No one would ever question Alabama’s ability to reload at any position in any given year. With seven consecutive recruiting titles under his belt, Nick Saban has stockpiled enough talent to make the “next man up” mantra believable.

He has four 5-star linebackers and defensive linemen who aren’t even projected starters this season.

His process has created significant results, but finding suitable replacements doesn’t automatically mean improvement. That’s a concept that some people have a hard time wrapping their mind around.

Alabama’s front seven was dominant in 2016. They only gave up 959 yards rushing all season — which led the nation — while the second place team (Houston) allowed 1,302.

To put that in perspective, Alabama QB Jalen Hurts rushed for almost as many yards (954) as the defense gave up to opposing offenses all season … we’re talking about the quarterback.

If that doesn’t convince you just how much they controlled opposing offenses up front, take a look at these national rankings:

  • Rushing yards per game: 959 (1st)
  • Rushing touchdowns: 5 (1st)
  • Sacks: 54 (1st)
  • Sacks/game: 3.6 (3rd)
  • Scoring defense: 13 points/game (1st)
How deep is the Tide's front seven? Saban has 4 5-star linebackers and defensive linemen on the bench.

Having the ability to effectively stop the run and create pressure from multiple spots — Alabama had three players finish in the SEC’s top 5 in sacks — gives the 2016 front seven a legitimate claim to being one of the best of all-time. Still, there are those who believe the 2017 unit will be as good — or maybe even better. Is that possible?

Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

Alabama is losing five starters in the front seven: Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Reuben Foster — all of whom were taken in the top 3 rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Regardless of the talent and recruiting resumes still on the roster, those losses won’t be easy to replace.

[table “” not found /]

Now, one argument is the 2016 team overcame personnel losses, too. The 2015 defense featured A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland, Denzel Devall and D.J. Pettway.

It’s a decent argument, but the two don’t really compare if you analyze the numbers.

When the above players moved on following the 2015 season, they took with them 23.1-percent of the team’s sacks from that year (12 of 52 sacks).

Heading into the 2016 season, the front seven returned five of its top six pass rushers. For comparison, Alabama will head into the 2017 season looking to replace 68.5-percent of last year’s pass rush production (37 of 54 sacks), and unlike in 2016, the team lost five of its top six pass rushers.

Looking at the players and their impact, it’s also tough to compare the losses from 2015 to those in 2016.

Robinson and Ragland were fantastic and should always be remembered as such. With that said, it could be argued that Allen and Foster were the best two defensive players to ever play under Saban.

Last season saw the Tide put together the perfect combination of skill sets in their front seven, and it allowed them to field one of the most historical defenses of all-time. That doesn’t even take into account the 11 defensive touchdowns the front seven produced or helped produce.

Alabama has the talent needed to continue to have one of college football’s most elite defenses, but to expect them to be as good — or better — than they were last year is a stretch at this point. It’s not impossible, but it is very unlikely.