Five Alabama underclassmen are leaving early for the NFL.
Defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison made their announcements at a press conference on Thursday with running back Bo Scarbrough. Head coach Nick Saban confirmed that defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne would join them as well. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley made his announcement on Wednesday on social media.
“These guys have had outstanding careers here, winning two SEC championships and two national championships,” Saban said. “All these guys have made tremendous contributions to the team and the team success.”
Fitzpatrick is considered a lock to be drafted in the first round and is one of the nation’s top overall prospects. ESPN has him ranked as the No. 4 overall player in this year’s draft. He’s a three-year starter who has played corner, safety, and nickel extensively for the Crimson Tide.
Fitzpatrick is among the most decorated players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama. He won the 2017 Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back, and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in college football. He was a unanimous All-America selection and a unanimous choice for first-team All-SEC as a junior. He was also voted as a permanent team captain by his teammates.
“We’ve won two national championships together and I attended one of the greatest universities in the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was coached by one of the greatest coaches in the world.”
He finished this season with 60 tackles, fourth-most on the team, including eight tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He had one interception this season and eight pass breakups, finishing his career with nine total interceptions and 35 passes defended. He has also scored five touchdowns in his career, four on interceptions and one on a blocked punt.
He was named to the freshman All-SEC team in 2015, then was a first-team all-conference choice in 2016 and 2017.
Nearly every significant contributor to Alabama’s 2017 secondary is a senior or is expected to declare for the draft. Cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Anthony Averett are both seniors, as is safety Hootie Jones. Fitzpatrick and safety Harrison are both projected as high draft picks. Senior Tony Brown, who contributed in dime and late in the season following injuries, has also exhausted his eligibility.
Scarbrough, a Northport native, finishes his career with 1,512 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns on 267 carries. He had 124 carries for 596 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, a decline from his sophomore season when he had 125 carries for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He improved significantly as a receiver in 2017; Scarbrough had just four catches for 22 yards as a sophomore and none as a freshman but was second on the team with 17 receptions this season.
“I want to thank Coach Saban for putting me in the position I’m in and trying to help me in every way I could, helping me become a man on and off the field,” Scarbrough said.
His best stretch came late in the 2016 season, when he rushed for 454 yards and six touchdowns in Alabama’s final four games, including three in the postseason. Scarbrough was on pace for another strong performance in the national championship game against Clemson, but broke his leg and left the game.
Alabama’s backfield returns plenty of talent even with the loss of Scarbrough. Damien Harris will return for his senior season. Najee Harris and Brian Robinson will be sophomores, and change-of-pace back Josh Jacobs will be a junior.
Harrison said he received a second round grade and is considered one of the top safeties in the draft. ESPN ranks him as the No. 23 overall prospect for the 2018 draft and third at safety, behind teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James.
He was a first-team All-SEC choice by the media and a second-team pick by the league coaches this season. Harrison has started the last two seasons at safety for the Crimson Tide and been one of the defense’s most consistent contributors. He was tied for the team lead with 74 tackles as a junior and was second on the team with 86 tackles as a sophomore.
“After talking it over with my family and coaches, I’ve decided to enter the 2018 NFL draft,” Harrison said. “I want to thank my mom, my brother for all their support. I want to thank my teammates for making this so special the last few years. I want to thank Coach Saban especially.”
Harrison has seven career interceptions, scored two defensive touchdowns in his sophomore year and defended 24 passes in his career. He also had three sacks and seven career tackles for loss.
Payne is considered a potential first round pick and one of the top defensive linemen in the draft. He’s a two-year starter at nose guard and played heavily in Alabama’s defensive line rotation as a freshman. Payne was named defensive MVP of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl win over Clemson and its national championship win against Georgia.
He was also named first-team All-SEC by both the coaches and the media this season. He was a second-team All-America selection by the American Football Coaches Association.
He finished his senior season with 53 total tackles, one sack, one interception and eight quarterback hurries. He picked off Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant in the Sugar Bowl, then caught a one-yard touchdown pass on offense while playing fullback.
For his career, he has 102 tackles, including five tackles for loss, and three sacks.