In the 2005 NFL Draft, six of the 32 first-round selections came from Alabama colleges. Not a single one played for the Crimson Tide.
There were four players from Auburn (Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell) one from Troy (DeMarcus Ware) and one from UAB (Roddy White) taken among the top 27 picks that year. The first University of Alabama players didn’t come off the board until the third round, when Evan Mathis went No. 79 overall. Wesley Britt, Anthony Bryant and Cornelius Wortham were the other selections from Alabama that year.
In other words, football was healthy in the State of Alabama 14 years ago, but the Crimson Tide didn’t contribute much to that condition.
Two years later, Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. With that entrance, college football changed immediately and forever.
Since arriving at Alabama, Saban has recruited 28 players to Alabama who have gone on to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. That does not include Andre Smith, who played for Saban but was already at Alabama when Saban arrived.
That’s 28 players in 10 Drafts. Over that same period, the rest of the state schools produced only six first-round picks. That includes quarterback-turned-offensive tackle Tytus Howard, who went No. 23 to the Houston Texans last week to become the first Alabama State player ever taken in the first round.
There are now five schools from the state that have produced first-round Draft picks. In addition to Howard and the large group of players from Auburn and Alabama, the list also includes Leodis McKelvin of Troy in 2008, Ware of Troy in 2005, White of UAB in 2005 and Bryan Thomas of UAB in 2002.
The other non-Crimson Tide players from the state taken in the first round since Saban arrived are McKelvin in 2008, Auburn’s Nick Fairley and Cam Newton in 2011 and Auburn’s Dee Ford and Greg Robinson in 2014.
Saban’s average of 2.8 first-round picks for every year he’s been at Alabama will almost certainly increase next season. In fact, Alabama has a chance to have the most dominant year of any program in NFL Draft history next season.
I’ve tried to convince myself to trim some of the names listed below who have a chance to be first-round Draft picks a year from now. The list is outrageously long, especially considering the record for the most players selected from one college in a single Draft is six.
In 2004, Miami’s Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey and Vince Wilfork were all taken in the first round. Ironically, the best Miami player taken in that first round turned out to be Ben Roethlisberger from Miami (Ohio).
So, with six as the record, I sheepishly say that Alabama has 15 players with a chance to play their way into the 2020 first round. No, all 15 won’t go in the first round. There probably won’t be more than the six Miami had selected in 2004. But all 15 of these players are legitimate possibilities for the first round next season.
Here it goes: Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood, Jedrick Wills, Najee Harris, Dylan Moses, Trevon Diggs, Xavier McKinney, Shyheim Carter, Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings, LaBryan Ray and Raekwon Davis.
Of those 15 players, five probably have a better than 50 – 50 chance to be selected in the first round — Tagovailoa and Jeudy are almost sure things. Mel Kiper of ESPN just released his first mock Draft for 2020 featuring Tagovailoa and Jeudy as the two players at the top of the board.
Bill Bender of The Sporting News also has Tagovailoa and Jeudy going No. 1 and No. 2, with Moses and Davis also included in the first round.
Walterfootball.com’s 2020 mock Draft has eight Alabama players among the top 25 prospects.
247/Sports mentions 11 Alabama players who could be first-rounders in 2020, not including Smith, Leatherwood, Wills and Ray from my list.
With the three Alabama players selected this year, Saban passed Joe Paterno for the most first-round players produced, with 34. By comparison, Bear Bryant coached 18 first-round Draft picks.
Saban’s total is not going to increase by 15 next year. Some of those candidates will be injured or underachieve or be selected in later rounds or even decide to return to college football for another season.
So the specific number is still up in the air. But it’s hard to imagine that Alabama won’t have the best overall Draft ever for any college next season.
What does that mean for Alabama football in the 2020 season, when most or all of those players are gone? History says Saban will simply restock the talent and keep winning championships. But he’s never had a class like this upcoming one to enjoy and then have to replace.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3 – 6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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