Crimson Tide Pipeline to the NFL Still Flowing Freely

Nick Saban walked away from the National Football League over a decade ago to become the head coach at the University of Alabama. He was just another in a long line of successful collegiate coaches to flounder at the next level. Many in the Dolphins community still hate him, and he’s still the butt of jokes all over the country. But just to show the league that there was no hard feelings, he’s been sending copious amounts of talent to the NFL ever since.

Since taking over in Tuscaloosa, Saban has developed a reputation for getting guys prepared for the next level. This is most apparent when looking at the astounding 55 draft picks from Alabama since 2009, including the otherworldly 18 first-round picks. That’s 10 more total selections and 8 more first rounders than the next closest program (Florida).

An Endless Cycle

There’s no guarantee that 4- and 5-star high school recruits are going to develop into NFL talent while in college. It’s got a lot to do with coaching, development and the player’s drive; something Nick Saban and the Alabama faithful refer to as “The Process.” Thus far, that process is working like a finely tuned machine with Tuscaloosa acting as an NFL pipeline.

As Saban and his staff continue to recruit top-ranking recruiting classes, the program continues to develop them, the team wins championships, and the school becomes a more desirable landing spot for top recruits. It’s a vicious cycle, but one Saban has perfected. As long as he remains in Tuscaloosa, NFL scouts will continue to kick the tires on all of the players leaving the program.

This Year’s Prospects

Alabama boasts a plethora of talent again in the 2017 Draft Class with as many as six potential first-round draft picks. And even after that top tier talent, the Crimson Tide has a handful of other players who will be drafted in later rounds. It’s a safe bet that at least 10 Bama players will hear their name called at some point during the draft. Let’s take a look at the athletes.

Tier One:

These are the sure-fire first rounders. In almost every mock draft you look at, these guys are included somewhere.

Jonathan Allen

Almost a guarantee to be the first one off the board from Bama, Allen put together a monstrous career in college. He left the school with more career sacks (28) than anyone to play there not named Derrick Thomas. Led all interior defensive lineman with 67 pressures last season according to Pro Football Focus.

Reuben Foster

Tennessee v Alabama

Character concerns aside, Foster can ball. The clear cut best inside linebacker available, he has a nose for the football and could become a Pro Bowler sooner rather than later. He drew comparisons to Bobby Wagner on NFL.com‘s draft analysis page. Finished his senior season as the team leader with 115 tackle’s.

O.J. Howard

The physical presence and athletic ability that Howard possesses as a tight end are rare. Tight ends aren’t usually drafted in the top half of the first round, but Howard could be one of the highest ever taken. Despite not having amazing stats in college, former NFL executive Bill Pollan told @espn1000 in Chicago that he believed the Bears should take Howard with the third overall pick. That may be a tad high, but with his stock the way it looks now, I doubt he makes it out of the top 10.

Tier Two:

These players carry first-round grades in the eyes of many and very well could be selected on the first night, but could fall to the second just due to the amount of talent in that 25-45 pick range.

Marlon Humphrey

Alabama v USC

Another in a long line of defensive backs to flourish under Saban’s tutelage, Humphrey is considered one of the top corners in this draft. Scouts love his willingness to step up into the box to help stop the run, as according to PFF he only missed six tackles last year. They don’t love that he gets beat deep more often than he should. His 6’1 frame and 4.41 speed will be hard to pass up.

Cam Robinson

Even as recently as the middle of the 2016 season, Robinson was thought to be a top 15 pick by many outlets. While he didn’t regress significantly, he didn’t show the improvement one would hope to see from sophomore to junior season. He is one of the only elite lineman available near the top of the draft, so a team with a leaky line could make him an early selection.

Tim Williams

Williams burst onto the scene a year ago as a pass rusher in a situational role and proved quite effective when asked to play more often in 2016. He’s a one-trick pony, but when your trick is getting to the quarterback, some team is going to take a flier on you. Williams tallied 19.5 sacks in mostly a backup and third down role at the Capstone. Surely some team will deem him worthy of an early second-round selection.

Tier Three:

These guys will likely be selected on the second day of the draft. They won’t be asked to step in and start for anyone right away, but possess the talent and upside to give teams a reason to draft them.

Dalvin Tomlinson

Playing on a stacked Alabama front seven, Tomlinson found it hard to garner much playing time in his career in T-Town. He’s not a sack artist by any means, but has the ability to push the pocket and make quarterbacks uncomfortable. His 6’3, 310-pound frame will be plenty to handle in the middle of a defense. Will need to work on technique, but has a decent ceiling.

Ardarius Stewart

Received a potential second-round grade, which caused him to declare for the draft after his junior season. In a seemingly loaded receiver class, he may get lost in the shuffle. Stewart is a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. Averaged 16 yards per reception in his senior year en route to First Team All-SEC honors despite missing three games. He may fly under the radar, but has a high ceiling.

Ryan Anderson

NCAA Football: Cowboys Classic-Wisconsin vs Alabama

What you see is what you get with Anderson. He doesn’t wow you with elite speed or big hits, but he’s consistent and has a high football IQ. Anderson isn’t a centerpiece to build your defense around, but as an outside linebacker, a team could plug him in for 5+ years and not have to worry much about his side of the field. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a team fall in love with him and pick him sooner than some might expect.

Eddie Jackson

Were it not for a season-ending injury during his senior season, Jackson could very well have been in one of the top two tiers here. A safety who converted from corner, he isn’t the best in coverage, but has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. According to RollTide.com, Jackson is the school’s all-time leader in punt return yards with 303 over 9 picks. He returned a pick for a score, as well as two punt return touchdowns in 2016. His added return ability will help his stock.

Tier Four:

The funny thing about Tier Four is that the drop in talent is distinct from here. These guys will be Day Three selections or priority free agents due to playing positions of limited need or just not being significantly talented.

Cole Mazza

The second-ranked longsnapper in this year’s draft according to CBS Sports, Mazza is great at what he does. The position is just undervalued. Rarely do teams select one in the draft, but he could luck out if a team in need has picks to spare.

Adam Griffith

Too many misses over the course of his career to be considered an elite talent at the position. The best he can hope for is to make it onto a practice squad as a free agent and compete for a position.

Gherig Dieter

Transferred to Alabama for his senior season, reportedly to improve on special teams. That was a smart decision, seeing as he wasn’t going to play the wide receiver position on the pro level. He may be able to work hard enough on special teams to find his way onto a squad.

Dakota Ball

Moved from position to position on offense and defense for the Tide. Listed as a potential fullback. Consider him a “jack of few trades.” Not sure if he’ll even catch on with a team, but best wishes to the young man.

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