Power Ranking Top 10 Alabama Crimson Tide Players Heading into 2014 Season
Backed by talent all over the roster, the Alabama Crimson Tide once again will be challenging for a national title in 2014.
After winning three of four BCS titles, the Tide saw their run come to a heartwrenching end last season. But while the rest of college football fans bask in the end of a dynasty, head coach Nick Saban and Co. seem poised to begin Act 2.
These are the top 10 players who should prove the most beneficial to Alabama in its pursuit for championship No. 16.
Each player was given a ranking based on several factors. Among the factors used were each player's career stats, experience on the team and awards/recognitions earned.
10. DE Jonathan Allen
Career Stats: 15 tackles (3.0 for loss), 0.5 sacks, one fumble forced
A 5-star recruit out of Ashburn, Virginia, in the class of 2013, Jonathan Allen was poised for a bright future in Tuscaloosa.
Through limited action in 12 games last season, the then-freshman was a bright spot on the defensive line. Allen helped the unit rank No. 7 against the run, coughing up just 106.2 yards per game, while ranking second in touchdowns allowed (eight).
With Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan gone, the door is open for Allen to step up.
Allen will be battling with Dalvin Tomlinson for the starting spot. But with a year of experience under his belt, expect the sophomore to have somewhat of a breakout season.
9. RT Austin Shepherd
The play of Austin Shepherd at right tackle went a long way in helping the Crimson Tide replace three starters on the offensive line in 2013.
Behind the senior’s blocking, the team’s rushing attack flourished. Alabama finished ranked No. 25 in the nation in rushing (205.6), while averaging 5.8 yards per carry—the highest mark in school history in over 10 seasons.
Shepherd should be the leader of an offensive line that boasts three returning starters and four upperclassmen. Don’t be surprised if running backs T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake only improve on their 2013 showing.
8. WR Christion Jones
Career Stats: 66 receptions, 766 yards, six touchdowns
Christion Jones has been helpful in the passing attack ever since being named a starter in his sophomore season.
The Adamsville, Alabama, native has topped 340 yards receiving in each of the last two seasons. He hauled in four touchdown grabs in 2012 and another two in 2013.
But Jones’ biggest impact comes in the return game, where he has returned 47 career punts for 568 yards and 31 kickoffs for 876 yards and two scores. For his play last season, Jones was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year while earning first-team All-SEC honors.
In 2014, look for Jones to provide help for the new quarterback under center as well as providing a dynamite return man who has the potential of taking it to the house every time he touches the ball.
7. TE O.J. Howard
Career Stats: 14 receptions, 269 yards, two touchdowns
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, a quarterback couldn’t ask for a better target than O.J. Howard to throw passes too.
In his freshman campaign last season, the Prattville, Alabama, native caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. His inconsistency—he failed to record a reception in five games—could cause reason for alarm, but that could easily be chalked up to inexperience.
With the quickness of a smaller receiver, Howard will have the speed and strength to blow by defenders and haunt the dreams of opposing defensive coordinators. Don’t be surprised if the former 5-star recruit finds himself on the John Mackey Award watch list sometime soon.
6. RB Derrick Henry
Career Stats: 35 carries, 382 yards, three touchdowns; one reception, 61 yards, one touchdown
Derrick Henry joins Allen and Howard as another highly touted recruit out of the 2013 class who should be due for big things this season.
The former 5-star recruit played third fiddle behind Yeldon and Drake in the rushing attack last season. However, when he got his chances, Henry made the most of them, averaging 10.6 yards per carry.
One only needs to look at his performance during January’s Sugar Bowl to see Henry’s potential. He rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, including scores of 43 and 61 yards.
At 6-foot-3, 241 pounds, Henry has the brute force and speed to make him one of the most punishing rushers in the SEC, maybe even the country.
5. LB Trey DePriest
Career Stats: 149 tackles (13.0 for loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception
Trey DePriest will be looked upon as one of the leaders of a defensive unit that only returns five starters.
A starter over the last two years, the Springfield, Ohio, native has made his presence felt. He finished third on the team in tackles last season with 65, while finishing second in 2012 with 59.
DePriest was a key member of both the 2011 and 2012 national-title-winning squads for Alabama. His experience will prove crucial to the younger players on the team.
Unfortunately, DePriest will sit out the team’s season opener "due to an undisclosed NCAA infraction," per ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.
4. RB T.J. Yeldon
Career Stats: 382 carries, 2,343 yards, 26 touchdowns; 31 receptions, 314 yards, one touchdown
After a record-breaking freshman campaign in 2012, Yeldon proved those numbers were no fluke last season.
In 12 games, the Daphne, Alabama, native rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns on 207 carries. That includes six games of 100 yards or more on the ground.
Yeldon only seems to be getting better with every season, which is a scary thought for the opposition. Already ranked 12th in school history in career rushing yards—and just one of five Crimson Tide rushers to ever record multiple 1,000-yard seasons—look for the youngster to keep rewriting the record books.
With an offensive line that’s looking strong, this could be the best season yet for Yeldon.
3. DT A'Shawn Robinson
Career Stats: 38 tackles (8.0 for loss), 5.5 sacks, one kick blocked
Another monster from the 2013 recruiting class, A’Shawn Robinson showcased tremendous potential in his freshman season.
Aside from finishing seventh in tackles, the Fort Worth, Texas, product led the team in sacks. He earned first-team freshman All-American honors and was named to the Freshman All-SEC team. That’s quite impressive for someone who only made two starts on the year.
Robinson has proven to be an extremely disruptive force up front and only looks to be getting better. He should go a long way in helping the Tide forget about some of the key losses they have suffered on the defensive line.
2. S Landon Collins
Career Stats: 86 tackles (4.0 for loss), two fumbles forced, two interceptions (one touchdown, six passes broken up
Landon Collins has quickly grown into one of the most explosive defensive backs in the country.
Just last season, the Geismar, Louisiana, native was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. He also earned second-team All-SEC honors a year ago for his efforts and is currently ranked as the No. 1 safety in Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's "2015 NFL Draft Big Board."
Following an injury to starter Vinnie Sunseri, Collins moved into the starter's position. From then on, Collins displayed the kind of talent and instincts that made him appear right at home in the secondary.
Collins' vision and aggressiveness should help him continue to prosper and make life difficult for opposing receivers all year long.
1. WR Amari Cooper
Career Stats: 104 receptions, 1,736 yards, 15 touchdowns
There’s no telling just how dominant of a season Amari Cooper would have had in 2013 if it wasn’t for an injury. Still, the Miami, Florida, native finished the year with 45 receptions, 736 yards and four touchdowns.
But for a look at just how talented Cooper is, you only need to take a look at his freshman campaign. Not only did he break the school record for receiving touchdowns (11) but Cooper also smashed Julio Jones’ freshman records for receptions (59) and receiving yards (1,000).
Add to that, ESPN NFL draft expert and ESPN Insider Mel Kiper seems to be fond of the receiver, ranking him No. 6 in his 2015 draft big board, stating (subscription required):
Cooper is neither a pure burner or an impossible matchup threat given his size, but there's nothing he doesn't do well. He separates with ease and also has a good sense of how to find space against a zone. Where he really stands out is his ability to make contested catches. He'll get plenty of attention, but I still expect him to be extremely productive.
A candidate for the Bilenikoff Award, Cooper is the perfect target for the Tide’s new quarterback this season.
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