TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Apparently playing in Dallas twice this season, where the University of Alabama football team won more games at AT&T Stadium than the National Football League’s Cowboys, made quite an impression on running back Derrick Henry.
When asked if there’s any NFL team in particular he’d like to play for, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner said “the Cowboys, but any team that drafts me."
"(They’re) not my favorite team, just a team that I feel like has a great organization."
Henry hasn’t gone as far as look at any team’s roster, but even with his and A’Shawn Robinson’s departure, as the junior defensive lineman also declared himself eligible for the 2016 draft on Friday, the team they’re leaving behind remains pretty loaded as well.
Of the 85 scholarship players Nick Saban compiled for the 2015-16 season, 18 were initially considered 5-star recruits by 247Sports and another 47 were 4-star players. That worked out to 76.5 percent of the roster.
Here’s the scary part:
Of all the players leaving the program, only two were considered 5-star recruits. They just happened to be the two who just declared for the NFL draft together, Henry and Robinson.
“I didn't do a draft grade,” said Robinson, who could be the first defensive lineman selected and appears to be almost a first-round lock. “Coach Saban talked to coaches for me to see where they'd draft me.”
Heading into the weekend the Crimson Tide already know they're losing:
Seniors: Quarterback Jake Coker, linebacker Denzel Devall, running back Kenyan Drake, tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, tackle Dominick Jackson, cornerback Cyrus Jones, center Ryan Kelly, nose guard Darren Lake, linebacker Dillon Lee, guard Isaac Luatua, safety Geno Matias-Smith, wide receiver Richard Mullaney, tight end Michael Nysewander, defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive lineman Jarran Reed, cornerback Bradley Sylve and defensive back Jabriel Washington.
Juniors declaring for the draft: Henry and Robinson.
Transfers: Quarterback Alec Morris and wide receiver Chris Black.
Linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams have already announced their return, as has starting strong safety Eddie Jackson—who just made the move from cornerback this past season.
Players have until Monday afternoon to declare early for the draft.
“A lot of guys will step up next year,” Matias-Smith said. “Alabama will be back.”
|Alabama's Depth Chart Minus Departures|
|Offense||1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LT||Cam Robinson||Korren Kirven||Lester Cotton|
|LG||Ross Pierschbacher||Dallas Warmack|
|C||J.C. Hassenauer||Brandon Kennedy|
|RG||Alphonse Taylor||Bradley Bozeman||Richie Petitbon|
|RT||Brandon Greene||Matt Womack|
|TE||Hale Hentges||Dakota Ball|
|WR||ArDarius Stewart||Cam Sims||Derek Kief|
|WR||Calvin Ridley||Daylot Charlot||Deionte Thompson|
|Defense||1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|NG||Da’Ron Payne||Joshua Frazier|
|DE||Jonathan Allen*||Dalvin Tomlinson||Da’Shawn Hand|
|Jack||Ryan Anderson||Tim Williams|
|SLB||Rashaan Evans||Christian Miller|
|WLB||Reuben Foster||Shaun Dion Hamilton||Keith Holcombe|
|CB||Marlon Humphrey||Tony Brown||Minkah Fitzpatrick|
|SS||Eddie Jackson||Ronnie Harrison||Shawn Burgess-Becker|
|Star||Minkah Fitzpatrick||Tony Brown||Maurice Smith|
|Alabama depth chart|
Although playing until mid-January will delay the team’s offseason conditioning program, the next position battles will begin during spring practices sometime in March. But there may not be as many competitions as expected.
On offense there are just four. Alabama will have another quarterback competition, this time between just three players instead of last year’s five: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett.
At running back, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are expected to form the tandem to handle the majority of snaps, while the offensive line has to replace center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Dominick Jackson. Alabama already has players who could step in tomorrow if it had a game.
On defense, the entire starting line will need to be replaced should Allen bolt, but Alabama had a nine-man rotation, 14 if you include the linebackers serving as pass-rushers, so the losses figure to be felt more on the back end.
At linebacker it appears that Reuben Foster will return in hopes of becoming Alabama’s next great player in the interior.
“When you think about Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley the next in line is Reggie Ragland, and Reuben Foster will next year be a first-round possibility,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think it would be smart for him to go back and be the leader of that defense just as Reggie Ragland was.”
Williams and Rashaan Evans will try to take the next steps in their development with Anderson a natural fit to be the full-time Jack, the full-time linebacker/defensive end hybrid position in Saban’s scheme.
Meanwhile, the secondary will lose the leadership of Cyrus Jones, but Saban started restocking a couple of years ago, and the back end could be a real team strength.
All in all, with so many players getting experience this national championship season, there’s really not much retooling that has to be done, and Alabama will sign another top-notch recruiting class next month as well.
One has to wonder how many of them might eventually leave early for the NFL, which has become a pretty regular thing every year as the coaches reload the roster.
"We've had 20 guys go out early since 2009 and 13 of them have been first-round draft picks, which we're very, very proud of,” Saban said. “I think as always, every player—which was really demonstrated at the national championship game out in Phoenix this year when we had over 20 guys that were former players here that played in the NFL now—they were all on the sidelines with their team and in the locker room as if they were a part of the team.
“These guys know and it's a part of our tradition that we're very proud of their accomplishments, we're very concerned about their futures, and we're always here to support them. They're always welcome to come back to Alabama, and we certainly encourage them to come back and get their degree."
Robinson made a point of saying that he will get his degree.
“I'll miss everything,” Henry said. “This program is…just everything. I loved playing here. I loved going to school here. I'll miss everything about it. The fans, football, everything.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.