Gil Brandt, the legendary former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys (1960-89) who now works for NFL.com, offered one of his annual pieces of advice on Wednesday when tweeting: “Always tell prospects this time of year to lock themselves in a room and don't come out until draft is over.”
This spring it’s especially true with the NFL draft bumped back a couple of weeks to May 8-10, giving it even more of a buildup. Combined with the extremely talented pool of players, resulting in probably the widest range of opinions ever about who should be selected when, the rhetoric is at an all-time high.
Take, for example, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s conference call with reporters last week, during which he took aim at the University of Alabama’s defensive players.
For months he’s been saying that Calvin Pryor of Louisville and the Crimson Tide’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are the two best safeties available. Since Pryor is more of traditional strong safety and Clinton-Dix more of a free safety, they’re very different in style.
However, Kiper is using Alabama’s recent draft history as part of his reasoning for preferring Pryor.
"Alabama's defensive players in general have struggled in the NFL,” he said. “Not just one or two, it's a pretty good list of names you can throw out there of guys who have not gotten it done on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Barron still hasn't played up to the level you thought he would with Tampa Bay. That's a concern to me, and it has to be factor in here."
Barron, the No. 7 selection in 2012, was selected to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team after finishing eighth in tackles and seventh in passes defensed among first-year players. He’s started 30 games for the Buccaneers as part of an outstanding secondary.
Kiper also touched on it when asked about the possibility of Pittsburgh selecting linebacker C.J. Mosley with the 15th pick (“I don’t see Mosley as a Steelers type of linebacker,” he said), leading to a direct question about his sudden distaste for the Crimson Tide.
“In terms of the Alabama players, is it a trend? Is it one or two, no, it’s more than that,” he explained before specifically mentioning cornerback Kareem Jackson, Barron again, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebacker Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody.
"There is a concern about that, and it's probably because they're coached up so well. They're in a great system. They all complement each other. They come into the league thinking they're pretty much as coached as they can be ... and basically they've hit their ceiling. They're as good as they're going to get. There's not that upside that you see with all the other guys. Maybe that's a factor.
“But it is something that you have to look at because there's been a number, a host of players out of that Alabama defense, over the years that have come out as high draft choices and, frankly, have been major disappointments."
At this point, there’s no denying that McClain, who was the eighth selection in the 2010 draft, was a great college player but an NFL bust as he recently retired a second time, and in terms of draft value Kiper may have an argument. Was Jackson worthy of being the 20th pick in 2010? Probably not.
But too coached up? Is there such a thing?
Just three years ago that very thing clearly helped Alabama players in the 2011 draft. Due to a labor dispute that wasn’t resolved until July, there were no offseason camps or free-agent signings, with rosters locked in place during the four-and-a-half-month lockout.
Players who could step in and potentially contribute immediately were highly coveted, with four Crimson Tide players selected in the first round.
It also wasn’t too long ago that former Crimson Tide offensive tackle Andre Smith was being called a draft bust. Last year he got a new three-year, $18 million contract from Cincinnati.
Targeting Alabama just before the draft isn’t anything new. Go back to a year ago, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter questioned the durability of Alabama players in general, suggesting that they were too beat up and had too many surgeries. The other vocal “concern” was specific to the running backs, as neither Mark Ingram Jr. nor Trent Richardson had lit up the NFL as hoped.
Nevertheless, after having eight players selected in 2012, nine were picked in 2013, including running back Eddie Lacy, who went on to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Alabama could top that this year, with most of the selections on the defensive side.
Overall, from 2009-13, Alabama led all college programs with 14 first-round selections after not having any between 2000 (Chris Samuels and Shaun Alexander) and 2009 (Smith), and no draft picks at all in 2008. The 11 first-round picks from 2011, 2012 and 2013 alone equaled the output of the previous six Crimson Tide coaches and 22 years combined.
Last fall, Alabama had 30 former players on NFL rosters for opening weekend, not including those on injured reserve or on practice squads. That was seventh among college programs, with Southern California edging out Saban’s former LSU Tigers for the top spot, 40 to 39.
That’s roughly twice as many as Alabama had when Saban took over in 2007, and the Crimson Tide weren't listed among the top 25 programs in that category until 2011.
Meanwhile, with former linebacker Jerrell Harris recently signing with the Denver Broncos and cornerback DeQuan Menzie with the Detroit Lions, every starter on the national championship 2011 defense, which led the nation in every major category, is under contract with an NFL team.
Consider that rhetoric, empty rhetoric, especially since every prospect gets judged and evaluated on his own.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
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