2016 NFL draft guide: Alabama
About two years after Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, the NFL draft became a huge annual event for the Crimson Tide program.
Several Bama players selected in the first round is pretty much automatic at this point.
What are the most interesting storylines and questions heading into this year’s draft (April 28-30, Chicago)? And which Tide players hope to get selected?
1. WHERE WILL DERRICK HENRY GO?
I’ve written about this multiple times — for a more extensive breakdown, go here, here or here.
The short but sweet version: Henry proved himself to be a bell cow running back last season. He won the Heisman Trophy, for crying out loud. He’s huge (6-foot-3, 247 pounds at the NFL Combine) yet once he gets to top gear can run away from a lot of linebackers and safeties.
There are some questions about his vision. He may possess the physical capability, but he didn’t produce as an ideal third-down NFL back at the college level, either as a pass-catcher or blocker. And he needs a bit of a runway to get started.
He’s a tremendous player, but at this point it takes ticking every single box to get drafted in the first round as a running back — like Todd Gurley in ’15 and Ezekiel Elliott this year. It will be no shame if Henry gets selected somewhere near the middle of the second round.
2. HOW MANY FIRST-ROUND PICKS WILL BAMA PRODUCE?
Five players can at least hope to hear their names called Thursday as commissioner Roger Goodell makes 31 trips to the podium. That’s unlikely and perhaps unrealistic. The Tide will need some good mojo to hit four.
For those curious, Miami the all-time record for most first-rounders in a single draft with six in 2004. Alabama has reached four first-round picks in one draft a couple of times with coach Nick Saban (see below).
Reggie Ragland may be the only sure-thing first-round pick from Bama this year. But it would be surprising to see A’Shawn Robinson slide out of the first round. We’ll give Ryan Kelly a better than 50 percent chance and Jarran Reed just under that. As we discussed already, Henry sure does seem like a second-round pick, but all it takes is one team.
3. WHO WILL MAKE THE BEST PRO?
Of course this is an impossible question. Several Alabama linebackers have succeeded recently, so Ragland is an instant consideration. Kelly could have a 15-year NFL career if he becomes a starting center. Henry is a tougher option due to the life span of NFL running backs.
For the sake of argument, I favor Reed. His lack of ability as a pass rusher will be what excludes him from the first round, if he does last past pick No. 31. He’s probably the best run-stuffing defensive lineman in this draft. Alabama featured a lot of those en route to the ’15 national championship. But man, Reed can anchor against the run.
That skill may not be as sexy, or get him as much money. But I anticipate Reed having a long and successful NFL career and being a significant asset for any franchise. Check out this excellent Sports Illustrated video piece to get a better sense for Reed’s skill and personality.
1. Reggie Ragland, LB (first round)
2. A’Shawn Robinson, DT (first round)
3. Ryan Kelly, C (first round)
4. Jarran Reed, DT (second round)
5. Derrick Henry, RB (second round)
6. Cyrus Jones, CB (fourth round)
7. Kenyan Drake, RB (fourth round)
8. D.J. Pettway, DE (fifth round)
9. Jake Coker, QB (priority free agent)
10. Dillon Lee, LB (priority free agent)
11. Geno Matias-Smith (free agent)
12. Darren Lake, DT (free agent)
13. Dominick Jackson, OT (free agent)
14. Denzel Devall, LB (free agent)
- 2015: One first-round (Amari Cooper), seven picks
- 2014: Two first-round (C.J. Mosley, HaHa Clinton-Dix), eight picks
- 2013: Three first-round (Dee Milliner, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker), nine picks
- 2012: Four first-round (Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower), eight picks
- 2011: Four first-round (Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James Carpenter, Mark Ingram), five picks