Alabama Football: 2015 Draft Could Be More of the Same for Crimson Tide
Potential is always a difficult thing to measure, which is why so many high school recruits don’t pan out at the collegiate level, and why so many college prospects fail to make a dent in the National Football League.
There are too many variables and possibilities to take into consideration while doing something like trying to guess how University of Alabama players might do in the 2015 NFL draft.
At best it’s a shot in the dark…
…but here’s taking one anyway.
While Alabama has numerous established seniors on the roster heading into the 2014 season, including linebacker Trey DePriest, nose tackle Brandon Ivory and wide receiver DeAndrew White, its best pro prospects for 2015 are juniors Amari Cooper and Landon Collins, with running back T.J Yeldon a solid third due to his position.
In his “way-too-early” mock draft for 2015 (with the disclaimer, "This mock draft should carry zero weight in the decision process for underclassmen after the season"), ESPN’s Todd McShay (subscription required) has Cooper second overall and Collins 10th, both to the Cleveland Browns. Mel Kiper Jr., on his too-early big board (subscription required), has Cooper sixth and Collins 20th.
So the super-early indications for 2015 are that Alabama will, like usual, have a couple of strong first-round possibilities assuming the upcoming season goes well, it continues to progress and has no major setbacks.
Otherwise there are roughly a dozen Crimson Tide players who are on NFL radars for next year. Although most would probably be considered Day 3 candidates (Rounds 4-7), Alabama could be looking at its fourth straight year of having eight or more draft picks.
They all have a long way to go, but here’s a position-by-position rundown.
Even if he has a huge year, at 6’0", 202 pounds, Blake Sims’ future is probably at another position if he wants to play in the NFL. Although teams are becoming more open to smaller quarterbacks, it’s primarily for players who post Johnny Manziel-like numbers.
Meanwhile, even though he has two years of eligibility remaining, Jacob Coker is 6’5" and already has his degree from Florida State. Nevertheless, Coker would need an outstanding season to be a top pick in 2015.
Either way, neither has even attempted a pass as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback, so they can't be considered NFL prospects yet.
The only Alabama running back for sure in next year’s draft is Jalston Fowler, who will also line up as a fullback and receiving tight end this season. That versatility can only help his chances.
However, no one would be surprised if T.J. Yeldon leaves a year early, especially if he becomes Alabama’s all-time leading rusher.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently called Yeldon an “immense talent” and one to watch this season: “The explosive scat-back has all of the tools to take Alabama's running game to another level in 2014. He is an electrifying runner with superb stop-start quickness and acceleration. Additionally, Yeldon flashes sneaky strength and power to run through arm tackles in the hole."
The prevailing thought in the NFL is to not take a running back in the first round, but Yeldon might have the potential to be an exception.
Even though Amari Cooper is only going into his junior year, all three of Alabama’s starting wide receivers are playing for the NFL this season.
Cooper appears poised to post his best numbers yet, while DeAndrew White and Christion Jones will both be seniors.
White is underrated and probably the Crimson Tide’s best blocking receiver, while Jones doubles as a return specialist.
The last time Alabama had two receivers taken in the same draft was 2002, when Jason McAddley and Freddie Milons were both fifth-round selections. The team's never had three selected in the same draft, which could be a real possibility.
“Playing for Alabama [helps],” Cooper said. “Any time you can play for a winning school, a school that's in the spotlight, and you are doing pretty well, you have a chance to get to the next level.”
Offensive Linemen/Tight Ends
Alabama won’t have a prize offensive line prospect that NFL teams covet for the early rounds, but could have three starters with the kind of size and experience that could get them selected.
Austin Shepherd (6’5", 315 pounds) started last season at right tackle and Arie Kouandjio (6'5", 315 pounds) was at left guard, but has significant knee issues. Leon Brown (6'6", 313 pounds) started one game last season and finished the spring at right guard.
Junior center Ryan Kelly doesn’t appear to be a flight risk.
Meanwhile, 6'7" tight end Brian Vogler has the height teams desire and has been trying to add weight to his frame and hopes to be more of a receiving threat this season.
Brandon Ivory is the only senior on the defensive line, but considering that Jesse Williams was a fifth-round pick in 2013, he’ll have to post better numbers to avoid being a late-round selection.
“I'm trying to improve my pass-rushing game and also playing the run, too, do different things, stunts and stuff like that,” he said during spring practices. “Mostly, it's pass-rushing.”
The 6’4", 310-pound Ivory had 24 tackles his first year as a starter, but just one-and-a-half for a loss and no sacks.
Two other players to watch if they have big seasons are junior college transfers Jarran Reed (6'4", 310 pounds) and D.J. Pettway (6'2", 255 pounds). Reed appeared to be making a serious bid to start at defensive end after lining up at defensive tackle last season at East Mississippi Community College.
By coming back for his senior year, Trey DePriest might have a great opportunity to improve his draft stock, which was probably in the middle rounds had he left early.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t quite hit him yet that he’s heading into his final year of eligibility.
“A little bit, it’s bittersweet, I guess, I don’t know,” the low-key linebacker said. “It’s no big deal though. Gotta graduate sometime, I guess.”
At 6'2", 245 pounds, anything DePriest does to demonstrate versatility will help, but he's deceptively quick, which NFL scouts likes.
Xzavier Dickson is also a senior, but needs to find a way back into the starting lineup. Among the juniors, Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee are both trying to crack the starting lineup, while Denzel Devall has yet to post numbers similar to Courtney Upshaw, a second-round pick in 2012.
The only seniors Alabama has in the secondary are safeties Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams, neither of whom may be an every-down player—although Williams was in on 40 tackles, including a sack, as the Crimson Tide’s nickelback and also contributed on special teams last season.
The good news for them is that with so many NFL teams adding spread elements, they’re always on the lookout for defensive backs.
As previously mentioned, safety Landon Collins is a potential top NFL prospect, but he still has to make the transition from contributor to position leader after the Crimson Tide lost Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri to the draft. This season he'll be challenged in ways he can't imagine yet.
“I guess just overwhelmed by everything,” Collins said at the start of spring practices in March. “Just ready to get out there and play, and just ready to lead our defense.”
Other juniors include safety Geno Smith and cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve. None is a likely candidate to jump early. Smith is competing with Perry for the starting free safety job, while Jones and Sylve are in the mix with numerous younger players.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.