Alabama's early entry candidates
The best teams will always lose talent early to the NFL draft, and Alabama certainly falls into that category. The Crimson Tide have been somewhat fortunate the last two years, losing just seven players in total to early entry. Nick Saban and his coaching staff are likely preparing for that number to jump after Alabama’s season is finished.
Who are the players that could put their name into the ring for the NFL draft come springtime?
Landon Collins, safety
Collins could well become the second Alabama safety in three years chosen in the first round, following Mark Barron and HaHa Clinton-Dix. Thanks to his size, speed and instincts — not to mention his impressive season, in which he led Alabama with 90 tackles and three interceptions — Collins should be a first round pick, and some projections have him as high as the top five. If that’s the case, it would be silly for the Thorpe Award finalist to risk hurting his stock in his senior season.
Amari Cooper, wide receiver
This is a no-brainer, and Lane Kiffin already has said publicly that he fully expects Cooper will put his name into the draft. After shattering just about every Alabama receiving record imaginable, winning the Biletnikoff Award and earning a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, there’s nothing left for Cooper to prove at the college level. He’ll be a top-10 pick come draft day.
Ryan Kelly, center
Kelly is one of the best centers in the SEC and has a claim among the top tier of centers in the nation, but he seems like a lock to come back for his senior season. Losing him would be a major blow for the Crimson Tide, as Arie Kouandjio, Leon Brown and Austin Shepherd were all seniors in 2014. Kelly once again missed several games this season, but if he had been healthy this would be more of a question.
Reggie Ragland, inside linebacker
After spending his first two seasons on campus mostly on special teams, Ragland took hold of a starting role and impressed as a junior. He finished second on the team with 86 tackles and had 8.5 tackles for loss, and the AP voted him as a first-team All-SEC performer. With only one year of starting experience, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ragland come back for another year of seasoning, but his strong season and physical skills leave the door open.
T.J. Yeldon, running back
The NFL is not anywhere near as keen on drafting running backs as it was just a few years ago, when Alabama standout Trent Richardson was the third overall pick in 2012. Even after a lackluster junior year, Yeldon’s stock might not get any higher than the second-round grade that most experts have assigned him. This will be a running back-heavy year, though, with Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman, Melvin Ingram, Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson all projected to go ahead of or right around Yeldon should he enter the draft.