Alabama has lost eight underclassmen to the NFL draft in the short College Football Playoff era.
In 2015, it was wide receiver Amari Cooper, safety Landon Collins and running back T.J. Yeldon. In 2016, it was running back Derrick Henry and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. And in 2017, it was cornerback Marlon Humphrey, offensive tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver ArDarius Stewart.
The Crimson Tide figure to have nine underclassmen who will consider leaving early for the 2018 draft. The nine already have won a national championship and could win another this season.
I could see at least five departing. That’s how many left Tuscaloosa after the 2013 season – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri, Cyrus Kouandjio, Adrian Hubbard and Jeoffrey Pagan. That’s the last time Alabama didn’t win the SEC before missing out on the title game this year.
So who should stay and who should go early this time?
S Minkah Fitzpatrick
2017 stats: 52 total tackles (33 solo), seven pass breakups, six TFLs, INT, FF, blocked kick.
Stay or go? Definitely go. Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe winner. Perhaps the top overall college player.
DT/NT Da’Ron Payne
2017 stats: 45 total tackles, eight quarterback hurries (leads Tide), fumble recovery.
Stay or go? Definitely go. Requires constant double-team. Plays high-demand position.
S Ronnie Harrison
2017 stats: 68 total tackles (39 solo), three interceptions (leads Tide in all three categories).
Stay or go? Should go. Plays with NFL mentality. Intense. Athletic. Sure tackler.
WR Calvin Ridley
2017 stats: 55 catches, 896 yards (leads Tide in both categories), three touchdowns.
Stay or go? Should go. He’ll turn 23 later this month. Proven. Will shine brighter with NFL quarterbacks.
RB Bo Scarbrough
2017 stats: 108 carries, 549 yards, eight touchdowns.
Stay or go? Go. Injury prone, but healthy now. NFL can watch second half of 2016 season to see him at his best.
RB Damien Harris
2017 stats: 110 carries, 906 yards (leads Tide), 11 touchdowns (leads Tide).
Stay or go? Go. Even if Scarbrough leaves, Harris will keep sharing carries with Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris, but that’s a good thing for the NFL. Has just 302 carries in three seasons. To put that in perspective, Derrick Henry had a single-season school-record 395 carries in his 2015 Heisman season.
G Ross Pierschbacher
2017 stats: Started first 10 games before suffering an ankle injury at Mississippi State. Missed one game.
Stay or go? Probably stay. Four-year junior. Has degree in hand, but don’t know how damaged his ankle is. He doesn’t need an injury to negatively impact draft stock.
G Lester Cotton Jr.
2017 stats: Started all 12 games after starting five last season.
Stay or go? Probably stay. Has solid upside, but could use another year as a starter.
OLB Anfernee Jennings
2017 stats: 36 total tackles, four quarterback hurries, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles (leads Tide).
Stay or go? Stay. Returned from ankle injury suffered in opener, but was inconsistent. A strong playoff run will set up the third-year sophomore for a big 2018 season.
Alabama has 21 seniors, with key ones being center Bradley Bozeman, punter JK Scott, linebackers Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton and defensive backs Hootie Jones, Levi Wallace, Anthony Averett and Tony Brown.
If all nine underclassmen turn pro, that’s 30 Tide players leaving. Again, some of the underclassmen will stay, but 2018 will be another season in which Alabama must replace a high number of key players.
That’s become the norm at Alabama, as has reeling in the top recruiting class. The Tide will reload, but have a tougher time making the playoff next season if five, or more, underclassmen leave.
(Duane Rankin is an award-winning columnist/videographer for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser whose work can also be found in USA TODAY. You can follow him on Twitter @DuaneRankin)
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