The Alabama Crimson Tide continues to be an NFL pipeline under head coach Nick Saban. In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide had a school record four players drafted in the first round. Marcell Dareus was picked third by the Bills, Julio Jones was picked sixth by the Falcons, James Carpenter was picked 25th by the Seahawks, and then Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was selected 28th by the Saints.
As they say, records were made to be broken, and most draft analysts have the Crimson Tide projected to have five first round draft selections. To go along with the projected five first round selections, the Crimson Tide has other projected draftees. It’s crazy to think back in 2008, Alabama had no players selected in the draft.
There are currently 25 Crimson Tide players in the NFL, and 12 of them have been selected in the draft since 2009, and two others played under Nick Saban.
The NFL Draft is exactly one week away, so here is a breakdown of Alabama’s 2012 draft prospects and where they might end up on being drafted or where they could end up signing after the draft.
Trent Richardson (RB)
Trent Richardson is the highest rated draft prospect from Alabama, and for good reason. He’s built like a mack truck, and can probably bench press one as well. Richardson rushed for 3130 over his three year Crimson Tide career. He racked up 1679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in 2011 as helped the Crimson Tide to the BCS National Championship.
Richardson finished 3rd in Heisman voting behind winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and runner-up Andrew Luck from Stanford. Richardson also brought home the Crimson Tide’s first Doak Walker award.
Many NFL scouts see Richardson as the best running back prospect to come out since Adrian Peterson, and some have gone back as far as Barry Sanders. His combination of size, strength, and speed makes NFL GM’s salivate, and he won’t last long on draft day because of it.
Richardson is projected to be selected in the Top 5, and would at worst fall to 6th to the Rams. In all likelihood, Richardson is going to be picked 4th by the Cleveland Browns or 5th by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Browns are most likely, however, it would probably be better if Cleveland passed over him, and he was selected by Tampa Bay. The Bucs already have LeGarrette Blount, but new head coach Greg Schiano has expressed interest in Richardson. The Bucs struggled last season, but won 10 games in 2010. They have a good young team, and they would be a better situation for Richardson now, and in the future.
Plus, how awesome would it be to see Richardson go head-to-head with former backfield mate Mark Ingram twice a year?
Mark Barron (SS)
The former All American safety has seen his draft prospects rise considerably over the last month or so. He was at one time projected to be selected in the later portion of the first round, but after he showed he was healthy and had an impressive Pro Day in Tuscaloosa, Barron has shot back up draft boards.
Most experts see Barron being selected in the top half of the first round, and the latest he would probably fall would be 18th to the Chargers. Even falling that far is unlikely, and several teams are pondering moving up in the draft to take Barron. This draft is pretty weak at safety, and Barron seems to be the only can’t miss prospect at the position this year. After him, there is a pretty significant drop off.
Barron is an incredible athlete, and is an experienced starter in Nick Saban’s complex defense. He is really good in run support from the secondary, and has improved his pass coverage a lot over his time at the Capstone.
The majority of mock drafts I have seen have Barron being selected 14th by the Dallas Cowboys or 15th by the Philadelphia Eagles. Some analysts think that the Patriots might explore their options of moving up to take him. The Pats have two first round selections — #27 and #31 — that they could package to move up to get him.
Dre Kirkpatrick (CB)
At 6’2”, Kirkpatrick has the size NFL coaches and scouts crave in cornerbacks. He was a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide at cornerback, but some scouts believe because of his size he could end up being moved over to free safety. I think Kirkpatrick will remain a cornerback in the NFL.
Kirkpatrick didn’t have as productive a college career as some other draft prospects, but he was effective in both zone and man coverage at Alabama.
Kirkpatrick’s draft stock took a little bit of a hit in January following the National Championship game when he was arrested in Florida for being in a car that contained marijuana. The charges were eventually dropped, however, but it has raised some concern over his character. I don’t really think his character should be in question because he never really got into any trouble during his time in Tuscaloosa.
The earliest Kirkpatrick would probably be picked is 14th by the Cowboys, but he’ll probably fall further than that. He could end up being selected by the Bengals with either of their first round picks at 17th or 21st. He could also be selected 20th by the Titans, who will be looking to replace departed cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The lowest we could see Kirkpatrick fall would probably be the Lions at pick 23.
Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB)
Courtney Upshaw has seen his draft stock drop some recently. He was at one time projected to go as high as 10th to the Bills, but after Buffalo signed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency, they no longer need him.
Upshaw was a monster for the Crimson Tide’s defense for three years. He was the MVP of the 2012 BCS National Title game. Upshaw is best fit to play as an outside linebacker on the next level in a 3-4 defense, but has plenty of experience putting his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end.
Upshaw is another Alabama player that has been linked to the Cowboys at #14, but the highest he will probably go is 16th to the Jets. Upshaw would be a perfect fit in New York’s defense.
Upshaw could also possibly end up being drafted 18th by the Chargers, 21st to the Bengals, 24th to the Steelers, 27th to the Patriots, or 29th to the Ravens. It’s pretty unlikely that he would fall any further than the Bengals at #21.
Dont’a Hightower (ILB)
Hightower had a lot of questions to answer about the health of his knee heading into 2011 after a subpar 2010 season. Hightower emphatically answered the question with a huge season as he led an Alabama defense that will go down as one of the best of the modern era.
Hightower is a big, physical linebacker that has the speed to make tackles from sideline to sideline.
Hightower’s style of play makes him a perfect fit to play for the Steelers or Ravens, and that is more than likely who will select him. Along with those two teams, he recently visited with the Chicago Bears, who hold the 19th pick in the first round. He has also been linked to the Broncos who will pick 25th in the first round.
The Steelers and Ravens are the most likely possibilities for the former Alabama linebacker. The Steelers pick before the Ravens, but some analysts believe Baltimore may trade up to take Hightower before the Steelers can. Hightower could serve as the eventual replacement to Ray Lewis for the Ravens.
Josh Chapman (DT)
After Alabama’s five projected first round draft prospects, we will have to wait a bit before we see another Tide player off the board. Next up should be former Tide defensive tackle Josh Chapman, who forever wrote his name in Alabama lore by revealing after the season that he had played the final eight games of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. (Side note: You are not tough).
Chapman has the ability to play in either the 4-3 as a defensive tackle or in the 3-4 as a nose guard at 6’1” 315 pounds. Chapman can clog up the middle, absorb double teams, and has the strength to get a push into the backfield to stop running plays. He’s not going to rack up a ton of sacks, but he is outstanding in stopping the run.
Chapman will come off the board in either the 2nd or 3rd round in my opinion sometime on Friday night. He recently received some good news from Dr. James Andrews who cleared him for full football activities by the beginning of training camp.
I could see the Chiefs, Patriots, or Broncos selecting Chapman in the 2nd round, and the Colts, Chiefs, Falcons, Broncos, Patriots, or Raiders picking him in the 3rd round.
DeQuan Menzie (CB)
DeQuan Menzie is coming off of an All American senior season for the Crimson Tide, and could come off the board between the 3rd and 5th rounds of the NFL Draft. Personally, I believe he has been woefully underrated throughout this draft process. I think he is significantly better than his projected draft position.
Menzie is a versatile corner with very good coverage skills, and he is also good in helping in run support. He is physical with opposing wide receivers, and has a superb ability to read the field and break to the football. He can be beat with some double moves due to his aggressiveness.
He’s good in both man and zone coverage, and really made significant progress from his junior year to senior year at Alabama. I think Menzie could be a real sleeper in this draft.
I’d say the Colts, Bills, Steelers, and Chiefs among many, many others could draft Menzie in the 3rd, 4th, or possibly even 5th round.
Marquis Maze (WR)
A pulled hamstring prevented Marquis Maze from showcasing his ability at the Senior Bowl, and he certainly didn’t help himself with a subpar combine, although he did have the fastest 10-yard split among wide receivers in Indianapolis.
It also didn’t help that he measured in under 5’8” at the combine after being listed as 5’10” during his time at Alabama. A lot of NFL teams are looking at Maze as a slot receiver because of his height, but he’s more of an outside receiver in my opinion.
Maze is a playmaker, who can contribute in the receiving game and as a punt returner in the NFL, right Arkansas?
Maze has tremendous straight line speed and is an absolute terror in the open field. There is a spot in the NFL for Marquis Maze. He’s not going to be a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but he should find a spot as a situational receiver and a punt returner at the next level.
Maze will likely come off the board in the fifth or sixth round on Saturday. Some possible options for Maze are the Falcons, Jaguars, Colts, and Bills.
Brad Smelley (TE/FB)
If you haven’t seen it, you should really check out Grantland’s breakdown of Alabama’s running game and what Brad Smelley really meant to the offense last season. Smelley was often a forgotten member on the Alabama offense, but he had a huge impact in all facets of the offense.
Smelley really came around as a receiver late in the season, especially in the final three games against Georgia Southern, Auburn, and LSU in the BCS Title game. Smelley combined for 17 catches, 183 yards, and 3 touchdowns in those three games. Those 17 receptions doubled his total for the season.
A few NFL draft analysts, namely Mel Kiper Jr., expect Smelley to be drafted somewhere in the sixth or seventh round. Teams like the Eagles, Texans, or Panthers could take a late round flier on the ‘Bama product.
Darius Hanks (WR)
Darius Hanks is another Tide player that could be selected on a late round flier. Hanks really raised some eyebrows of nfl scouts at the East-West Shrine game, and a few scouts expressed how Hanks could have a role in the NFL as a fourth wide receiver on a team.
Hanks was never overly productive in Tuscaloosa, but he was always solid. Hanks isn’t a big and physical guy, and he also doesn’t have great speed, but what he does have is a pair of great hands. He can make spectacular catches, and rarely drops passes that he gets his hands on.
The Chargers and Bills are a couple of teams who could select Hanks in the 7th round, or choose to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
William Vlachos (Center)
Vlachos probably won’t be drafted, but he will find his way onto an NFL roster, and he could end up having a productive NFL career. Scouts will look at his short, stocky frame and lack of athleticism, and write him off. But, Vlachos was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, and was a integral part of two National Championship teams. I think in the very least Vlachos should be a serviceable back-up center.
He held up extremely well against top-level competition in the SEC. He is a very technically sound center, and he could flourish in the right system in the pros. The Colts, Jaguars, Jets, 49ers, Giants, Vikings, and Eagles are a few possibilities for Vlachos as an undrafted free agent.
Jerrell Harris (LB)
Jerrell Harris will not be drafted, but he is too physically gifted not to end up on an NFL roster next season. Someone is going to sign him. He really underachieved for three years at Alabama before finally earning a starting role in his senior season as the Sam Linebacker in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 defense.
Harris is a former five-star recruit out of Gadsden, Alabama. Harris came to Alabama as an inside linebacker, but made the move to outside last season. He may be better suited as an inside linebacker in the NFL. Harris isn’t a strong pass rusher, but he holds up very well against the run, and can drop down in pass coverage.
The Cardinals, Bears, Seahawks, Raiders, and Steelers are possibilities for Harris. Pittsburgh actually hosted Harris for a pre-draft visit at the beginning of the month.