Julio, and 9 other guys: The 10 best Alabama alums in the NFL
Let’s be perfectly honest: At the highest level of modern day college football, the goal of most participants is to get a shot at the next level.
It’s part of what has made Nick Saban into a college football demigod. The man sells his program to high school kids, telling them, among other things, that they will become top-flight pro prospects if they come to Tuscaloosa.
It has worked. One of the best parts of the current Alabama dynasty — and, by extension, the coolest thing about the SEC’s recent run of success — has been its effect on pro football. An SEC fan can watch the NFL on Sunday and say, “Hey, I recognize (insert player’s name here) from (Alabama/Auburn/LSU)!”
And while not all of Alabama’s current faces in the NFL belong to Saban, the best of them definitely do.
Here are the 10 best UA alums currently playing professional football:
10. Roman Harper
Roman Harper is 32 years old and his head is dotted with gray. Nevertheless, Harper is currently in his 10th season in the pros, owns a Super Bowl ring and was part of a Saints team that started a season 13-0, and the 2015 Panthers, which started the season 14-0 before a loss on Sunday in Atlanta. His stats aren’t eye-popping, but he has been remarkably durable. Only in the 2013 season did he miss any starts due to injury or suspension.
And Alabama fans will always love him for this:
9. Evan Mathis
Among the many bizarre moves made by Chip Kelly once he possessed full personnel control in Philadelphia, his handling of Evan Mathis was the most underrated. Widely considered one of the best interior linemen in football, Mathis found himself released by the Eagles when he held out of organized team activities in search of a better contract. In news that will surprise no one, the two-time Pro Bowler signed with Denver, the current AFC West leaders and the third seed in the playoffs if the season ends today.
Grading offensive linemen is a tricky thing, certainly, but the Homewood alum earned a great deal of buzz earlier this month when he played with a high ankle sprain in the Broncos’ win over previously undefeated New England.
8. Amari Cooper
One of the most sure-fire pro prospects in the Saban era, Cooper has won Rookie of the Week four times this season for a Raiders team that has been rebuilding for about a dozen years now. He’s the 21st rookie in NFL history to accumulate over 1,000 yards receiving, and the first Oakland player to do so since Randy Moss in 2005. He’s done it all with a nagging foot injury, according to reports. He’s not higher on the list only because he hasn’t accumulated a body of work. But he will.
7. Demeco Ryans
Ryan is a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, a two-time Pro Bowler, and a remarkably consistent player who rarely misses any time. Can we put some of the blame on the Eagles’ wretched defensive performance on him? Sure, but he’s still one of the best.
6. Rolando McClain
McClain has resurrected his career as a part of a stingy Dallas defense that has kept the Cowboys competitive despite a steady diet of Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and three guys off the street running the offense. Also, the presence of Greg Hardy in Dallas’ locker room means Ro is no longer in contention for “person everyone hates the most.”
5. Mark Ingram
Has come into his own the past two seasons — he was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2014 and already had over 1,100 all-purpose yards this season — before a torn rotator cuff ended his 2015. If you’re a Saints fan, you’re hoping the franchise hires the right coach this offseason and Ingram can actually stay healthy.
4. Marcell Dareus
Interior defensive linemen are nearly impossible to evaluate with any objectivity. They don’t accumulate many tackles or sacks, and most of their value to a defense comes in gap control. Dareus has a remarkable 30.5 sacks in nearly five seasons, unusual for someone at his position. And he’d make the list, frankly, just for playing Santa Claus for children in East Buffalo last week.
3. Eddie Lacy
Lacy was AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro. He’s battled injuries all season, and he got embarrassed Sunday attempting to make a tackle. It happens.
2. Dont’a Hightower
Let’s put it this way: If Hightower and the Patriots defense are healthy and playing well in January, expect New England to find a way to the Super Bowl. The Patriots allow an average of only 17 points per game when Hightower and linebacker Jamie Collins play together.
1. Julio Jones
Wide receiver Julio Jones is the best in the business. Just gonna leave this play from Sunday’s action here and drop the microphone.