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Alabama looks to fill plenty of slots on draft day

By Jess Nicholas, Editor-In-Chief

March 2, 2012


Like last year, Alabama is on pace to help several NFL teams reach the next level. With the NFL Combine over and the NFL Draft around the corner, we take a look at Alabama’s seniors and draftable underclassmen, projecting which teams might take the former Crimson Tide stars, using information gleaned from several draft analysts and talent scouts.



Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson (3) holds the newspaper with a photo of himself after defeating the LSU Tigers 21-0 in the 2012 BCS National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson (3) holds the newspaper with a photo of himself after defeating the LSU Tigers 21-0 in the 2012 BCS National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Trent Richardson, RB

Projected round: 1, pick 4-11

Likely destinations: Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs

Long shots: New York Giants, Green Bay Packers

Analysis: Through no fault of Richardson’s, he might find himself picked outside the top five even though he is top-three talent. In terms of pure ability and athleticism, Richardson trails only Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and perhaps Matt Kalil in this draft. The problem is, the running back position as a whole has been devalued over the past decade, and some draft analysts have advocated passing up on a back in the first round entirely. Richardson could be part of an interesting situation on draft day: If Cleveland is not able to trade up to get Robert Griffin III, the consensus is the Browns will take Richardson. If the Browns are able to move up, Tampa Bay will likely take him at No. 5. But the Buccaneers have bigger needs at linebacker, and if he falls past No. 5, the next landing spot is the Kansas City Chiefs at 12. The Chiefs have Jamaal Charles on the roster, but he’s coming off a knee injury. If the Chiefs are smart, they’ll try to trade the pick in such a situation, because both the Giants and the Packers need a running back and would be willing to deal. Prediction: Tampa Bay



Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw (41) pursues LSU Tigers running back Spencer Ware (11)during the 2012 BCS National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw (41) pursues LSU Tigers running back Spencer Ware (11)during the 2012 BCS National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE


Courtney Upshaw, LB/DE

Projected round: 1, pick 10-20

Likely destinations: Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles

Long shots: New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Upshaw was flying up draft boards until the combine, where some scouts felt he failed to impress in coverage drills. The consensus on Upshaw is that his abilities weren’t stretched far at Alabama, and that he’ll have to learn the nuances of his position if he goes to a 3-4 team. He may be a safer bet as a rush end in a 4-3, thanks to clocking in around 270 pounds, and that’s why most believe Buffalo will take him and reunite him with Marcell Dareus as the Bills switch schemes. The Bills seem absolutely smitten with Upshaw, but past history suggests you can’t always tell what a team is going to do by its pre-draft behavior. The Bills’ fawning over Upshaw could be a cover to deflect attention away from their intention to take North Carolina 4-3 DE Quinton Coples. The Seattle Seahawks, picking 12th, seem likely to take whoever Buffalo doesn’t – although, even though the Seahawks don’t particularly need a wide receiver, they seem to have fallen hard for Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd. The Philadelphia Eagles would be ecstatic if Upshaw fell to them. The Jets would have to trade up for Upshaw, but are said to covet him. The wild card is Tampa Bay, which badly needs linebackers of all varieties. The Bucs could trade down to get him if Luck and Griffin III are off the board and another team (Seattle? Washington?) decides it can’t live without Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. Prediction: Buffalo


Dre Kirkpatrick, CB

Projected round: 1, pick 12-23

Likely destinations: Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders

Long shots: Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: If Kirkpatrick lands anywhere but in Dallas, it might be the biggest surprise of the first round. The Cowboys are said to love him, it would be fair value for the pick and he’d fit in well with Dallas’ defensive scheme and personality. Dallas is also reportedly unconcerned about Kirkpatrick’s recent arrest, charges that were eventually thrown out. Kirkpatrick has much greater upside than Janoris Jenkins, thanks to his size, frame and ability to play nickel safety if needed. He could be eased into a starter’s role. If Dallas doesn’t grab him, the Raiders may move back into the first round to get him. Detroit probably needs him more than anyone else, but pick 23rd in this round and that’s just too low. Cincinnati at 17 would seem to be a good fit, but the Bengals are perhaps the only team in the NFL not smitten with Nick Saban players. There seems to exist leftover hard feelings over Andre Smith. The Seahawks play the spoiler role here; Marcus Trufant’s career might be done, and the ‘Hawks have no depth at corner. But Seattle needs other players worse, and Kirkpatrick would be a slight value reach at 12. Prediction: Dallas


Mark Barron, S

Projected round: 1, pick 15-27

Likely destinations: Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers

Long shots: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Analysis: Hard feelings over Andre Smith or not, Cincinnati needs a safety, and Barron is the only safety with an undisputed first-round grade. If the Bengals pass at 17, the Chargers and Lions are close behind and could snap him up. A lot of drafts have the Bengals taking a cornerback with the 17th pick and waiting on Barron at 21, but that’s a risk. The Chargers are rumored to want a safety (at 18) worse than they’re letting on. Detroit would probably sell their collective mothers to get Barron at 23, but he won’t be there by then. If things go haywire and the Bengals, Lions and Chargers either trade away picks to move up or find themselves catching higher-valued players falling through the first round, the Patriots would figure to stop the bleeding at 27. The real darkhorse is Miami, which picks too high to consider taking Barron, but moving down is always an option, one that gets more attractive if the Dolphins decide to re-sign QB Chad Henne and/or all the first-level QBs have been picked by the time Miami selects. Prediction: Cincinnati


Dont’a Hightower, LB

Projected rounds: 1-2

Likely destinations: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, New England Patriots

Long shots: New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: This is where it gets really difficult to project, as no fewer than 10 teams are said to have legitimate interest in Hightower. Both the Eagles and the Buccaneers have complete wastelands for linebacker corps at the moment, but the Bucs would have to re-enter the first round somewhere to get him. The Eagles are thought to prefer Luke Kuechly, but could go completely away from linebacker altogether if DT Montari Poe is still on the board. The Patriots would see Hightower as the perfect value pick, especially if they could get him at 31 rather than 27. Both New York teams are said to love Hightower. Others in the mix include Seattle, which like Philadelphia, prefers Kuechly, plus Pittsburgh and Baltimore. San Diego and San Francisco are also kicking the tires. Hightower’s landing spot will probably be decided mostly by the value chart, as few teams explicitly draft for need anymore. His value is helped greatly by the fact he can play inside, outside or as a defensive end. Prediction: New England Patriots (at 27)


Josh Chapman, DT

Projected rounds: 1-5

Likely destinations: Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers

Analysis: As we move beyond the first round, we stop labeling some potential suitors as “long shots.” And as for Josh Chapman, the NFL Draft could be one long, strange trip down the rabbit hole. Chapman’s draft stock has shot up lately according to some scouts, at least one who sees him possibly getting into the tail end of the first round. Green Bay and Kansas City are thought to be more interested than most, and Green Bay picks at a slot low enough in the first round not to invite too much criticism over the concept of reaching. Denver and Carolina need Chapman more, however, and the Panthers might be interested enough to use their second-round pick. If Chapman goes beyond Carolina, he could fall to Denver at 57 or the Saints – who are said to covet him – at 59. All of this goes out the window if both Montari Poe and Fletcher Cox go off the board ahead of schedule in the first round. If Poe and Cox are delayed in coming off the board, and there appears to be no visible “run” on defensive tackles imminent, Chapman could end up being drafted on Day 3. A long, strange trip indeed. Prediction: New Orleans, 4th round


DeQuan Menzie, CB

Projected rounds: 3-6

Likely destinations: New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans

Analysis: Seemingly half the teams in the league need a cornerback, and that’s the best news Menzie has heard in weeks, as he did nothing at the combine to help himself. Menzie’s 40-times were low, and his on-field strengths have always been his versatility and leadership, things not easily codifiable in a combine setting. There have also been questions about his health, as Menzie spent a large part of his post-high-school career dinged up to one degree or another. In his favor is his toughness, and what figures to be Saban’s highest recommendation for a player who never gave less than his best. Because of his speed concerns, don’t be surprised if Menzie lands with a team that plays on a slower (read: grass) surface, the better to keep from exposing the speed differential between him and the burner receivers he’ll face at the NFL level. Three teams – the Ravens, Steelers and Texans – seemed to show the most interest in Indianapolis. Prediction: Baltimore, 4th round


Marquis Maze, WR

Projected rounds: 3-6

Likely destinations: Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Maze, like Menzie, didn’t show much in the way of raw numbers at the combine, but he’ll probably get somewhat of a pass thanks to the hamstring injury he suffered in the BCS Championship Game. Maze participated in the combine and even ran the 40-yard dash, but didn’t display the top-end speed he’ll need to get on the field at the next level. His cachet will be as a kick returner and slot receiver. The Jaguars have the most need for such at the moment, although the Jets reportedly have their eye on him as does Arizona. Maze’s pro day will be crucial. Prediction: Arizona, 5th round


William Vlachos, C

Projected rounds: 6-7, UDFA

Likely destinations: Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys

Analysis: The premise of the undersized Vlachos drawing a draft pick might seem humorous to some, but there are reportedly three or four teams (not necessarily the ones listed above; the four above are the teams most needing centers) considering it. At the top of that list is Seattle and head coach Pete Carroll, who has been fond of Vlachos ever since watching him during Alabama’s win over Texas for the 2009 BCS Championship. Vlachos’ junior year was disappointing, but he rebounded nicely in 2011. While Vlachos is much smaller than most NFL linemen, don’t be surprised to see an admirer use a late-round pick on him, especially if he can prove able to long-snap during workouts. Prediction: Seattle, 7th round


Darius Hanks, WR

Projected rounds: 5-7, UDFA

Likely destinations: Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Hanks did the most good for himself in the East-West Shrine Game, where he ran good routes, blocked well and showed he could do all the little things most college wideouts have no clue about. His problem is that he’s not particularly big or fast, nor is he physical against press coverage. Hanks did, however, prove to be one of Alabama’s most reliable receivers particularly in the clutch, and he isn’t scared to cross the middle, which is an especially endearing quality to NFL teams. Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent


Brad Smelley, TE/HB

Projected rounds: 6-7, UDFA

Likely destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers

Analysis: Style of offensive play will matter most here. Smelley isn’t a true fullback, so I-based teams are likely out. He’s a 6’3”, 240-pound tight end who can flex to receiver when needed. Prior to the 2011 season, there were few who would have given Smelley any chance on draft day, but as the season progressed, his receiving ability and athleticism, and especially his ability to create mismatches in coverage, began to raise eyebrows. By the end of the year, he was a key component to the Tide offense. With several teams (New England, Indianapolis, New Orleans) starting to use tight ends that are non-traditional in build and role, there is a chance for Smelley to get a late call. He performed well in Mobile during Senior Bowl Week and attracted some attention. If he proves during workouts he can play with his hand down in the backfield, he’ll likely be drafted. He’s almost certain to be one of the first undrafted players signed to a free agent contract otherwise. Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent


Jerrell Harris, LB

Projected rounds: UDFA

Likely destinations: New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Harris would never have been considered a draft prospect prior to the season, based on poor or inconsistent play his first three years at Alabama. But he put together a solid 2011 season and then capped it with an impressive showing in the BCS Championship Game against LSU. But what will sell Harris to NFL teams more than anything will be how he tests out at his pro day. Harris is a workout fiend and has prototypical NFL speed, length and height. He also has decent coverage skills and, when he follows his assignment, is as good as any linebacker in this draft. The lack of a proven body of work will work against him, however, and he’ll need good recommendations from his coaches to get noticed. Also in his favor is the fact many teams need to rebuild aging linebacker corps in this draft. Several teams running 4-3 schemes are thought to be looking at him in addition to a couple of 3-4 teams. Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent


Others: Alfred McCullough, OG; Brandon Gibson, WR; Chris Jordan, ILB; Will Lowery, S; Nick Gentry, NG/DE

Projected rounds: UDFA

Analysis: There are a few teams interested in McCullough and Gentry, but neither is likely to hear his name called on draft day. Gentry was never a starter and, despite his productivity against LSU’s Will Blackwell and other well-thought-of SEC offensive guards, his lack of size and lack of a true position will hurt him as he tries to transition to the next level. Gentry’s best bet would be as a weakside tackle in a 4-3 or a defensive end in a 3-4, but his contributions at Alabama came almost exclusively from 4-2-5 nickel or 4-1-6 dime sets. McCullough only started as a senior after sophomore Anthony Steen was injured. In McCullough’s favor is that he can play any line position, has played defense before and was a favorite of coaches due to his unselfishness and work ethic. Some scouts like him, with one even rating him among the top five available guards in this draft. If that’s the case, McCullough might be selected with a late pick – typically the time some teams take fliers on players they like in order to keep them out of the at-large UDFA pool. Will Lowery’s career is over following a major knee injury, and Brandon Gibson doesn’t figure to draw any interest. Chris Jordan is a primo athlete, but he battled numerous injuries while at Alabama and never started. His career is also likely finished. Prediction: Undrafted Free Agents






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