Breaking news from DraftInsider.net today has University of Alabama stars Trent Richardson (RB), Dre Kirkpatrick (CB) and Dont'a Hightower (LB) all preparing to declare for the 2012 NFL draft once the college football season ends.
How does each project to the NFL?
It's incredibly early for any college player to be thinking about the NFL draft, but the three Alabama players are all at the top or near the top of their position groups and can feel confident in their draft stock for the next NFL draft.
Trent Richardson, Running Back
Richardson is the best of the bunch, by far. A running back who is equally dangerous as a runner from the singleback formation as he is as an outlet receiver, Richardson will draw comparisons to Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren McFadden before the 2012 draft begins—and those comparisons are accurate.
Richardson is the most NFL-ready of the three, and at 5'11" and 224 lbs he has excellent size for the next level. Another note on Richardson is that he shared time with Mark Ingram his first two seasons and has little wear and tear compared to other top college runners.
Draft Prediction: Top 15 | Player Comparison: Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback
Dre Kirkpatrick's stock has been hot and cold, and this season has been the same. Kirkpatrick will shut down elite receivers one week, like he did against Arkansas this past weekend, and other times he will look slow and out of place.
My biggest concern with Kirkpatrick is his ability to change direction and accelerate out of his breaks. Smaller, fast receivers will exploit the tightness in Kirkpatrick's hips and force him to turn and run as they press the cushion he has to allow off the line of scrimmage. A move to free safety ala Antrel Rolle may be the best move for Kirkpatrick in the NFL.
Draft Prediction: First Round | Player Comparison: Sean Smith, Miami Dolphins
Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker
Dont'a Hightower has amazing versatility, which certainly helps his draft stock. Hightower can line up at inside or outside linebacker and has the size to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense at either position.
There are two major red flags on Hightower's scouting report right now—his lack of speed and his injury history.
Hightower played in just four games during the 2009 season after suffering a torn ACL in the Arkansas game. A knee injury didn't help a player who is already considered slow for the position—Hightower will need to run a sub 4.7 in the 40 yard dash to be considered a first-round prospect.
The good news for Hightower is that he's well coached, a great athlete and has been highly productive so far this season.
Draft Prediction: Top 50 | Player Comparison: Takeo Spikes, San Diego Chargers
A lot can change between now and February when underclassmen must officially declare their intentions for the 2012 NFL draft, and it should be no surprise that these three are leaning toward the NFL draft after this season. As Alabama makes a run at another National Championship game, if these three stars can stay healthy, all should be considered locks for the first 50 picks of the 2012 draft.
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