By Christopher Walsh
Sixth of 10 Parts
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s record-setting 2017 NFL Draft was not an aberration. It might have been a beginning.
For years, Alabama football appeared to be on the verge of matching the program record for most selections in an NFL draft — 10 in 1945, when there were 32 rounds. It finally did this spring, and it’s a mark the Crimson Tide could match or top again next year, and the year after that …
A year after Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama didn’t have anyone selected in the draft for the first time since 1970. It’s subsequently had 65 players picked. No program has had more.
“Alabama has always had the name brand, recognition, the historical tradition,” Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. “It’s always resonates with people, but I also think that it was just a stop on the circuit [for scouts]. There was not a lot of distinction between going to Alabama versus Tennessee, Auburn or Georgia. It was just one of the stops.
“Once Nick Saban got there, honestly in the Southeast it has become the stop.”
Besides the Crimson Tide’s obvious high level of talent, there are three other major contributing factors.
First, Saban’s “process” is comparable to how an NFL team runs things, with schemes that are both complex and pro friendly. Last year former safety Mark Barron went so far as to say that learning the Crimson Tide’s defense was tougher than anything he’s had to do in the NFL, and he’s not only switched teams but positions — from safety to linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams.
“It’s very difficult,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said in agreement. “It just takes time.”
Saban also has an open-door policy to the NFL and is known for being accommodating to scouts, who are often seen on the sidelines during practices. In addition to checking out prize prospects for the next draft, with Alabama having quality players at every position it gives them an immediate baseline by which to evaluate all others that they’ll see.
“When I was the scouting director of the Ravens (1996-2002), one of the first stop I made every in August was the University of Miami,” Savage said. “I knew I was going to see players at virtually every position and now I could start making comparison right away with Ed Reed at safety, Kellen Winslow at tight end, whomever. Alabama is very similar.”
Since Alabama’s 2009 national championship, at least five Crimson Tide players have been selected in every draft. The “low” year of 2011 saw four players go in the first round: Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James, Carpenter and Mark Ingram. The fifth player was quarterback Greg McElroy, who went in the seventh round to the New York Jets.
This year, Alabama set NFL records with seven players among the first 55 selections and nine of the initial 79.
Normally when a program has an exceptional draft there’s a dropoff in subsequent years.
Not at Alabama. The only program to be in the College Football Playoff every year has mastered the ability to reload. Overall, the Crimson Tide have had 22 first-round selections during the last nine drafts with another 15 taken in the second round.
Alabama’s first-round NFL selections under Nick Saban
|2017||16||Marlon Humphrey||Baltimore Ravens||CB|
|2017||17||Jonathan Allen||Washington Redskins||DE|
|2017||19||O.J. Howard||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||TE|
|2017||31||Reuben Foster||San Francisco 49ers||LB|
|2016||18||Ryan Kelly||Indianapolis Colts||C|
|2015||5||Amari Cooper||Oakland Raiders||WR|
|2014||17||C.J. Mosley||Baltimore Ravens||LB|
|2014||21||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Green Bay Packers||S|
|2013||9||Dee Milliner||New York Jets||CB|
|2013||10||Chance Warmack||Tennessee Titans||G|
|2013||11||D.J. Fluker||Los Angeles Chargers||OT|
|2012||3||Trent Richardson||Cleveland Browns||RB|
|2012||7||Mark Barron||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DB|
|2012||17||Dre Kirkpatrick||Cincinnati Bengals||DB|
|2012||25||Dont’a Hightower||New England Patriots||LB|
|2011||3||Marcell Dareus||Buffalo Bills||DT|
|2011||6||Julio Jones||Atlanta Falcons||WR|
|2011||25||James Carpenter||Seattle Seahawks||OT|
|2011||28||Mark Ingram||New Orleans Saints||RB|
|2010||8||Rolando McClain||Oakland Raiders||LB|
|2010||20||Kareem Jackson||Houston Texans||DB|
|2009||6||Andre Smith||Cincinnati Bengals||OT|
Saban also had five first-round picks at other schools, giving him 27 total. He’s tied with Woody Hayes for the third most ever, trailing only Joe Paterno (33) and Bobby Bowden (32). If you counted the players he recruited, but weren’t selected in the draft until after he moved on to another job he’d already have the most in history.
Bowden’s best over a 10-year period was 18 first-round picks (1997-2006). Hayes’ was 15 (1970-79), and Paterno’s 12 (1995-2003).
Alabama has a current streak of nine consecutive drafts with at least one first-round pick. It’s tied Florida (1983-91) for the second-longest consecutive streak with at least one player selected in the first round of the common draft era (since 1967).
Miami holds the record of 14 (1995-2008), which is getting close to being within reach.
Alabama’s overall NFL selections under Nick Saban
While the Hurricanes averaged 6.0 draft selections over that 14-year period, the Crimson Tide have had 7.2 over the last nine years.
Despite being in the process of replacing half of its starters again, Alabama could match or top Miami’s top total of 11 in 2002 next year.
Consider this season’s seniors:
- OL: Bradley Bozeman
- WR: Robert Foster and Cam Sims
- DL: Da’Shawn Hand and Joshua Frazier
- LB: Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans
- DB: Anthony Averett, Tony Brown and Hootie Jones
- P: JK Scott
That’s 11 and while a couple need a few things to fall into place this season to be drafted, they all have the potential.
Moreover, Alabama has numerous juniors who could consider leaving after the 2017 season, including DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, DT Da’Ron Payne, WR Calvin Ridley and RBs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.
While it’s too early to speculate on their chances, the program has regularly had a couple of early departures, including Humphrey, tackle Cam Robinson and WR ArDarius Stewart last year.
All signs point to not just next year’s draft being Alabama heavy, but the subsequent three as well. The Crimson Tide’s roster includes 17 players rated as consensus 5-star recruits. Only four are going into their senior year — Brown, Evans, Foster and Hand.