By the end of this week, there will be sufficient data to proclaim Alabama’s recruiting class of 2017 as the greatest ever signed.
Every Signing Day there are fans who boast about the great players coming into their football programs, while the naysayers warn we need to wait three or four years before we’ll know if all the lofty player rankings will be justified with play on the field and how many of those players will be selected in the NFL Draft.
Well, we’ve now waited the requisite time with this class. And the results are staggering, even by Nick Saban’s standards.
By the end of the weekend, 13 players from that 2017 class will have heard their names called at the NFL Draft.
That includes five players who left college after playing only three seasons. Tua Tagovailoa, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and Jedrick Wills were drafted in the first round. Xavier McKinney was drafted with the fourth pick of the second round. Isaiah Buggs was a junior college transfer who was drafted in the sixth round after only two seasons at Alabama. So, that’s six players already in the NFL before reaching the end of the natural four-year window.
Now comes the 2021 NFL Draft, which includes players who stuck around Tuscaloosa for four years of development. DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood, Dylan Moses, Mac Jones and Thomas Fletcher are set to join the list of pros from the 2017 class.
A year from now, former five-star LaBryan Ray will join the list. Ray has suffered multiple injuries during his Alabama career but should be a solid draft prospect after a fifth year with the Tide. Among the four-star signees who have delayed the start of their pro careers by a year are linebacker Christopher Allen, defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis, running back Brian Robinson and offensive lineman Kendall Randolph.
That’s 17 players from the 2017 recruiting class who have been drafted into the NFL or are expected to be.
There were six players from the class who had a five-star rating. Based on their bank accounts, it’s safe to say the mythical “Bama Bump” had nothing to do with any of those rankings. Two of them (Tagovailoa and Jeudy) have already been selected in the first round. Harris and Leatherwood could join the list this week. Moses, because of a serious knee injury, will have to wait until later in the draft to hear his name called. Ray is a year away from learning his NFL Draft status.
Based on Alabama’s recent track record, three of the six five-star players being selected in the first round would simply be average. Over the last decade, 51.5 percent of five-star recruits who signed with Alabama have gone on to be selected in the first round.
The percentage for players who chose any school other than Alabama is 21.2.
So, one out of two who go to Alabama reaches that potential. One out of five who go anywhere else reaches that same status. The “Bama Bump” argument (which supposes players who commit to Alabama suddenly see their recruiting rankings skyrocket because of some sort of Tide bias) falls apart under the scrutiny of cold, hard statistics.
Players from the 2017 class will dominate the talk during this NFL Draft Week. But Alabama will also have players who came to Tuscaloosa in 2018 and even 2016 beginning their professional careers this week.
From 2018, Patrick Surtain and Jaylen Waddle are sure-fire first-round picks. Defensive tackle Christian Barmore is a good bet to be a first-rounder. And center Landon Dickerson, a transfer from Florida State, could sneak into the bottom of the first round.
Offensive lineman Deonte Brown and tight ends Miller Forristall and Carl Tucker are also in this draft.
That’s 13 potential draft picks from Alabama this year. The best guess is either Forristall or Tucker will be undrafted free agents, leaving the number at 12.
That’s just average for Alabama over the last decade. But this could still be a record-setting draft for the Tide.
The SEC record for most players drafted in the first round is five. The NCAA record is six, set by Miami in 2004. Alabama is going to have between four and nine this year.
Jones, Surtain, Waddle and Smith are certain first-rounders. Harris, Barmore, Leatherwood, Dickerson and Brown all have a chance to join them.
There won’t be nine selected in the first round, but with so many candidates to go in the first round, that record established by Miami is certainly in doubt.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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