Next Year’s Draft Haul Could Eclipse 2017 Numbers

Nov 21, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Daron Payne (94) and linebacker Denzel Devall (30) wrap up Charleston Southern Buccaneers running back Darius Hammond (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; defensive lineman (94) and linebacker (30) wrap up Charleston Southern Buccaneers running back Darius Hammond (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

TideFansBy Jess Nicholas |  @TideFansJessN
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
April 30, 2017

Alabama wrapped up the 2017 in impressive fashion, as 10 Crimson Tide players found new homes. An 11th, wide receiver Gehrig Dieter, quickly signed a free-agent contract within an hour of the draft’s close.

By the time the 2018 class is in the books, the 2017 class could look rather ho-hum in comparison.

It’s no accident that Alabama is on most prognosticators’ short lists for the College Football Playoff this upcoming season. If results follow talent, it’s easy to see why the Crimson Tide keeps coming up in those discussions.

Here’s a brief look ahead to the 2018 and where Alabama players – a total of 15 if TideFans.com gets it right – are projected to go at this time:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Players in their final year: Da’Shawn Hand, Jamar King, Joshua Frazier

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: Isaiah Buggs, Da’Ron Payne, Johnny Dwight, O.J. Smith

Analysis: The pearl of this group – if not the top Alabama player who will be available next year – is Da’Ron Payne, who could be a top-five pick if he has a particularly strong season. Payne figures to play all over the line for Alabama, but his primary position will be in the middle. It’s hard sometimes for interior defensive tackles to get noticed, with the money typically flowing to the pass-rushing defensive ends. For that reason, senior Da’Shawn Hand and JUCO signee Isaiah Buggs have both the most pressure on them and the most opportunity if they come through. Hand has played a key role as a reserve but to be fair, has not lived up to the potential assigned to him coming out of high school. Buggs will be asked to replace , who went shooting up draft boards in April and eventually landed in the second round. Buggs would need an especially strong year to justify coming out a year early. The rest of this group are long shots. Only Joshua Frazier has played enough to warrant attention, but he ended the spring running third-team. Keep an eye on Jamar King, who did next to nothing in his first year out of JUCO but started for the second unit at A-Day and tested off the charts at Alabama’s Pro Day event.

Projected to be picked: 3. Payne (R1), Hand (R3-R5), Buggs (R2-R3)

LINEBACKERS

Players in their final year: Rashaan Evans,

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: Keith Holcombe, Christian Miller, Jamey Mosley

Analysis: None of the underclassmen look ready, although Christian Miller emerged in the spring and has the measurables NFL teams like. With a strong year, he could attract attention, but he has a long way to go. As much of a longshot as the underclassmen are, the upperclassmen are both locks as long as they stay healthy. Shaun Dion Hamilton was step-for-step with last year in regards to impact plays until he suffered a torn ACL against Florida. Hamilton lacks Foster’s freakish athleticism but makes up for it in technique and field smarts. By comparison, there’s nothing wrong with Evans’ intelligence, but once NFL teams see how well he tests, they might not care whether Evans is the next Albert Einstein or whether he has rocks in his head. Evans has unbelievable speed and quickness, can play inside or out, and he put on substantial weight over the offseason while keeping his athletic ability. If he shows he has put behind him the tendency to overrun plays in the running game, he could be a first-rounder. Hamilton will have to prove he’s healthy and then on top of that prove that he is capable of being a playmaker without being a prototype.

Projected to be picked: 2. Evans (R1-R2), Hamilton (R3-R4)

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Players in their final year: Anthony Averett, Tony Brown, Levi Wallace, Laurence Jones

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: ,

Analysis: This group is all over the map, and no one has all the tools for the respective position he plays. The closest match of skill to fit is Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will likely line up as a strong safety this fall. Fitzpatrick is at his best when he can sit back and read the eyes of the quarterback, and he loves to bait. He has excelled in Alabama’s nickel safety position (Star) his first two years, but with Laurence Jones slow to make a move for the starting job at strong safety and Deionte Thompson dealing with an arrest for assault, Fitzpatrick will probably have to play strong safety by default. There’s a chance Alabama could slide him over to left cornerback, but Fitzpatrick isn’t a cornerback on the next level. He simply doesn’t have the speed for the position at the NFL level, and his willingness to bait quarterbacks and play games on the route means he also gets burned at higher frequency. His draft grade has wider variance than any other Alabama player, from high in the first round all the way down to third round depending on the fit. As for the rest of the group, Ronnie Harrison is an old-school hammerhead, which is falling out of favor in an NFL that is becoming a pure passing league and is now asking its safeties to be as coverage-adept as its cornerbacks. Harrison’s top-end speed is a question. Jones isn’t ready. At corner, Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace are both technical marvels. Wallace actually has more length, but isn’t as big, and the coaches have been reticent to start the former walk-on, preferring to work on sophomore as a project thus far in 2017. Averett will get a shot at the next level but his lack of pure size is going to knock him down a few rounds. The most intriguing name in the bunch is physical freakshow Tony Brown, who has track speed and aggressiveness to spare, but lacks technique. If the 2018 draft was tomorrow, Brown would get a 6th/7th-round call just off measurements alone. He’ll be a Combine sensation, but it looks like he’ll only play Star safety this fall and that might not be enough to get him blipping the radar screens.

Projected to be picked: 4. Fitzpatrick (R1-R2), Harrison (R3-R4), Averett (R5-R6), Brown (R5-R7)

QUARTERBACKS/RUNNING BACKS

Players in their final year: None

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: , Damien Harris

Analysis: How highly Bo Scarbrough gets picked may come down to how well Derrick Henry continues to progress with the Tennessee Titans. Many NFL teams were skeptical that a back of Henry’s size could be a featured runner in a modern NFL system, and the same concerns will be applied to Scarbrough, who has the added baggage of multiple injuries along with the propensity to keep collecting them. So, too, does Damien Harris, although not to the extent that Scarbrough does. Scarbrough’s college resume so far is thin, and with Alabama having six quality running backs on the team this fall, the question of how to divide carries is a legitimate one. That particular quandary might even send one of these backs back to Tuscaloosa for his senior year – and if that happens, barring injury, it would almost certainly be Harris that returned. Scarbrough is said to be ready to test NFL waters already.

Projected to be picked: 1. Scarbrough (R3-R5)

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

Players in their final year: ,

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: , Hale Hentges, Derek Kief, Xavian Marks, Ronnie Clark

Analysis: If Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t have the widest possible range of landing spots, the honor falls to Calvin Ridley. Ridley has been mocked anywhere from a top-five pick all the way to out of the first round. The issue is how closely Ridley compares to former Tide star Amari Cooper. Ridley certainly has Cooper’s speed, makeup and gamebreaking ability, but he’s not as tall or thick. Smaller receivers like Ridley tend to start coming off the board in the second and third rounds, but with ArDarius Stewart choosing to go early to the NFL, Ridley will be the unquestioned leader of the Tide’s wide receiver unit and get most of the first-option balls. The question for the two senior receivers, Robert Foster and Cameron Sims, is how involved true freshman Jerry Jeudy will be in the offense. If A-Day was any indication, one of the senior receivers is going to sit. Foster has the best combination of size and speed on the team, but he is also injury-prone and more or less missed being in the playing rotation last year due to conflict with one or more assistant coaches. Time has run out now, so he either has to prove things have changed or be relegated to the “What Might Have Been” file. Sims is potentially Alabama’s most physical receiver, but he, too, has been unable to stay out of the doctor’s office. However, receivers with his kind of speed who stand nearly 6’6” don’t grow on trees, and provided he’s able to so much as walk under his own power at the end of the 2017-2018 season, some NFL team is going to give him a call. None of the underclassmen aside from Ridley would seem to have a shot at coming out early.

Projected to be picked: 3. Ridley (R1-R2), Foster (R2-R5), Sims (R5-R7)

OFFENSIVE LINE

Players in their final year: , J.C. Hassenauer

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: Lester Cotton, , Josh Casher, Dallas Warmack, Matt Womack, Elliot Baker, Brandon Kennedy, Richie Petitbon

Analysis: Unless Ross Pierschbacher has an awakening on a level consummate with Robert DeNiro in the movie by that same name, the only underclassman who could even consider coming out early is Lester Cotton. Cotton appears set to start at either right guard or right tackle in the fall, depending on the performances of other players at those two positions. Pierschbacher, who will draw the left guard assignment, is entering his third year as a starter but probably needs to extend his Alabama career into 2018. None of the others are even close to ready. Cotton has gotten auditions at right tackle and both left and right guard in the past, and appeared to be significantly improved in the spring. As for Alabama’s seniors, if Bradley Bozeman starts, J.C. Hassenauer won’t, as both play center. As the NFL continues to put more emphasis on versatility – and has somewhat turned the concept of a swing lineman into a de facto sixth-man starting position, Bozeman’s draft value goes up. He has played guard and tackle at times for Alabama in the past, and is entering his third year of starting in some capacity. Bozeman isn’t a technician-type center in the mold of Ryan Kelly, but his aggressive demeanor and blue-collar outlook mean he’s almost a lock to be drafted at some point in the middle to late rounds.

Projected to be picked: 1. Bozeman (R4-R6)

KICKERS/PUNTERS

Players in their final year: Andy Pappanastos, J.K. Scott

Underclassmen who will be draft-eligible if they declare: None

Analysis: This comes down to Scott, who has been a Ray Guy finalist in the past (and should have won the award, quite frankly). Everyone by now knows what he’s able to do as a punter. For 2017, he may add kicking to his resume. It would certainly seem he’s in line to handle kickoffs and long field goals at the moment, unless Joseph Bulovas comes to camp in the fall and snatches the job from him. That kind of versatility would endear Scott to NFL teams looking to maximize roster spots. There was briefly some question as to whether Scott would declare for the Draft in 2017, given the weak class of kickers and punters this year. In a typical year, four to five kickers and punters are drafted, some even in the bottom of Round 1 or the top of Round 2. To get that high, there has to be the perfect convergence of an uncommonly good prospect, a team with a dire need at kicker or punter (but a solid enough roster otherwise that it can afford to spend an early pick on a specialist), and an owner or general manager just crazy enough to order the pick to go through. More frequently, the first kickers start coming off the board in Rounds 3 and 4, which is where Scott will most likely land.

Projected to be picked: 1. Scott (R2-R5)

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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