Alabama Football: Who Is Replacing Every Former Tider Taken in 2014 NFL Draft?
With eight former Alabama stars finding new homes in the NFL over the weekend, the 2014 NFL draft once again served as a showcase for Nick Saban’s program and its ability to develop talent.
Its become an annual challenge for Saban and his staff to reload the roster quickly in an effort to replace NFL-bound stars every season.
On offense, replacing star quarterback AJ McCarron and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio take precedent. On the other side of the ball, sizable voids to fill include those left by linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Which players will be stepping into the positions vacated by former Tide stars taken in the draft?
Reggie Ragland (replacing C.J. Mosley)
C.J. Mosley departs after being the heart and soul of the Tide’s defense for each of the past two seasons. He was rewarded for his efforts by becoming the first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens.
Perhaps more so than his production, Mosley’s position as an unquestioned leader will also leave an enormous hole for his successor to fill.
After a solid spring and a strong showing in the spring game, junior Reggie Ragland enters the summer as the front-runner to fill Mosley’s old spot.
The 6’2”, 259-pounder flashed his coverage skills by intercepting a pass in the A-Day game, and the Tide will need a player who can excel at sticking with receivers and tight ends considering Mosley’s elite skills against the pass.
Landon Collins (replacing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had big shoes to fill in replacing Mark Barron, but the former 5-star recruit blossomed after spending his freshman season learning from the former All-American and first-round draft choice. Clinton-Dix followed in Barron’s footsteps by becoming a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers.
That scenario is on the verge of repeating itself, with former 5-star recruit Landon Collins stepping up to become the leader of the Tide’s secondary.
After Vinnie Sunseri suffered a torn ACL early in the season and Clinton-Dix missed games due to injuries and a suspension, Collins thrived with increased reps and responsibilities.
The rising junior finished second on the team in tackles with 69 and recorded six pass breakups with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
With that experience under his belt, expect him to take the next step forward in becoming one of the most dominant safeties in the nation this fall.
Cameron Robinson (replacing Cyrus Kouandjio)
Arguably the most important position on the offensive line is left tackle because it entails protecting the quarterback’s blind side. With Cyrus Kouandjio—who was taken in the second round by the Buffalo Bills—departing a year early, that importance is magnified considering the Tide will have new players at both left tackle and quarterback.
After a spring filled with experiments, true freshman Cameron Robinson—a 5-star recruit considered the crown jewel of the Tide’s top-ranked 2014 recruiting class—is in good position to win the job entering fall camp.
As noted by Marc Torrence of BamaOnLine, Saban realizes the challenges of inserting Robinson into the lineup this early.
I think Cam is going to be a work in progress. He’s a very talented guy, and he made some mistakes today. For example, we threw a screen, he blocked the wrong guy, and because he blocked the wrong guy, the screen got intercepted and run back for a touchdown. But I think all those things are learning opportunities. Everyone talks about experience, but how do you get experience? You get experience by making mistakes. We need for him to learn from those mistakes, which he will, and he’ll develop and improve.
While entrusting a true freshman to start in a conference as physical as the SEC can be risky, Robinson—who checks in at 6’7”, 335 pounds—has the talent and skill set necessary to be the rare specimen capable of starting immediately.
DeAndrew White (replacing Kevin Norwood)
Kevin Norwood may not leave Alabama with the fanfare of former Tide star Julio Jones, but his penchant for stepping up and playing at an elite level in big games is a quality that will be missed. The defending world champion Seattle Seahawks selected Norwood in the fourth round.
However, wide receiver may be the deepest segment on the roster. While rising junior Amari Cooper remains the go-to receiver for the Tide, seniors Christion Jones and DeAndrew White are capable receivers who have plenty of experience.
White, in particular, had a strong season just one year after suffering a torn ACL. The Texas native hauled in 32 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
After deciding to come back for his senior season, White is primed to lock down the outside receiver spot opposite Cooper.
A'Shawn Robinson (replacing Ed Stinson)
Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will be looking to replace both of the starting defensive ends from a year ago.
Filling the shoes of Ed Stinson, who started for most of the past three seasons, will be the biggest chore. Stinson was selected in the fifth round by the Arizona Cardinals.
However, what the Tide’s group of defensive ends lack in experience, they make up for in pure talent.
After a standout freshman campaign, rising sophomore defensive end A’Shawn Robinson appears ready to emerge as one of nation’s best defensive linemen.
Robinson racked up 38 tackles, including eight for loss and a team-leading 5.5 sacks a year ago. With his role figuring to increase significantly, expect those numbers to rise this fall.
Jacob Coker (replacing AJ McCarron)
One of the biggest storylines of the Tide’s spring practices was the derby competition involving five passers hoping to get a leg up on the quarterback job vacated by AJ McCarron—who was chosen in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the likes of Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman battled it out, a lethargic spring game performance from the entire segment once again cast the spotlight on incoming Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
Coker, who enrolled at Alabama earlier this month, played at the same high school as McCarron and spent last season backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
The 6’5”, 230-pound Coker has all of the physical tools necessary to become an elite passer. With the Tide’s need for someone to step up and assert themselves as the front-runner, the door is wide open for Coker to seize the opportunity and earn the job in fall camp.
Geno Smith (replacing Vinnie Sunseri)
After suffering a torn ACL early in the 2013 season, safety Vinnie Sunseri seemed like a lock to return to school for his senior season.
However, Sunseri had other ideas and instead chose to enter the NFL draft. The Saints selected him in the fifth round.
Sunseri’s departure hurts the depth and experience at safety. With Landon Collins sliding into one spot, junior Geno Smith, who has also played corner during his career, has the inside track to land the other safety spot.
Even though he performed well in the spring, Smith is still relatively inexperienced, which means he may endure a few growing pains before settling into his comfort zone.
Jonathan Allen (replacing Jeoffrey Pagan)
Of the Tide’s string of departures, the early declaration of two juniors—defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan and safety Vinnie Sunseri—came as a surprise to the Tide’s coaches and fanbase.
Despite an average junior campaign—his only season as a starter—Pagan was selected in the sixth round by the Texans.
Rising sophomore Jonathan Allen, who, along with Robinson, earned valuable playing time last season, was the star of the spring game racking up two sacks.
The former 5-star recruit will play a big role in helping the defensive line get more athletic and be more aggressive as pass-rushers.
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