TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Usually when a player considers leaving school early, he submits his name to the College Advisory Committee to get an idea of when he could potentially be selected in the NFL draft.
A’Shawn Robinson didn’t bother. With schools limited to how many requests they can make and the Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman already having a pretty decent idea of his status, he only asked head coach Nick Saban to make some calls on his behalf.
“First round,” Robinson said of the responses. “Some mid, some late.”
Actually, his draft stock might be even better than that. Although there’s a long way to go in the draft evaluation process, and this is considered a very strong year for defensive tackles, Robinson has a chance to be the first selected among them.
It’s a right-place, right-time thing that could really work out to his advantage.
“He made some big plays early in his career, then became a run-stopper, and after he dropped some weight a better pass-rusher this year,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He could be a 3-4 end, you can move him around. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s mature."
“Robert Nkemdiche [of the Ole Miss Rebels] is another at that position who has a chance to go mid-first, but you have some intangible issues with him. You don’t with Robinson, and you know what you’re getting with Robinson while Nkemdiche struggled at the end of the year with the off-the-field problems. He wasn’t as productive as he should have been.”
Regardless, 2016 looks like it could be another outstanding draft for the Crimson Tide, with three strong candidates for the first round and two more players right behind them. For now there doesn’t seem to be too much of a consensus about who among them will go first.
The much bigger question is how many Alabama players might end up being taken overall.
First, though, the process: While the NFL playoffs are still ongoing, each team’s scouts will spend the next couple of weeks at college all-star games. The Senior Bowl in particular essentially serves a dual purpose as a staff retreat because it’s the first time everyone’s been together in months.
- Saturday: East-West Shrine Game, St. Petersburg, Florida
- Jan. 30: Senior Bowl, Mobile, Alabama
- February 23-29: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis
- April 28-30: 2016 NFL draft, Chicago
Alabama doesn’t have any players at this week’s East-West Shrine Game, which is definitely sort of a second-tier all-star game. Regardless, it’s not the games that the scouts pay the most attention to, rather the workouts when they make comparisons and see how coachable each player may be. Most scouts don’t even stick around for the game.
That list will be the first strong indication of where a player stands, because last year there were more than 300 players invited to the combine and only 256 selected in the draft. At quarterback, 15 were invited and just seven drafted.
Just about every mock draft you’ll find at this point, including Bleacher Report's, has Ragland, Reed and Robinson all being selected in the first round.
CBSSports.com and Kiper claim Robinson is the best prospect among them, Scout.com and ESPN's Todd McShay like Reed and everyone seems to agree that Ragland is the top interior linebacker available—with UCLA Bruins star Myles Jack considered more of a prospect at outside linebacker.
The two right behind them—defensive end Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard might have been in this mix as well had they not decided to stay at Alabama—are running back Derrick Henry and center Ryan Kelly.
Neither position is real popular in the first round, but both players are listed on the initial mock drafts on NFL.com.
Kiper believes Kelly could go “as high as the second round,” while the advisory committee gave the Heisman Trophy winner a second-round grade. He’s vowed to prove them wrong.
Who will be Alabama's first player selected in the 2016 NFL Draft?
Just like the combine and/or his on-campus Pro Day could be huge for Henry if he can show a good burst while running the 40, there may be even more at stake during those workouts for some of Alabama’s other prospects.
Drake needs to show he hasn’t lost a step after last year’s leg fracture. Offensive tackle Dominick Jackson wants to make scouts look past his performance in the College Football Playoff National Championship. Coker will have the chance to prove that he’s an NFL-type quarterback.
Also looking to make their mark will be Jones, linebacker Denzel Devall, nose tackle Darren Lake, linebacker Dillon Lee, safety Geno Matias-Smith, wide receiver Richard Mullaney and defensive lineman D.J. Pettway.
“Cyrus Jones, I think, is a fourth-round pick,” Kiper said. “Great player at the collegiate level and can really help in the punt return as he’s shown. I think third-to-fifth round for him.'
“I think Coker’s a late-rounder.”
Just about all of them could be. Alabama's record for selections in a draft is 10. After a couple of near-misses this group might reach it.
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Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.