Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Top 2017 NFL Draft Prospects

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistMay 2, 2016

Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Top 2017 NFL Draft Prospects

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    It took a little longer than expected, but all three Alabama players who attended the draft finally had their moment onstage last weekend.
    It took a little longer than expected, but all three Alabama players who attended the draft finally had their moment onstage last weekend.Associated Press

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The numbers are simply staggering.

    Since 2008, when Nick Saban was coming off his first season with the University of Alabama football team and the Crimson Tide didn’t have a player picked in the National Football League’s annual draft, the program has had 55 selections.

    That’s more than an entire NFL team in the fall, when the roster limit is just 53.

    Of them, 18 players went in the first round and 12 in the second, including five last weekend. If the rosters hold, just five teams won’t have at least one former Crimson Tide player participating in training campthe Bears, Broncos, Browns, Buccaneers and Steelers.

    Keep that in mind with the following statement: Alabama could have its best draft ever in 2017, both in terms of quality and quantity.

    Yes, better than 2011 and 2012 when it enjoyed four first-round selections in back-to-back years, and Alabama might finally top its long-standing record of 10 draft picks in 1945, when teams were desperate to fill rosters due to World War II. The Crimson Tide’s final selection that year was made in the 32nd round.

    Before getting to Alabama’s top-10 draft prospects for next year, consider that the list doesn’t include, defensive lineman Dakota Ball, kicker Adam Griffith, jack-of-all-trades defensive back Maurice Smith or long snapper Cole Mazza, who are all seniors.

    It also doesn’t include numerous promising juniors like cornerback Tony Brown, wide receiver Robert Foster, linebacker Rashaan Evans, linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, punter JK Scott or wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, or third-year sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

    The potential is for something like Ohio State accomplished this year, with five first-round selections and 12 players overall.

Jonathan Allen, DE, Senior

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    Jonathan Allen is one of numerous Alabama players who could be a first-round draft pick in 2017.
    Jonathan Allen is one of numerous Alabama players who could be a first-round draft pick in 2017.Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

    Before he announced he would be staying for his final year of eligibility, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Allen had a chance to be a first-round selection. Granted, at the time the draft analyst didn’t know that the defensive end would be having shoulder surgery, but that evaluation shouldn’t change. 

    If anything, this past draft showed how much NFL teams value linemen who can apply pressure and bring down quarterbacks. Assuming a full recovery from the surgery, Allen is in a great position to be a top pick. 

    In 2015 he notched 36 tackles, including a team-leading 14.5 tackles for loss. Of his 12 sacks, all came against teams from the Power Five conferences, and 11 were against ranked opponents.

Ryan Anderson, LB, Senior

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    Ryan Anderson is poised to draw comparisons to Courtney Upshaw at Alabama's "Jack" linebacker position.
    Ryan Anderson is poised to draw comparisons to Courtney Upshaw at Alabama's "Jack" linebacker position.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    One doesn’t appreciate how big Anderson is until he or she gets close to him. Listed as 6’2”, 253 pounds, he’s thick and looks like he could already play in the league. 

    Although he didn’t start this past season, Anderson showed his potential when he made 9.5 tackles for a loss during the last 10 games, with two against Mississippi State, Florida and Michigan State.

    Overall, he made 37 total tackles, including 11.5 for a loss and six sacks, with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and nine quarterback hurries. He’s a bit like former Crimson Tide player Courtney Upshaw, maybe a little quicker but not quite the same power (yet), and Anderson’s eager to show he can be a team leader.

Reuben Foster, LB, Senior

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    Linebacker Reuben Foster will be the key man in the middle for the Crimson Tide defense this season.
    Linebacker Reuben Foster will be the key man in the middle for the Crimson Tide defense this season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    With a quicker burst, Foster is a better pro prospect than Reggie Ragland, and he hits just as hard.

    This year he’ll be taking on the leadership responsibilities at interior linebacker and be the primary player relaying play calls in from the sideline. Foster will be widely hailed as the complete package if the Alabama defense lives up to expectations.

    Last season was a breakout year for Foster, who finally moved into the starting lineup. He finished second on the team with 73 tackles, including eight for a loss and two sacks, with three quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups.

Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Junior

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    Defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand started to get a taste of the spotlight last season.
    Defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand started to get a taste of the spotlight last season.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Fans who don’t know much about him will quickly become familiar with Hand, as he’ll be counted on to help fill the void made by the departures of Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, D.J. Pettway and Darren Lake. 

    As part of the Crimson Tide’s incredibly deep defensive line rotation last season, he made 16 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and three sacks, with two quarterback hurries.

    Like Allen, he could have a difficult decision on whether to leave early for the NFL, but keep in mind that academics played a big part of Hand picking Alabama over Michigan as a recruit. He’s majoring in civil engineering.

O.J. Howard, TE, Senior

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    If O.J. Howard can continue to build on his CFP title game performance, he'll be a very interesting draft prospect.
    If O.J. Howard can continue to build on his CFP title game performance, he'll be a very interesting draft prospect.Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    With five catches for a career-high 208 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Howard had the attention of the football world but decided to return to Alabama for his final season. 

    “It was kind of a decision where I thought I have so much left on the table in college,” he said. “How I can mature on and off the field? It really wasn’t a hard decision at the end of the day. We thought about it a lot.”

    Knowing that physically Howard is the kind of player that NFL teams love, Kiper had him listed as a potential second-round pick in his early draft projections. 

    In 2015, Howard had 38 receptions for 602 yards for a team-high 15.8 yards-per-catch average, leading Saban to say that they probably didn’t utilize him enough in the passing game.

Eddie Jackson, S, Senior

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    Safety Eddie Jackson was the defensive MVP of the CFP National Championship Game.
    Safety Eddie Jackson was the defensive MVP of the CFP National Championship Game.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Beginning his career as a cornerback might eventually help Jackson in the draft next year. He’s clearly a safety at the next level, but the experience of having played more than one position in a secondary that’s viewed as being difficult and complex to get down can only help his draft stock.

    It was obviously a contributing factor to Jackson leading the team with six interceptions in 2015, and setting a Crimson Tide record with 230 return yards.

    Jackson was also credited with 46 tackles, including three for a loss, eight passes broken up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during his first season at strong safety.

Cam Robinson, OT, Junior

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    Alabama believes the best is yet to come with left tackle Cam Robinson.
    Alabama believes the best is yet to come with left tackle Cam Robinson.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Consistency is the word that you’ll see mentioned the most with the two-year left tackle, although to be fair he’s had to play through some tough injuries with the Crimson Tide and is now coming off shoulder surgery. 

    If Robinson has a complete season and can avoid the slow start he had in 2015, he’ll not only be considered a strong candidate for the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman, but a solid first-round draft pick.

    Playing the high-profile left tackle spot, Robinson had 46 knockdown blocks last season, which was up from 32 as a freshman, but still only ranked third on the Crimson Tide. Nevertheless, in the 29 games he’s played, Alabama has had 17 100-yard performances by a running back.

Alphonse Taylor, G, Senior

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    If Alphonse Taylor can win back his starting job he'll probably be drafted next year.
    If Alphonse Taylor can win back his starting job he'll probably be drafted next year.Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Even though he started all 15 games last season at right guard it’s an all-or-nothing offseason for Taylor, who needs to reclaim his starting job if he wants to be drafted next spring.

    Unhappy with Taylor’s conditioning and weight, the coaching staff demoted him to second-team offense during the spring, giving redshirt freshman Brandon Kennedy a chance to show he can do.

    According to Alabama’s own statistics, Taylor led the Crimson Tide with 57 knockdown blocks, with 12 missed assignments and one sack yielded last season.

Dalvin Tomlinson, DL, Senior

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    Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson showed last season that he has a real knack for knocking down passes.
    Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson showed last season that he has a real knack for knocking down passes.Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Two knee injuries, one before he arrived on campus, plagued Tomlinson’s early years at Alabama, but he’s finally set in a starting role—something he was probably good enough to do two years ago on nearly any other team.

    As a key reserve last season, Tomlinson was credited with 34 tackles and led the Crimson Tide with six passes knocked down. Just as important for this season, though, will be his leadership, as both Reed and Robinson were known for setting the tone during practices.

    “It is a different feel because I played alongside them for two, three years,” Tomlinson said this spring. “There are some new faces we have to get used to on the defensive line, but we are still a big family. It won’t be different for too much longer.”

Tim Williams, LB, Senior

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    All a quarterback has to do is blink and Alabama linebacker Tim Williams can be on him.
    All a quarterback has to do is blink and Alabama linebacker Tim Williams can be on him.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    His potential for being a disruptive force in the backfield is enormous, but Williams has to show he’s ready for the every-down grind of being a starter, especially against physical run-first teams.

    If so, Williams will almost certainly be a high draft choice as he’s exactly what NFL teams are looking for, a fast pass-rusher off the edge.

    Last season Williams was only credited with 19 tackles in 15 games, but 12.5 were for a loss, including 10.5 sacks. He was also credited with four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.

    Although Alabama didn’t have its starting offensive line set during the spring A-Day Game, when the first-team offense and defense squared off against other, Williams had two sacks and three hurries.

      

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.