a short, stumpy build so he typically wins the leverage battle. When he does so, Chapman can be tough to move, even showing the ability to handle double-teams. Excellent weight room strength translates well onto the field. Good stack and shed defender. Alert defender who recognizes the trap block and possesses enough quickness to beat his opponent to the spot. Lacks the sustained speed to chase down ball-carriers, but puts good effort into his lateral pursuit.

    Despite the lower draft position and worry over his health, Chapman could easily crack the starting lineup or become a regular rotational player. His experience in the SEC should prove that he can handle stuffing many NFL rushing attacks, but he will need work on helping to pressure the passer against pass-heavy offenses.

    Pick Analysis:

    Nice value for the Colts getting Chapman with the first pick of the 5th round. Chapman anchored one of the best defenses in the country last year and should be a rotational player for Chuck Pagano in his rookie season.

DeQuan Menzie, CB: Drafted by Kansas City Chiefs, Fifth Round (146th Overall)

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    Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie has the legitimate potential to turn out to be a true steal. He possesses the size and initial quickness to excel in certain zone coverage systems.

    As a starter in Nick Saban's multiple defensive fronts, Menzie has an above-average understanding of various coverage schemes and techniques. The 5'11", 202-pounder is tenacious enough to act as an effective press corner against the big and physical wideouts in the NFL.

    Versatility is one of the finest aspects of Menzie's game. He has operated in the slot and even spent time at free safety in certain packages. Flexibility is an important requirement in the modern NFL defensive back, given the proliferation of bigger flankers and more athletic tight ends.

    Sports Illustrated emphasizes Menzie's issues in man coverage:

    Struggles making plays with his back to the ball and does not correctly position himself against receivers. Does a bit of trailing in coverage.

    It is a poor range of movement and lack of genuine vertical speed which prevents Menzie from working well in off-coverage technique. These weaknesses are highlighted by CBS Sports:

    Has below-average measureables for the position and lacks ideal length. Has only average long speed and lacks the natural change-of-direction skills and vertical ability to play blanket man coverage. Lacks natural explosion to make up for false steps.

    However, Menzie's instincts, timing and physicality make him a perfect fit as a slot corner in press and zone coverage. He offers the natural aggression to rough up slot receivers and disrupt the timing of third down pass patterns.

    Menzie is an excellent blitzer, a useful trait for a slot corner. He can be used as part of a fire zone blitz from nickel and dime fronts.

    A willingness to attack and good tackling technique make Menzie a stout and competent run-defender. He can be an asset at close quarters, and in a defensive system which uses corners as force players against the running game.

    He may lack elite athleticism for the pro game, but Menzie's versatility, toughness and intelligence give him more than a good chance of contributing early in the NFL. His experience in a complex defense makes Menzie a perfect fit for the hybrid playbooks today's pro defenses are choosing to rely on.

    Pick Analysis 

    A Top-100 talent on B/R's Big Board, this is a solid choice for Kansas City. Hard to ever argue with picking up a solid SEC defensive player.

Brad Smelley, TE: Drafted by Cleveland Browns, Seventh Rounds (247th Overall)

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    OVERVIEW

    Brad Smelley does not possess the elite blocking ability of Vonta Leach or the versatility of John Kuhn, but he has the toughness crucial to success for a fullback.

    Smelley was one of the critical components of Alabama's devastating rushing attack last season as he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship. The senior fullback was a weapon out of the backfield, recording 34 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns in 2011.

    WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

    CBS Sports has Smelley as the No. 2 fullback in this year's draft class and projected him as a mid sixth-round pick. CBS provided the following analysis: 

    He is a hard-working blocker at the line of scrimmage and on the perimeter in space, but lacks ideal technique and power in either area.

    Smelley is an overachieving player who showed consistent receiving ability as the Tide's safety valve h-back in 2011. There is a lot to love about his toughness and ability to block in motion with his physical, hard-working nature, but his athletic and strength limitations will cause him to struggle at the next level. He projects as a reserve h-back at-best in the NFL  and will need to be a stud special teams player to stick on a roster.