Alabama Crimson Tide Could Make History with 8 First-Round NFL Draft Prospects
To call Alabama a pro-factory under Nick Saban is an understatement. Since he took the reigns in 2007, 19 Crimson Tide players have been picked in the draft, with countless others getting invites to training camps as free agents.
The 2011 draft saw four players go in the first round. Three were consensus first round picks, with OT James Carpenter being a surprise pick at No. 25—ahead of Mark Ingram, Alabama's 2009 Heisman winner.
If anything can be said of Pete Carroll it is that he knows talent when he sees it, and that is why he chose Carpenter. He also brought in failboat captain Tavaris Jackson to increase the likelihood of getting Andrew Luck.
At any rate, in total, Saban has had seven of his players go in the first round as the Tide's head coach. The 2011 squad is laden with talent., as they return ten starters on defense, nine of which are juniors or seniors.
There may be a lot of excitement for the 2011 season, but Saban is known to strongly support juniors who are expected to go in the first round and Tide fans may see their team decimated by the NFL at the end of this year.
There's no way all eight of these players will go in the first round but all of them are expected to make a strong argument.
The simple fact that Nick Saban has had Barrett Jones at left tackle thus far is a testament to his versatility.
At 6'5", 310 pounds, Jones is larger prospect than departed left tackle James Carpenter. Some say he's too short, but really, how much difference does one inch make on a man already the size of a mammoth?
As a redshirt junior, and a three-year starter, Jones has the combination of size, experience, and maturity coaches love.
Barrett has some work to do to secure himself as a first-round pick, but if he stays healthy it will be hard for a team to pass on a guy that can play anywhere on the line.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
As a redshirt sophomore, D.J. Fluker is a little unlikely to declare early. His size and athleticism may be too good to pass up for many coaches, though, and it would be silly of him to not use his first-round potential.
The monstrous 6'6" prospect has trimmed fat and gained muscle in his first two years at Alabama, going from 350 pounds down to around 330, possibly less.
If he learns to keep his pads a bit lower, his quick feet will take care of the rest. The SEC will be hard=pressed to find a better right tackle for their All-SEC team.
Though he was a Freshman All-American, he was part of a line that gave up 32 sacks last year and he's only a second-year starter.
He's easily one of the top five offensive tackles in the U.S and if he keeps the pace up he could easily become numero uno. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him drafted to be a left tackle.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
There is very little I can say about Richardson that hasn't already been said.
He's arguably a better prospect than Mark Ingram, and is certainly stronger. Hell, he's stronger than all but a handful of players on his entire team, and that is no exaggeration. Expect him to break the bench press record for running backs at the combine—and do more than many linemen.
He also runs under a 4.5 40 and gives piggy-back rides to opposing linebacks on every play...two on each shoulder, and a safety on each leg.
In a pass-heavy league like the NFL, Richardson will set himself apart with his ability to pick up blitzes that smaller guys like LaMichael James just can't.
As one of the most punishing runners in the nation, Richardson should easily be the first back taken in the draft, and most likely in the first round, as well.
Richardson's "disappointing" performance so far wont have much effect on what teams think about him. He's been run up the gut almost every time for short-yardage plays, and has proven he has a nose for the end zone.
He'll start picking up more yardage when Jim McElwain starts calling for sweep and power plays, as he'll have more success running behind Michael Williams than Anthony Steen.
If Richardson makes any noise on kickoff returns don't expect it to help his draft stock. With kickoffs now coming from the 35-yard line, the NFL has essentially killed the kickoff game.
Greg McWilliams/Getty Images
Is it fair to have a linebacker that weighs almost 270 pounds but runs like he weighs 220?
Courtney Upshaw spent most of the 2010 season hobbling around with injuries, but down the stretch, during the biggest games, he lead the team with seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and 14.5 tackles for a loss.
He's capable of playing on either side of the line but excels at blitzing the quarterback's blindside.
He's been very quiet so far, but he's healthy and has a motor that just wont quit. He's going to pick up a lot of steam when Alabama opens their SEC schedule.
I fully expect his stock to skyrocket throughout the season, and then to secure himself as a first-round pick during the NFL Combine, much like the 2011 second overall pick, Texas A&M's Von Miller.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Dre Kirkpatrick is just shy of being the consensus best cornerback prospect in the upcoming draft. At his current pace he is on track to become the best overall.
As a second-year starter he has not racked up the mountain of stats yet, but with his ability to play high with his 6'4" frame, he'll bring something that is quickly becoming a hot commodity in the NFL.
Tall, lanky receivers are becoming so valuable now in the NFL for red-zone passing attacks. The Jets proved this when they picked up the aging ex-con Plaxico Burress after he spent two years in prison for shooting...himself. Teams need guys like Kirkpatrick; guys that you just can't throw the ball over them.
Kirkpatrick should have no problem being a top-10 pick, let alone a first-round pick.
If he doesn't pile up the stats this year then that just means nobody wants to throw the ball near him.
The tale of Donta Hightower has been a sad one so far. A torn ACL ended his sophomore campaign and he's had difficulty recovering from it. Bloggers screamed "overrated" for most of the 2010 season. The naysayers had some difficulty backing up their claims when he finished second on the team with 69 tackles and a whole lot of quarterback hurries.
His strength has never been being a sack-machine, but when he blitzes he's puts somebody on their back, opening opportunities for somebody else.
Hightower is also a great pass-coverage linebacker, something difficult for a man that weighs 260 pounds.
Most don't see him as a first-round pick just yet, but by season's end I fully expect a healthy Hightower will put to rest any doubts that he is the best linebacker in the nation. A bold statement, I realize, but I stand by it.
Dave Martin/Getty Images
I have heard mumblings by 'Bama fans that Mark Barron had a disappointing season. He lead the team with 75 tackles, with several of those happening in the opposing teams backfield. The only "disappointing" part was that he didn't top his seven interceptions from 2009 with Robert Lester gobbling them up instead.
Barron's strengths are his sure, ferocious tackles, and his inhuman leaping ability as it's nearly impossible to throw over this guy. His ability to sniff out the ball is nearly unrivaled, whether it's on the ground or in the air.
A reliable, hard-hitting safety is always a hot item in the NFL and may not be be any hotter for anyone but the Pittsburgh Steelers. Troy Polamalu and his million dollar locks are now almost 31-years-old and he's been dealing with nagging injuries for a few years now. He is, by no means, washed up, but the Steelers are looking for his successor. Mark Barron would fill those shoes better than anyone in the nation.
By season's end Barron will likely be seen as the second best safety on his team, and second best in the nation. The No. 1 safety for both the team and the nation should be...
Though soft-spoken in front of the media, Robert Lester is a noise-maker on the field.
During his breakout 2010 year, Lester caught everybody's attention when he caught everybody's passes. A whopping eight interceptions put him very high on a lot of draft boards.
He's the pinnacle of a ball-hawking safety. He had two near interceptions against Penn State, and even though they were called back, it just shows how quickly he closes on the ball. If you get a lot of "almosts" in football then you will get some really big plays too.
A fact about Lester that I love to point out is that he was a high school teammate of Julio Jones. Playing against a receiver like that in practice for multiple years has groomed Lester into the dangerous force he is today. Sometimes I wonder where Julio Jones would be right now if he didn't have such a stout safety to scrimmage against back in high school.
If Robert Lester isn't taken in the first-round I would be surprised. I'd be even more surprised if he's not the first safety taken.