By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
April 24, 2013
The 2013 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night, and as is becoming custom in the Nick Saban era, the phone lines between New York and Alabama might get a little busy.
Alabama could have as many as five players taken in the first round of the draft, with another two or three taken in the second and third rounds (what constitutes the old “first-day pick” criteria before the NFL moved to multi-night, primetime affair).
While picking draft landing spots is almost entirely guesswork – TideFans.com’s success rate over the past few years is comical, to be honest – this still should give readers a rough estimate of the general round timeframe in which Alabama players are likely to go off the board. Here’s the list of draft-eligible Crimson Tiders, and their potential landing spots:
1. Dee Milliner, CB
Projected round: 1st round, top-10 pick
Analysis: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. stirred a few waves recently when he projected Milliner as potentially the top player taken – assuming the Detroit Lions traded up to get him. Two things have come into play since Kiper made the comment: First, the Kansas City Chiefs, who hold the top pick, are looking to rid themselves of OT Branden Albert, which would all but force them to take Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel with the pick; and secondly, Detroit is rumored to favor the rapidly-ascending Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma) with the fifth pick. In fact, offensive tackles have suddenly gained a lot of value in general over the past week – good news for D.J. Fluker, we suppose – but Milliner could go as late to the Tennessee Titans at 10 because of it.
Prediction: Most draft analysts are looking at the sixth spot, the Cleveland Browns’ pick, as Milliner’s ultimate destination. We’re not so sure. While Detroit trading up to get him is unlikely – we see Detroit taking Johnson at 5 – Cleveland isn’t in dire need of a corner. But Philadelphia at 4 is. The Eagles brought in some free-agent help at the position, but the depth chart is still thin and Milliner would be a great value pick there.
2. D.J. Fluker, OT
Projected round: 1st round, top-15 pick
Analysis: Fluker has been the beneficiary of the aforementioned rush to a love affair with offensive tackles, and he’s now expected to go ahead of G Chance Warmack as a result. Fluker is probably not a left tackle in the NFL, but in addition to being the best right tackle prospect since Phil Loadholt came out, he can also play guard. Fluker’s competitiveness has drawn great praise, and scouts like his footwork. Both he and Warmack have yellow flags over their ability to understand complex NFL offenses, but in their defense, Alabama’s offense was one of the most complex in college football and both guys did just fine understanding it.
Prediction: As for landing spots, Buffalo at 8 would likely be the highest possible spot, but the Bills need guards more than tackles, so Buffalo’s choice impacts Warmack more so than Fluker. But what really could impact Fluker in a positive way is if a run on tackles develops. The Oakland Raiders could trigger this by taking Lane Johnson at 3 rather than a defensive tackle, and the Eagles could also throw a curveball by taking Johnson at 4. If that happens, picks 5-8 suddenly become exceptionally valuable, as Fluker is the last of the “Big Four” (Joeckel, Johnson, Eric Fisher) available. If everything goes in order, though, look for Tennessee at 10 to be Fluker’s home. If the Titans opt for their other key need – offensive guard – then Fluker probably goes no later than 11th to San Diego.
3. Chance Warmack, G
Projected round: 1st round, top-15 pick
Analysis: Warmack and Fluker played together for four years, and they will still be affecting each other right up through draft day. While Fluker’s stock is on the rise, Warmack’s is falling thanks to concerns over his speed and Wonderlic score. It’s now assumed that he’ll be the second guard taken behind North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and will no longer be a consideration in the top five picks. There has also been split opinions on whether he can play both guard slots at the NFL level. However, the scouts that do love him, love him a lot. If there is a run on offensive linemen, a team might jump up into the bottom half of the top 10 to get him.
Prediction: Buffalo would seem to be the ideal fit for Warmack, but the Bills like Cooper better for their offensive style. Even though Warmack’s stock has slipped a bit, it doesn’t seem likely for him to get past the 10 and 11 marks thanks to the Titans’ and Chargers’ palpable need for linemen. Essentially, Tennessee will make this call. If the Titans opt for Fluker at 10, look for the Chargers to take Warmack at 11. The wild card in this mix is Arizona at 7, who needs a tackle and could grab Fluker, thus bringing several teams into the mix via a trade with the Jets at 9, who are stockpiling picks.
4. Eddie Lacy, RB
Projected round: 1st round
Analysis: Lacy is the top running back in this draft class and the only one with a legitimate first-round grade. He has the size (5’11”, 231 measured) NFL teams covet, along with good speed, coachability, receiving skills and blocking skills. What he doesn’t have is proven durability. Lacy was nicked up his first three years at Alabama, including his redshirt year, and had his snaps managed closely the first half of 2012. He then missed several aspects of the Combine while recovering from more health issues. Going strictly off ability, Lacy is a top-15 pick, but the continuing debate about the value of first-round running backs, coupled with Lacy’s health issues, will probably knock him down into the back end of the first round, and going in the second round isn’t out of the question.
Prediction: Lacy’s problem is that the teams picking early that need running backs badly, need other things even worse. Such is the case with Arizona, Tennessee and San Diego, who all have injury concerns with their primary backs and want to add a complementary player. The floor for Lacy in the first round is probably Cincinnati at 21, which would be both a selection based upon need, as well as a good value spot for Lacy. The wild cards start at 12 with Miami, which needs offensive linemen only slightly more than it needs a feature back; the Rams at 16, who are replacing Steven Jackson; and the Cowboys at 18, who need depth. If the Bengals pass at 21, the next-likeliest spot in the first round would be the Rams again at 22, followed by the Packers at 26.
5. Jesse Williams, DE
Projected round: Late 1st/early 2nd round
Analysis: Williams has a high what-do-you-do-with-him factor; he played end as a junior at Alabama and nosetackle as a senior, but doesn’t seem to fit neatly in either position at the NFL level. He’ll probably go inside out of necessity at the next level, as he lacks the quickness to be an edge rusher, even in a 3-4 scheme. He would seem to be a better fit inside in a 4-3 front rather than the 3-4 he played at Alabama, and if he plays in a 3-4 in the NFL, would excel mostly with a team who runs an over/under scheme similar to Alabama’s, where he could slide inside from his end position more often. Williams put up good strength numbers at the combine and ran well at Alabama’s pro day, which brought him back into consideration for being selected in the first round, after having originally started there, fallen to as far as the third round, then rose back again.
Prediction: This will be tough to figure. Williams could go as high as 18 to Dallas, which badly needs defensive linemen, but the Cowboys seem to prefer other targets. The perfect fit, scheme- and slot-wise, would have been Seattle, but the Seahawks traded the 25th overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings in the Percy Harvin deal. However, as fate would have it, guess who needs an interior defensive lineman? That’s right, Minnesota at 25. The Vikings also hold the 23rd pick. If Minnesota passes with both of its selections, San Francisco at 31 seems to covet Williams.
6. Barrett Jones, OL
Projected round: Late 2nd/early 3rd round
Analysis: Jones lacks the raw strength NFL teams desire in their interior offensive linemen, but he scored a 35 on his Wonderlic test, is essentially risk-free in the character department and has the ability to play any position along the line. The question for NFL teams is just how much of his physical limitations they’ll overlook when it comes time to hand in the draft card. Centers don’t typically go highly in the draft – and it’s center where Jones is being evaluated. Travis Frederick of Wisconsin is considered the top center available, with Jones being either second or third (Brian Schwenke of California being the other center in the mix).
Prediction: Several teams could use good interior linemen, but once the third round arrives, the draft becomes as much about value as it does real need. But there are at least five teams out there – Dallas, Chicago, Jacksonville, Green Bay and Seattle – which have a definite need inside but don’t look to fill it in the first round. Of those, Green Bay is the neediest, but one would have to figure the Packers’ braintrust would be slaughtered if it allowed the homegrown Frederick to escape their clutches. If another team takes Frederick first, however – say, top of the second round – Green Bay might have to jump on Schwenke or Jones in the second round at pick 55. A wild card here is New England, which doesn’t need a starter at center, but needs a backup who can flex between all three interior positions. The Patriots, however, would likely begin looking for such a player in Round 4 or thereafter, so we’ll pick Jacksonville in the 3rd round at pick 64 for Jones’ new home.
7. Nico Johnson, LB
Projected round: Late 5th/early 6th round
Analysis: Johnson wasn’t a full-time starter at Alabama and when the Tide went against spread teams, barely played. He did a good job of filling holes against the run at Alabama, but lacked the explosiveness NFL teams like to see. In his favor is his character, intelligence and athleticism, and some teams see him as untapped potential. But with the NFL moving away from traditional run-stopping linebackers and more towards hybrids, Johnson’s ultimate destination will be a question of fit.
Prediction: Johnson is going too late in the draft for us to make a single-team prediction, and this is a fairly deep LB draft with a lot of teams needing multiple LBs. That’s a kind way of saying Johnson could go just about anywhere. It might be best to look at style of play and predict from there. NFC teams that face power-running games on a regular basis – think Chicago, the New York Giants, Green Bay, Minnesota – could have a use for a situational linebacker. Another possibility is Baltimore, which needs multiple inside linebackers in this draft. Just for fun, we’ll take Baltimore, using its compensatory pick at the end of the fifth round for Johnson’s eventual destination, but if he falls to the sixth round, look for the Vikings to jump on him.
8. Robert Lester, S
Projected round: Late 5th/early 6th round
Analysis: Lester might have cost himself some money by coming back for his senior year, as he was thought to be a second- or third-round pick after the 2011 season concluded. Middling showings in postseason workouts dropped him as low as the seventh round on some boards, but he’s coming back up now that more and more teams are recognizing (a) how much they need safeties, and (b) how few quality safeties there are available on the free agent market. Lester has run well in workouts, but came under fire for poor angles in coverage and not enough physicality when asked to play near the line of scrimmage. Still, he has good size, is good in coverage and smart, and the Nick Saban Factor ought to get him a bump regardless.
Prediction: With Lester going in the later rounds, teams with big needs at safety (Arizona, Baltimore) will probably have already addressed them by the time Lester gets ready to go. It’s not unusual for teams with big needs at a position to follow up a first- or second-round pick with another in rounds 5-7, so both Arizona and Baltimore remain possibilities for Lester. So, too, does Minnesota, which theoretically could draft the entire Alabama draft-day class and call it a mission accomplished. A perfect landing spot would be Denver, but the Broncos don’t have a sixth-round pick, so they’d have to take Lester ahead of his grade if they wanted him. Our bet? Either Carolina or Tennessee in Round 6 would be a good fit, but we like New Orleans in Round 6 as Lester’s new home.
Others: Quinton Dial, DL; Carson Tinker, LS; Michael Williams, TE; Damion Square, DE; Jeremy Shelley, PK
Projected rounds: Undrafted free agents
Analysis: Each of these players has at least one fatal flaw in the games, from the NFL perspective. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have NFL futures. Carson Tinker might be the best long snapper available in this class, and many NFL teams prioritize the position. Michael Williams is no threat in the NFL as a receiver, but he is one of the best blocking tight ends in this draft and former Alabama tight end Howard Cross seemed to play 20 years with a similar skill set. Damion Square has an incredible work ethic and toughness, but is a tweener straight from Central Casting. Jeremy Shelley is accurate enough, but lacks the leg strength needed at the NFL level. Quinton Dial probably has the best shot at being drafted just because of his measurables, but he couldn’t crack the starting rotation at Alabama and didn’t display enough consistency.
Prediction: No one in this group jumps out as a must-have, although Dial’s physical attributes might get him a seventh-round flier. Williams’ ability to block as well as an offensive lineman could also get him a seventh-round look from a team who regularly carries three tight ends. Tinker and Shelley figure to have to earn their way onto the field from the free-agent route. As for Square, had his productivity at Alabama been more noteworthy, he might also have been a candidate to sneak in the later rounds. As it is, he’ll probably have to go the free-agent route, too.
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