With the window now closed, the University of Alabama lost six football players to the 2020 NFL Draft early.
The deadline to enter the Draft was Monday, with the NFL sending a list of players available for selection to its franchises on Tuesday. The Alabama players entering that pool early are quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr., outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and safety Xavier McKinney. The returnees are running back Najee Harris, wide receiver DeVonta Smith, offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood and linebacker Dylan Moses.
The return of Leatherwood but departure of Wills gives UA one starting offensive line spot to fill, with Leatherwood alongside interior returners Evan Neal, Landon Dickerson and Deonte Brown. Dickerson has a track record of positional versatility and Neal is projected to have the same, so one of them could fill the vacancy at right tackle created by Wills. If it is one of them moving out from guard or center to tackle, Emil Ekiyor Jr. gained some experience in 2019 at guard and practiced some at center, and the coaching staff thinks highly of backup center Darrian Dalcourt.
Tagovailoa’s departure naturally brings up a quarterback battle among his backup, Mac Jones, and his younger brother, Taulia Tagovailoa. Five-star early enrollee Bryce Young will also be a factor in the competition, but Jones’ experience from 2019 and overall admirable performance gives him a head start going into spring practice.
“With his confidence, that has built, in my opinion, throughout the year with Mac,” UA offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “I think the confidence in his teammates for him has grown. I think the receivers, the offensive line, all of a sudden those guys see No. 10 going in there and making throws — making throws against Auburn where guys are breathing down his face at critical moments on third down, getting conversions. I think that’s where he’s grown. I think he’s translated the practice to the game, built his own confidence and then, in turn, that’s built the confidence in his teammates in him as well.”
Safety and outside linebacker also take heavy losses, due to both early entrants to the Draft and graduation. Lewis is leaving early alongside the graduation of senior Anfernee Jennings, forcing UA to replace both starting outside linebackers. McKinney’s early departure times up with the end of eligibility for both Jared Mayden and Shyheim Carter, leaving UA to replace two starting safeties and its Star.
Christopher Allen spent some time at outside linebacker in Lewis’ place and Jordan Battle got some time at safety in certain packages, putting both in an advantageous position to see increases in their roles in 2020.
Running back will be in no such situation thanks to Harris’ return. Harris returns with UA’s career rushing record in striking distance, after setting the school record for single-season receiving touchdowns by a running back. UA also retains its No. 2 back, Brian Robinson Jr., and the player that could have competed with Robinson for those reps, Trey Sanders. Keilan Robinson also returns after 39 carries in 2019 and will be joined by three freshmen in UA’s 2020 recruiting class: Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Kyle Edwards.
Smith and Jaylen Waddle give UA a strong core to its wide receiver group, and several options for a replacement for Jeudy: John Metchie III, Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams, primarily.
Moses’ return at inside linebacker — along with Joshua McMillon’s decision to use his medical hardship waiver to play in 2020 — gives UA a much more experienced inside linebacker group than it had in 2019. Moses and McMillon both suffering season-ending knee injuries forced freshmen Shane Lee and Christian Harris into starting roles, but Moses will be a redshirt senior in 2020 and McMillon will be a sixth-year senior.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson