Alabama Football: Initial Predictions for the Tide's 2017 Depth Chart

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistJanuary 11, 2017

Alabama Football: Initial Predictions for the Tide's 2017 Depth Chart

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    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tuesday was a day of transition for the University of Alabama football program. After the team flew back from Tampa, Florida, where it came up short in the national championship game, there was a lot of packing and unpacking going on.

    Staff workers were moving on, some beginning new jobs. Others were doing evaluations of the 35-31 loss to Clemson and trying to make up for lost time in recruiting.

    Among the players, some were beginning the process of becoming professionals and preparing for the NFL draft. Early enrollees were getting settled in and meeting with their new coaches while the weight room was open for anyone wanting to work off their frustrations and get a jump on next season.

    Most will take a well-deserved break after enduring a 15-game season, but it won’t be long before Alabama’s brutal “Fourth Quarter” conditioning program gets underway, followed by the start of spring practice in March. That’s when the various competitions for starting jobs will really begin and the Crimson Tide build toward making another title run.

    Just because the 2016 season came up short, and Alabama will have to replace a lot of talent, the internal expectations won’t change—nor should they. 

    The cupboard is anything but bare for head coach Nick Saban’s program, the only one to make the College Football Playoff all three years:

Defensive End

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    • First team: Da’Shawn Hand

    • Second team: O.J. Smith/Quinnen Williams

    • Key losses: Jonathan Allen


    After being considered a stud recruit in 2014, and having played 39 games without a start, Hand will be looked upon as the position’s veteran leader. Alabama will be looking for someone to step up to both earn a spot in the rotation between Smith, Williams, Johnny Dwight and Jamar King, and provide needed depth at both defensive end spots.

Defensive End

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    • First team: Raekwon Davis/Isaiah Buggs

    • Second team: Davis/Buggs

    • Key losses: Dalvin Tomlinson, Dakota Ball


    With Hand set at one defensive end spot, the big question is who will start on the other side between Buggs, who just enrolled, and Davis. At 6’5”, Buggs is the smaller of the two as Davis is 6’7”, 315 pounds. Tomlinson was a rock for the Crimson Tide, but both players figure to get a lot of playing time in 2017.

Nose Guard

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    • First team: Da’Ron Payne

    • Second team: Joshua Frazier

    Key losses: No one


    Payne will remain the anchor in the middle and could potentially be an All-American candidate—he has that kind of potential. Frazier earned a rotation spot as a junior in 2016 and figures to only get more snaps as Alabama has been known to move defensive lineman into different spots depending on the situation and opponent.

Middle Linebacker

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    • First team: Shaun Dion Hamilton

    • Second team: Ben Davis

    Key losses: No one


    Alabama's interior linebacker spots are interchangeable for the most part, so Hamilton could end up playing weak-side linebacker. He's coming off a torn ACL suffered in the SEC Championship Game and is hoping to return for at least part of the spring, although there’s obviously no reason to rush back. Before his injury, he was third in tackles with 64, including nine tackles for loss. The player to watch is Ben Davis after redshirting. Scout rated him as a 5-star prospect in 2016.

Weak-Side Linebacker

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    • First team: Mack Wilson/Rashaan Evans

    • Second team: Keith Holcombe

    Key losses: Reuben Foster


    Evans will play, but it may not be at just one position. He can line up in the interior or outside, so the guess here is that he’ll be the strong-side linebacker in the base package, with Wilson stepping into a starting role. Evans will then slide over to the interior or serve as a pass-rusher in the nickel and dime packages. Judging by the way Wilson hit on special teams in 2016, he's definitely in the Foster-type mold of player. 

Strong-Side Linebacker

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    • First team: Evans/Christian Miller

    • Second team: Jamey Mosley/Dylan Moses

    Key losses: Ryan Anderson


    Miller may get the most work at "Sam" during the spring, but don’t be surprised if Evans is there when the 2017 season starts as coaches need to find a place for him to play. Regardless, Miller will get plenty of playing time, including as a pass-rusher. The player to watch is early enrollee Dylan Moses. The 5-star talent, according to Scout, will be out to show the coaching staff that he’s too good to keep off the field.

"Jack" Linebacker

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    • First team: Anfernee Jennings

    • Second team: Terrell Hall

    Key losses: Tim Williams


    In Alabama's system, "Jack" linebacker is the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot that requires both size and speed. Jennings is the obvious choices to replace Williams. He made a pair of starts in 2016 and was credited with 19 tackles, including two for a loss.  A converted defensive end, Hall was a reserve pass-rusher last season.


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    • First team: Marlon Humphrey/Minkah Fitzpatrick

    • Second team: Shyheim Carter

    Key losses: No one?


    There’s a question mark on who might be leaving because Humphrey still has to make a decision on whether to leave early for the NFL. Should he stay, Fitzpatrick could remain at safety, although that’ll likely get sorted out in the spring. He’s versatile enough to play at both spots, but like with the offensive line, the goal will be to get the best five on the field in the nickel package. A player to watch is Nigel Knott, a top prospect in 2016 who redshirted.


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    • First team: Anthony Averett

    • Second team: Tony Brown, Levi Wallace

    Key losses: No one


    Averett played in every game and made 13 starts in 2016. He began the season as the nickel defensive back, in that he'd come in at corner in passing/spread situations and Fitzpatrick would slide over to what Saban calls the star position in place of the strong-side linebacker.

    However, when safety Eddie Jackson suffered a season-ending leg injury, Fitzpatrick went to safety and Averett became an every-down cornerback. Maybe the fastest player on the team, he finished with 48 tackles, eight passes broken up and two forced fumbles. 

Strong Safety

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    • First team: Minkah Fitzpatrick

    • Second team: Hootie Jones

    Key losses: Eddie Jackson


    Fitzpatrick could go back to cornerback, but it'll partly depend on how some of the younger players develop, both at safety and cornerback, and where the All-American can make the biggest impact. Because depth has become more of an issue at safety, the guess here is that he stays and becomes Jackson's full-time replacement, but Alabama recruited the position pretty hard and help is on the way with commitments Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright.

Free Safety

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    • First team: Ronnie Harrison

    • Second team: Jared Mayden

    Key losses: No one


    Harrison stepped up his game after Jackson’s injury and now he’ll be expected to be the veteran rock of the position. In Alabama's defensive system the safeties can play at either spot, so if Fitzpatrick goes back to cornerback, Harrison could be an option at strong safety. Mayden got his feet wet in 2016 and regardless figures to be more in the mix as a sophomore.  

Left Tackle

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    • First team: Alex Leatherwood/Elliot Baker

    • Second team: Matt Womack

    Key losses: Cam Robinson (expected to turn pro)


    Jonah Williams could slide over to left tackle, but look for Alabama to begin a competition between Leatherwood and Baker on the first day of spring (if not sooner). Leatherwood (6’6”, 315 lbs.) was considered an elite 5-star prospect out of the Florida Panhandle, while Baker (6’6”, 280) is a junior college prospect who played last season at City College of San Francisco. They'll both be given plenty of opportunities to win starting spots. 

Right Tackle

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    • First team: Jonah Williams

    • Second team: Lester Cotton

    Key losses: No one


    Alabama hoped it had added a steady fixture on the offensive line when it landed Williams, who had been a top recruit in 2016, and he came through in a big way. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in addition to second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press. Cotton was poised to be a starter last season and could again be an option at right guard, but he needs to be more consistent. 

Left Guard

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    • First team: Ross Pierschbacher

    • Second team: Dallas Warmack

    Key losses: No one


    Coming off a strong redshirt freshman year, coaches had Pierschbacher learn the center position, only to move him back to left guard roughly a week before the season opened. His versatility is a nice bonus, but look for him to focus on one position for the 2017 season and help the new left tackle. 

Right Guard

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    • First team: Cotton/Josh Casher

    • Second team: Brandon Kennedy

    Key losses: Korren Kirven, Alphonse Taylor


    Alabama never really found a right guard in 2016, with Taylor suffering a season-ending concussion, Cotton not clicking at the position and eventually Kirven getting an opportunity as a senior. Casher also suffered a broken foot in the SEC Championship Game.

    Saban will be looking for someone to step up and secure this spot. His goal is to play the best five linemen, so don’t be surprised if the right guard ends up being one of the new tackles, Leatherwood or Baker.


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    • First team: Bradley Bozeman

    • Second team: J.C. Hassenauer

    Key losses: None


    In a complete turnaround from last offseason, when Alabama had to replace three-year starter Ryan Kelly, there’s stability at the position with Bozeman. Hassenauer will enter the spring second on the depth chart, while Casher is an option as well if necessary.  

Tight Ends

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    • First team: Hale Hentges

    • Second team: Miller Forristall

    Key losses: O.J. Howard, Brandon Greene


    Howard moves on to the NFL with 57 games of experience and 37 starts. Hentges will step in as the every-down tight end, with Forristall what Alabama calls the H-back as a receiving option, but after them, the Crimson need to find some depth. Irvin Smith will be expected to step up, while Alabama has added two players in the recruiting class of 2017, Major Tennison and Kedrick James. Both enrolled early. 


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    • First team: Jalen Hurts

    • Second team: Tua Tagovailoa

    Key departures: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell


    With Bateman and Cornwell both transferring (and Blake Barnett long gone), Hurts is the only returning quarterback. Tagovailoa enrolled early, so new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian will be working almost exclusively with the two in the spring. Unless Alabama lands a graduate transfer, Mac Jones will complete the depth chart for the fall.

Running Back

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    • First team: Damien Harris/Bo Scarbrough

    • Second team: Josh Jacobs, B.J. Emmons

    Key losses: None


    Alabama went from having very little experience in the backfield to a lot. Harris is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season. Scarbrough had a breakout performance against Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal, only to suffer a fractured leg against Clemson. The player to watch is early enrollee Najee Harris, rated by Scout as the nation’s top recruit.

Wide Receiver (X)

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    • First team: ArDarius Stewart

    • Second team: Cam Sims, Trevon Diggs

    Key losses: No one


    Despite suffering a sprained knee against Ole Miss, Stewart led Alabama in receiving yards with 864 on 54 catches and scored eight touchdowns. He's also the receiving corps' best blocker. Look for Sims to challenge for a starting job and more snaps. It’ll be interesting to see if Diggs is the primary returner on punts after taking over for injured Jackson during the 2016 season, but coaches went with Gehrig Dieter against Clemson. 

Wide Receiver (Z)

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    • First team: Robert Foster/Calvin Ridley

    • Second team: Derek Kief, Sims

    Key losses: No one


    Technically this is Ridley's spot, depending on the formation, etc., but if Foster is in the game, Ridley is the better option in the slot. Foster hasn’t been the same since injuring his shoulder in 2015 but will look to bounce back for his final season. Two newcomers to keep an eye on are early enrollee Tyrell Shavers, who is listed as 6’6”, and 4-star commitment Jerry Jeudy.

Wide Receiver (H)

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    • First team: Calvin Ridley

    • Second team: Xavian Marks

    Key losses: Gehrig Dieter


    Alabama’s downfield passing game will be targeted for improvement during the spring after Ridley had a 1,000-yard season as a freshman but couldn’t match it as a sophomore. A lot of that will be just getting more familiar with Hurts, but they may not be that far off. His 72 receptions still topped the Crimson Tide, and he caught seven touchdowns. 


    Christopher Walsh is national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.