Will Alabama set a program record for first-round NFL Draft picks? Breaking down those chances
Alabama is trying to get over the hump.
No, that’s not my way of saying the “dynasty is dead.” It’s my way of saying that each of the past 2 years, the program tied a draft record with 4 first-round picks (Miami holds the all-time record with 6 in 2004). That feat happened 4 times in the Nick Saban era, and nobody would be surprised if it happened a fifth time.
So can Alabama set a new program mark in the 2019 NFL Draft? That would be quite the feat considering the program set a record with total draft picks (12) last year.
In my opinion, there are 6 Alabama players who will at least get serious first-round consideration. They’re who we’ll focus on for the first round draft record.
Let’s break down what it would take for that to happen:
The locks: DT Quinnen Williams, OL Jonah Williams
Barring injury or scandal, Alabama will at least have multiple first-round picks for the third consecutive year. That much we know.
Quinnen Williams will likely come off the board in the first 5 picks, despite the fact that he was a first-year starter. He was also the best defensive player in America who pass-rushed like a defensive end from the defensive tackle position. Nick Bosa will likely be the only defensive lineman picked ahead of the Alabama redshirt sophomore.
And on the other side of the ball, Jonah Williams was as good as any offensive lineman in America. He’s versatile enough to play both tackles and fill a need immediately for one of those teams that just drafted a first-round quarterback last year.
Both of Alabama’s Williams should come off the board in the first 10 picks. Oddly enough, Alabama actually hasn’t had a top-10 pick since Amari Cooper in 2015, and it hasn’t had multiple top-10 picks in the same draft since 2013.
The slightly better than average chances: S Deionte Thompson, TE Irv Smith Jr.
These are the guys who I’ve seen in mock drafts often, but they’re usually in the last 10 picks or so of the first round. That means they could be a minor injury or a dud Combine performance away from slipping out of the first round.
Smith and Thompson are obviously in very different positions, and not just because of the position they play.
Thompson was the guy who came out looking like a bonafide star and by season’s end, he was a bit of a liability. It’ll be interesting how he can squash some of the late-season concerns with how he looks during the pre-draft process. He definitely has the athleticism and the frame to look the part, and the fact that he comes from the Saban school of defensive backs will help.
Smith should be one of the first 2 or 3 tight ends off the board in a draft with plenty of talent at the position. Between Smith and Iowa tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, any one of those 3 could be the first tight end off the board. Smith is as complete as anyone at the position, and we saw what he could do as a pass-catcher with a quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa.
I’d feel good about Smith and Thompson coming off the board in the first round, though they obviously aren’t the locks that the Williams guys are.
The might need some help at the combine: RB Josh Jacobs, LB Mack Wilson
To be clear, this isn’t me saying whether I believe these players are first-round worthy. If I ran a team picking in the mid-to-late first round range and needed a running back, I’d pull the trigger on Jacobs. But will the market favor the versatile, bruising back? That, I’m not so sure of.
There’s a fairly decent chance that a running back won’t come off the board in the first round. There isn’t a Saquon Barkley/Todd Gurley/Leonard Fournette/Ezekiel Elliott prospect in this draft.
On the flip side, could a ridiculous Combine put the hard-running Jacobs in that conversation to move into the middle of the first round? Sure. But at a position with so many draft stigmas, Jacobs could fall to the second round from nothing other than the position he plays.
As for Wilson, I’m not sure the film will help him the same way it could with Jacobs. Yes, Wilson has that coveted speed to be a modern inside linebacker. His instincts in pass coverage will make him one of the top linebackers off the board. But like with Thompson I’m curious how some of his struggles down the stretch will impact his draft stock.
Both Wilson and Jacobs can help themselves in a big way at Indianapolis, especially in the 40. If Wilson and Jacobs are both sitting in that 4.4-range and among the top 2 or 3 at the position, their athleticism could be the thing that makes someone in the back end of the first round make the move.
So what’s the bet?
Call me crazy, but 4 would be my bet for Alabama first-rounders.
I tend to think that at this point of the process, it’s easier for Alabama’s top prospects to fall than rise. Even first-year starters like Thompson have already played in so many high-profile games that I think the prospects who finally have scouts watch them on film are more likely to move up draft boards.
If I had to put a number on it, let’s say there’s about a 25 percent chance that Alabama breaks its record and gets that fifth first-rounder after consecutive years with 4.
But who knows? Maybe now is finally the time for Alabama to get over the hump.