Alabama football: Projecting the 2021 starting lineup
Because it is all about looking ahead and not about resting on the laurels in “The Process,” Nick Saban instituted the 24-Hour Rule years ago — allowing just a single day’s worth of celebration for a well-earned win before moving on.
National championships clearly are worth a bit more, but we don’t want to upset the Leader and Commander of the Alabama Death Star, so here is an absurdly early look at the 2021 Alabama Crimson Tide starting lineup.
Of course, if you’ve paid close attention to Saban over the years, you also know he is loathe to speculate on depth charts. He doesn’t even like the term, instead calling them “administrative groupings” and practically only sharing them outside the Moore Building when under subpoena.
Good thing we have a guy on the inside — who was able to risk life and limb to provide us a dead-dropped microfilm copy. The information below likely won’t get you on Saban’s Christmas card list, but it also won’t keep you out of the loop when the Tide takes on the Miami Hurricanes in the 2021 season opener Sept. 4 in Atlanta.
2021 Alabama offense
The 2021 Tide offense will look almost completely different from the 2020 version that crushed the country en route to a perfect 13-0 season. Gone is the Heisman Trophy winner in wide receiver DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones (3rd in the Heisman), running back Najee Harris (5th in the Heisman), wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, left tackle Alex Leatherwood, left guard Deonte Brown, center Landon Dickerson and tight end Miller Forristall.
Also, Bill O’Brien replaced Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator.
Suffice to say, that is a lot. Here’s who’s left and who is projected to start:
- QB: Bryce Young
- RB: Brian Robinson Jr.
- WR1: John Metchie III
- WR2: Xavier Williams
- WR3: Slade Bolden
- LT: Evan Neal
- LG: Tommy Brown
- C: Chris Owens
- RG: Emil Ekiyor Jr.
- RT: Javion Cohen
- TE: Jahleel Billingsley
Young is the de facto No. 1 at quarterback, though he’ll likely be pushed by early enrollee Jalen Milroe (Katy, Texas) during spring workouts. Still, even with the spring practices and a full fall, it is unlikely that Young would lose his place in line by Sept. 4.
Robinson got a lot of work behind Harris in 2020, so it is natural he assumes the RB1 spot in his 5th season. Ditto with Metchie, who showed glimpses of the same spectacular WR1 talent that has defined Alabama in recent seasons. Same goes with Bolden, who stepped in when Waddle went down in midseason. Williams is more of an unknown, and could be tangled with Javon Baker all spring and fall before it is settled.
Alabama has a lot more work to do up front, as Leatherwood and Dickerson will be multi-year NFL talents and leave a gaping hole on the left side of the offensive line. Neal could stay at right tackle, but his experience will be needed more at Young’s blind side. Brown was the backup left guard all season and assumes the starting spot. Owens returning for a 6th season is very big, as he played well when Dickerson was out due to injury in both Playoff games. Depending on where Neal ends up, the discussion then becomes his bookend — with Cohen at RT or JC Latham at LT being the prime candidates.
2021 Alabama defense
Although Alabama loses defensive end Christian Barmore and defensive back Patrick Surtain II to the NFL Draft, the 2021 Crimson Tide defense is far stronger from a returning player standpoint than the offense. LaBryan Ray has yet to publicly announce his intentions, and if he returns he will keep the defensive end spot that is penciled in for Eboigbe. DJ Dale is a star in the making and will anchor what was already a stern run-stopping front. And Mathis is a severely underrated pass-defending end.
Dylan Moses is the only departing linebacker, with Jaylen Moody sliding into that spot. The rest are returners who will be nearly unstoppable if they remain healthy. Jayln Armour-Davis could be pushed by Ronald Williams Jr., JUCO transfer Khyree Jackson *and* 5-star freshman Ga’Quincy “Koolaid” McKinstry to replace Surtain.
- DE: Justin Eboigbe
- NG: DJ Dale
- DE: Phidarian Mathis
- SLB: Christopher Allen
- MLB: Jaylen Moody
- WLB: Christian Harris
- Jack: Will Anderson Jr.
- CB: Jalyn Armour-Davis
- CB: Josh Jobe
- SS: Daniel Wright
- FS: Jordan Battle
- Star: Malachi Moore
Allen’s return will be huge and will head an absolutely stacked position. Harris was 2nd on the team in tackles and also has the versatility to get to quarterbacks from anywhere on the field. Anderson led the Tide with 7 sacks in 2020 and is getting home more and more. Jobe, Wright and Battle all played stellar football in 2020, though Wright could be pushed by DeMarcco Hellams for his starting spot. Battle has the tools to make it to the NFL and will be expected to put it all together in 2021. Moore also has tremendous natural talent, and will likely be used in a variety of ways.