Alabama is one of the few teams in the country where majority of the starters are already in place. With this being the case, it doesn't leave much room for surprise players to come out of nowhere and have a breakout season. It is tough these days in Tuscaloosa for players buried on the depth chart to separate themselves and shine in any given season.
But with that said, it isn't possible for an underrated Crimson Tide player to bust onto the scene when everybody least expected it. This is a roster full of elite athletes, which means that it is bound to happen if given the opportunity. With injuries, starters not performing well and mop-up duty taking place, that chance is given each and every week to a few lucky players.
We know about A.J. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and C.J. Mosley, but here are a few underrated Alabama players that will have breakout season in 2013.
Xzavier Dickson, LB
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Regardless of where you want to put Dickson on the field this year, his athleticism and explosion off the ball stands out. He does a good job of tackling in the open field and his 33 tackles in only six starts last season is a testament to just that.
With two seasons now under his belt, Dickson should see increased playing time this upcoming season. He may not be as talented as some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but he is a solid tackler and somebody who has play-making ability. The junior should have a surprising season that turns some heads in Tuscaloosa.
DeAndrew White, WR
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DeAndrew White was a decent contributor last season, hauling in eight receptions for 105 yards in five games. That was until he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
With a position that is so deep for Alabama this season, White looks to be that receiver early on to separate himself from the rest of the pack. His combination of athleticism and route-running skills has made him a standout early on in spring practice, according to
“DeAndrew White is doing really well—did a really good job, made some big plays today, actually,” Head coach Nick Saban said.
White could become that big play receiver to help take some of the pressure off of Amari Cooper. Last season he had a 51-yard touchdown reception against Michigan, and that type of production could take place for an entire season as long as he continues to shine in practice, and he remains healthy.
Darren Lake, NT
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Darren Lake saw some playing as a true-freshman last season, playing in seven games and producing three tackles. With the middle of the defensive line needing to add some depth, he is sure to see the field a lot more often his sophomore season.
Lake isn't expected to start at nose tackle with Brandon Ivory showing a little more consistency throughout the spring and having more experience than the younger defender. However, there is a lot to like about Lake, which will help the big man see the field quite a bit.
At 6'3", 320-plus pounds, he carries his weight well and does show a good burst off the ball. Capable of stuffing the run, Lake does do a decent job of rushing the passer due to his surprising quickness for a guy his size.
The sophomore defender has a chance to become a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball, and he should impress throughout the season.
Cyrus Jones, WR/DB
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Cyrus Jones has an interesting role this year. A top recruit to come out of the 2012 class, Jones was considered by Scout to be a top-notch wide receiver. He finished with four receptions his freshman year, which isn't anywhere close to what was expected from him.
Now Jones has found himself trying out on the defensive side of the ball, with the possibility to become a defensive back. The transition shouldn't be that difficult for the young man considering he played both sides of the ball in high school. His quick feet and terrific ball skills should help him along the way, as defense appears to be the quickest way for Jones to see the field in his second season.
Andrew Gribble of AL.com provided a video of Jones in action this spring as a defensive back. While making a switch is never easy for any player, Jones is simply too talented not to make things work. He has his work cut out for him, but I think we will soon hear about this kid making a big play, and the rest will take off from there.
Don't give up on Jones just yet.
Bradley Sylve, CB
Speaking of players making transitions, Bradley Sylve is another player who was once a little more comfortable playing offense. Coming out of the 2011 class, Sylve was considered this playmaking receiver and was recruited like such. After redshirting his freshman year, he played defensive back last year, seeing action in 11 games and breaking up two passes.
Sylve now has a chance to compete for a starting cornerback role to play alongside Deion Belue. Regardless of what happens with that situation, he is sure to hold down a significant role in the defensive backfield. Sylve has great size, speed and awareness to become a solid corner, and due to his experience as a receiver, he has the ability to make plays on the football as well.
Winning the starting job over somebody like Geno Smith won't be easy, but with the playmaking potential of Sylve, I expect to see him on the field and become one of the underrated players on this roster to impress in 2013.