By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
April 30, 2013
Putting nine members of the same team into the same NFL draft class is no small feat – but it’s one that Alabama might top in a year’s time.
Casting an eye towards the 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama fans might see as many as 14 or 15 Alabama players taken. A lot will be determined, obviously, by the junior seasons of some of Alabama’s draft-eligible underclassmen. From the senior class alone, Alabama could see 8 players called to the podium.
Here’s our first look at those players and their draft prospects:
WR Kevin Norwood
Positives: Good in the clutch, physical
Negatives: Multiple injuries, not a proven big-play threat
The biggest question for Norwood will be how much use he gets. Alabama enters 2013 with five top-flight, proven wideouts and a pair of freshmen who figure to get playing time. Scouts like Norwood’s ability to come up big in key situations, he has good hands and his speed is good enough to get the job done. But he’s suffered several nagging injuries over his career and has never been the featured receiver on the team, and won’t be in 2013 (Amari Cooper). Preliminary ratings for Norwood have him everywhere from first to fifth round. He needs to stay healthy in order to maximize his draft position.
WR Kenny Bell
Positives: Top-level speed, good hands, good route-running ability
Negatives: Slight build, coming off leg injury
Bell might have made the biggest leap forward of all Alabama’s receivers relative to his expectations coming out of high school. Bell was looked upon as a slot receiver and speed merchant who could only stretch the defense in one way. While he has done a fantastic job making plays downfield, he’s showed surprising ability to play in the intermediate space. Norwood’s concerns are mostly Bell’s concerns: injuries, durability, and the presence of Cooper on the other side. If Bell’s speed proves to be unaffected by the broken leg he suffered against Auburn, he could go near the top of the draft.
G Anthony Steen
Positives: Tough, tactically sound
Negatives: Not overpowering, build is good but not great
Steen is the perfect college guard and will be asked to be a leader. He might be one of the toughest players on the team. Having said that, his size, build and raw power don’t stand out at the NFL level. In the SEC, those attributes are more than adequate and Steen is a lock for preseason all-SEC honors. But he needs to cap his senior season in strong fashion to pull away from the pack. He projects in the middle rounds now but could go higher.
QB A.J. McCarron
Positives: Big-game swagger, plus-arm strength, good accuracy on most throws
Negatives: Second-level raw arm power and build
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel figure to be McCarron’s prime competition for the title of first quarterback taken, although Georgia’s Aaron Murray is in the discussion and other quarterbacks figure to enter the fray – they always do – between now and the conclusion of the scouting combine. Going off intangibles, McCarron has no peer. He has the confidence and enough ability to make all the necessary throws, and the resume to back up his abilities. What he doesn’t have is another two inches in height, 20 pounds in weight or a tad more snap in his release. While those things don’t matter to most of the viewing public, they seem to take on near-mythical importance to NFL scouts. Right now, McCarron looks like a late-first to mid-second-round pick, but for teams needing quarterbacks – and there figure to be several next year – necessity is the mother of a top-10 selection.
PK Cade Foster
Positives: NFL leg strength on long field goals, big body for covering kickoffs
Negatives: Not consistently long on kickoffs, accuracy is questionable
There aren’t a lot of kickers who see their names called on draft day to begin with; to be one of those few, a kicker has to be exceptional. Foster isn’t there yet but few people gave Jeremy Shelley a chance to make a NFL camp this time last year, either. Foster needs to nail down the consistency in the 35-yard to 45-yard range more than anything else.
DE Ed Stinson
Positives: Steady, frame to grow, team leader
Negatives: Possibly a tweener, needs to show better control of point of attack
The problem with a lot of Alabama’s 3-4 ends under Nick Saban (Lorenzo Washington, Brandon Deaderick, Damion Square, Luther Davis, etc.) is it has taken the tweeners a long time to become difference-makers. In Deaderick’s case, one could argue it took him all the way to his first season in New England to reach that watermark. Stinson originally was a Jack linebacker, then made the transition to end (a path Xzavier Dickson is also on at the moment) and finally, as a junior in 2012, started to cause trouble for offenses instead of being an exploitable pressure point. Stinson’s main goal this year will be to continue to get stronger against the run without losing his quickness. Otherwise, his NFL impact might come as a 4-3 end after dropping weight. Either way, that typically spells mid-round developmental pick. But he has the potential to go higher.
LB C.J. Mosley
Positives: Peerless in coverage, diagnoses plays, top-end speed for a LB
Negatives: Needs more beef at the NFL level, injury concerns
If the NFL continues on its current path for linebackers, Mosley will be one of the standard-bearers heading into the 2020s. The NFL is prioritizing linebackers who can cover like safeties, and Mosley fits that role perfectly. He’s also smart, a good teammate, and not bad against the run. But he’s a bit light for an NFL linebacker, and he’s been nicked up several times so far in his Alabama career. Some observers were surprised he returned for his senior season, but in doing so he has the chance to elevate himself into the first round if he stays healthy.
CB Deion Belue
Positives: Good speed, improving ball skills
Negatives: Slight build, needs to improve against the run, can be physically dominated by larger wideouts
Alabama fans might have felt they had plenty to groan about in Belue’s first year, but the fact of the matter was Belue did a solid job after arriving from junior college. He was targeted often thanks to the presence of something called a Dee Milliner on the other side, yet more often than not managed to keep damage to a minimum. If Belue’s improvement this spring is any indication, he’ll be the guy no one throws at in 2013. Belue’s problem areas are plain for all to see – he is a slight-built corner who is at a disadvantage when going up against bigger, more physical receivers. But he will fight for position downfield and, perhaps most importantly, seems to have a short memory when things go against him. It’s hard to put a place on his draft prospects right now, but his speed will get him noticed and NFL teams overdraft the cornerback position every year anyway. It’s hard to imagine him not getting picked, at least in the middle rounds. A solid 2013 season would go a long way.
P Cody Mandell
Positives: Good leg strength, good pooch punting skills, brings value as a holder
Negatives: Can’t kick off, can be prone to fits of inconsistency
Like Foster, Mandell’s chances are handicapped out of the gate by the fact that punters don’t get much attention. There seem to be 2-4 of them drafted in any given year and can go as high as the second round when a team has a definitive need. Mandell has expanded his repertoire nicely over the past year, now able to throw darts on plus-territory punts as well as developing good leg strength for when he’s on the other side of the 50. But NFL punters are frequently asked to kick off, which Mandell has never proven he can do, and other college punters have better raw leg strength.
OFFENSIVE DRAFT-ELIGIBLE UNDERCLASSMEN
WR DeAndrew White
Positives: Adjusts well to balls in the air, good speed, above-average hands
Negatives: Injury history, the “unknown” factor
White, to an extent, is handicapped by the same issue that affects Norwood and Bell: playing time. With Amari Cooper in the mix, and Alabama not necessarily a passing team, it remains to be seen how the work is split. Of greater concern to White is proving that his knee suffers no ill effects from an injury he sustained to it last year. White may be the best route-runner on the team, Cooper included. It would be a bit of a surprise if he declared early for the draft, as he is a virtual lock to start in 2014.
WR Christion Jones
Positives: Physical, versatile, has value as a special teams contributor
Negatives: Can drop some easy passes, isn’t particularly fluid as a receiver
Jones is a solid college receiver at the moment, but needs to step up his all-around game to be viable at the pro level. He can make spectacular catches one moment and drop an easy ball the next. His greatest problem might simply be that he plays around so much other talent, and a couple of those players are more natural receivers. He figures to be a lock to return in 2014.
OL Cyrus Kouandjio
Positives: Great footwork, quick, blocks for run and pass equally well
Negatives: Knee injury history and that’s literally it
Mel Kiper Jr. has already named Kouandjio as a possible first-overall pick in the 2014 draft, and certainly no worse than a top-10 pick. Enjoy him in 2013, Alabama fans, because he’s likely gone. Kouandjio has everything NFL teams covet in a left tackle: quick feet, power at the point of attack, agility, intelligence to diagnose rush schemes. The only potential problem area are his knees. Scouts have surely noticed that both he and his brother Arie have had knee issues while at Alabama, which calls into question whether the problem is somewhat genetic in nature. If Kouandjio stays healthy in 2013, though, we think he’ll go in the top 5 of the draft.
OL Arie Kouandjio
Positives: Bloodlines, versatility, surprising power in run blocking
Negatives: Will have to be managed for stamina’s sake, troubling injury history
One of the best stories of spring ball was Arie Kouandjio finally putting together a solid, healthy camp. He can play either guard or tackle, but looks to be Alabama’s starting left guard in 2013. NFL teams will want to know whether his multiple knee injuries have cleared, and whether Alabama will have to rotate him with another player to manage his snap counts. If there is any doubt, he’ll probably be back in Tuscaloosa for 2014.
Other offensive players: RB Jalston Fowler (Sr.), OL Austin Shepherd, OL Kellen Williams, TE Brian Vogler, TE Harrison Jones, OL Ryan Kelly, OL Leon Brown
Fowler, a senior, is the only one of these names we consider to be possibilities at this time. Shepherd is set to start at right tackle over Brown, so right off the bat, one of those two names won’t play enough to garner draft attention. Williams looks to be the swing lineman on this team, so he’d be forced to go the UDFA route at best. Vogler, Jones and Kelly would all benefit from another year in the program no matter how well they showed in 2013. Fowler’s injury history is working against him, but in his favor is the ability to play both fullback and running back. It would not be a surprise to see a team take a seventh-round chance on him, as NFL teams frequently use the seventh round to pick small-school players, workout wonders and scout-favored wildcards.
DEFENSIVE DRAFT-ELIGIBLE UNDERCLASSMEN
DE Jeoffrey Pagan
Positives: NFL body, improving technique, plus-strength
Negatives: Proven productivity, technique still has a way to go, high school knee injury
When Alabama coaches kept putting a very raw Jeoffrey Pagan on the field in 2011, it became clear they thought a redshirt year wouldn’t do him much good, as he wouldn’t be in Tuscaloosa long enough to make use of it. Pagan improved by bounds in 2012, and is one of the players with the highest expectations for 2013. It’s not a given that Pagan will come out early; he figures to still rotate a bit with Dalvin Tomlinson and Ed Stinson on the 2013 line. But if he comes out, it will likely be because he took that final, giant step forward that most are expecting. And if he does, the sky is the limit for this immensely talented player.
NG Brandon Ivory
Positives: High football IQ, big body, made major improvement in 2012
Negatives: Gets hurt a lot, no proven body of work as starter
Going strictly off potential, there’s as much here for Ivory as there was for any of Alabama’s prior three noseguards, Terrence Cody, Josh Chapman or Jesse Williams. Ivory came along nicely in 2012 – when he was healthy, that is. A series of foot and ankle injuries kept him on the training table a lot, and NFL teams will want to see improvement in that area in 2013. Like Pagan, returning for 2014 looks more likely than not. If he goes, highly-skilled nosetackles tend to go in the 2-5 range.
DE/LB Xzavier Dickson
Positives: Elite speed for position, great first step, good pass rush instincts
Negatives: Needs to stay healthy, currently a tweener, disappears for stretches
Alabama fans got their first real introduction to Dickson when he was placed on the kickoff team for the 2012 BCS Championship Game as a true freshman. Seeing a defensive end chasing down LSU kick returners was a sight to behold. At times last year, Dickson looked to be making a big move forward, displacing Adrian Hubbard from the rotation in places. At other times, he was on the field but not noticeable. Dickson is another player who needs to show he can stay healthy (he missed the A-Day game, most recently) and he needs to be more consistent. If he continues to transition to a defensive end role, look for him to return in 2014 and take Ed Stinson’s spot.
DE/LB Adrian Hubbard
Positives: Combine junkie’s dream, quick first step, good repertoire of pass rush moves
Negatives: Can be exposed in coverage, consistency lacking, needs more bulk
Hubbard is the hardest Alabama prospect to figure. All bets are that he’ll test off the charts at the NFL combine, and the coaches have been figuring out ways to get him on the field ever since he arrived. Hubbard considered turning pro this year (he was a third-year sophomore in 2012) but ultimately – and wisely – opted to return for his junior season. The chances of him being a five-year player for Alabama are virtually nil, so the 2013 season will be critical for him in determining his draft position. With his expected combine numbers figured into the equation, look for Hubbard to go in the top half of the draft. For Hubbard to move up, he’ll need to have a strong 2013.
LB Trey DePriest
Positives: Solid in coverage, good measurables, smart player
Negatives: Isn’t a hole-filler, needs to be more aggressive
DePriest doesn’t have the reputation as a gap-filler like Nico Johnson was, and isn’t an elite coverage linebacker like C.J. Mosley is. He’s somewhere in the middle, but he figures to get more snaps this year than last to show what he can do. It’s fair to say DePriest hasn’t been the elite-level linebacker he was thought to be coming out of high school, but there’s still time. He needs to play more downhill and not be on his heels as much as he did at times in 2012. A strong 2013 season would likely mean DePriest gives strong consideration to coming out early. His range could be anywhere in the draft; the season is crucial.
S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix
Positives: NFL body, elite ballhawk skills, good speed
Negatives: Not a large body of work yet, rotated at position much of 2012
Clinton-Dix started the 2012 in modest fashion, but by the end of the year, was probably Alabama’s best safety. His effort against Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game thrust him into the spotlight, and now he might be the top safety available in this year’s draft. Such a meteoric rise is not necessarily a surprise for a player picked by some as the top high school senior in his signing class, but the way his Alabama career is accelerating is surprising even by a Saban-coached team’s standards. As for where he projects in the 2014 draft, it would be a shock to see Clinton-Dix slip below the second round, and it’s highly likely he’ll garner first-round attention.
Other defensive players: S Vinnie Sunseri, S Nick Perry (Sr.), S Jarrick Williams, CB John Fulton (Sr.), LB Tana Patrick (Sr.), LB/DE Anthony Orr, DE LaMichael Fanning
Of this group, Sunseri probably has the best shot, and even his chance is an outside one in 2014. Sunseri will in all likelihood be a four-year player at Alabama, unless he explodes in 2013. If Nick Perry has a season to match his A-Day Game performance, he could get into mid- to late-round consideration as a situational safety, but he needs to display better coverage skills in games before he gets much more consideration. Williams is rehabbing a knee injury, Orr has yet to crack the playing rotation and Fanning is just a redshirt sophomore who is probably the first man out of the top DL rotation at the moment. He’s almost certain to be back for the 2014 season. As for seniors John Fulton and Tana Patrick, draft day success looks unlikely at this point. Patrick is in competition with true sophomore Reggie Ragland for third linebacker duty. Fulton missed spring practice with injury, and watched as Cyrus Jones moved past him at cornerback. He’ll need to reclaim his job in the fall. If he does – and follows that up with a solid senior season – he has the size of an NFL cornerback, but needs to polish his overall game.