At some point, probably in April of 2019, the exponential growth of University of Alabama NFL draft choices, which has been burgeoning annually like Amazon stock, will inevitably slow down. That doesn’t mean there will be a dip in on-field talent, just that the numbers — seven draft choices in 2016, 10 in 2017, 12 in 2018 — can’t keep growing at that rate because there are only so many players on a roster.
That doesn’t mean Alabama doesn’t have prospects for next year. In his first glance at 2019, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper lists two Crimson Tide players, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and offensive lineman Jonah Williams, among the Top 10 prospects. You don’t have to stretch too hard to find seven or eight future pros. That’s to say nothing of 2020, when the first of last year’s freshmen — the ones who took over the second half of the College Football Championship, if you recall — start to become eligible.
Any decline from this year’s high-water mark of 12 draftees will spawn the usual blogs predicting that the “dynasty is over.” A look at the roster doesn’t support that. Alabama moved past Tennessee and Penn State on the list of all-time draftees on Saturday night and will likely move past Michigan and Nebraska and into the Top Five (with USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma) in the next couple of years. It’s been a remarkable run when you consider that the 2008 Draft (after Nick Saban’s first year but before any of his recruits were eligible) featured no Alabama players at all. Zero. None.
The draftees started coming. For a time, there was a myth that NFL teams were wary of Alabama prospects, that somehow they’d been overworked or overrated. The sheer weight of numbers in recent years — both of pro stars and teams choosing UA players — has squashed that talk from all but the seriously uninformed.
Times change, and perception changes. For all the success that came in the 1970s under Paul “Bear” Bryant, and for the all-time pro greats like Ozzie Newsome, John Hannah and Dwight Stephenson who played on those teams, Alabama wasn’t consistently recruiting talent from across the nation in the way that Saban has done. To take a look at Crimson Tide history in another way: the 1992 Alabama defense, one of the great units ever and the foundation of a national championship, featured 10 future draftees. The 2016 Alabama defense, also a great unit despite missing the national title by one play, could ultimately have 20 draftees, a staggering number.
At this point, one wonders if Saban has created a perpetual-motion machine where the recruiting success fuels NFL Draft success, which in turn fuels more recruiting success and on into infinity. It’s an easy angle to take, except for one thing. Putting players in the pros does help recruiting. Alabama markets its program in that way, as do others. Now that college football is filled with Saban assistants in head coaching roles, some of those programs claim to have the same secret formula. The one thing worth pointing out, though, is that there’s more than one element to recruiting. If coaches stop working hard and expect a three-day draft to automatically procure five-star signees, the perpetual motion machine will grind to a halt.
That hard work is the fuel that makes the process work.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.