Alabama had four players taken in the first 26 picks of the National Football League Draft on Thursday night, starting with Minkah Fitzpatrick as the 11th overall selection by the Miami Dolphins.
Defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne was taken two picks later by the Washington Redskins, and linebacker Rashaan Evans went 22nd to the Tennessee Titans. Receiver Calvin Ridley was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 26th pick.
The Crimson Tide’s four selections was the most from any college, and marked the fourth time in head coach Nick Saban’s tenure that Alabama has had four players selected in the first round. UA had now had 26 players taken in the first round in the last 10 years, and 69 total players drafted in that span.
Fitzpatrick became the highest-selected Alabama defensive back since Dee Milliner went ninth overall in 2013.
Fitzpatrick was a three-year starter who played corner, safety, and nickel extensively for the Crimson Tide. He was among the most decorated players of the 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’s like a Swiss Army knife,” Chris Grier, general manager of the Dolphins, said in comments posted on the team’s website. “He does a lot of things really well. He gives the defense the chance to be flexible.
“He was a target player. He’s a unique kid. Unbelievably smart, loves football. He’s one of Nick Saban’s favorite players.”
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.
“I think Minkah is sort of a rare commodity in the fact that he’s such a gifted athlete and has such a great personality,” Saban said on ESPN on Wednesday morning. “He’s such a competitive guy that’s a pleasure to coach in everything that he does. He’s really an overachiever for a guy that’s a fantastic athlete. That’s a rare combination, I think, in this day and age.
“He has high goals and aspirations for what he wants to do, and I think he meets all the critical factors for what you look for in a DB. He’s a good tackler, he has great ball skills, can play man-to-man. I think he’s going to be a great player for someone.”
Payne was a two-year starter at nose guard and played heavily in Alabama’s defensive line rotation as a freshman. He and four teammates declared for the draft after their junior seasons in 2017.
Payne helped his stock with two forceful showings in Alabama’s 2017 postseason. He was named defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl against Clemson and the national championship game against Georgia.
Payne will join former Alabama teammates Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson on the Washington defense.
“I kind of had an idea that I was going to be a Redskin,” Payne told the team’s website. “… I took a trip up there and it just felt like home.
“I’m going to dominate that run. I do that for a living.”
He was named first-team All-SEC by both the coaches and the media this season and was a second-team All-America selection by the American Football Coaches Association.
The media chose Evans as a first-team All-SEC selection in 2017, while he received second-team honors from league coaches. The American Football Coaches Association named him a first-team All-American.
He was also one of four players chosen as a permanent team captain by his teammates.
Evans was tied with Ronnie Harrison for the team lead with 74 tackles this season despite missing two games to injury. He led Alabama with 13 tackles for loss and was second with 6.5 sacks. He also added one forced fumble, a fumble recovery, seven quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.
Evans talked to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who plays for the Titans.
“He actually called before the draft,” Evans told the team’s website. “I am just so excited to be part of such a great organization.
“When the Titans called me, my heart dropped. It feels amazing, man.”
Ridley became the third wide receiver who played for Saban at Alabama to be drafted in the first round, following Amari Cooper in 2015 and Julio Jones in 2011. He was the second wide receiver chosen in this year’s draft.
Saban compared Ridley to Drew Hill, a wide receiver for the Houston Oilers when Saban was an assistant there in the 1980s.
“Great coming out of the break, can really drop his weight and separate out of the break,” Saban said on ESPN on Wednesday morning. “I know some people look at his size and say ‘We like bigger guys’ and all that. This guy is really a hard-working, very dependable receiver. Great hands. Hard to cover man to man. And he’ll make critical catches in critical situations in the game.
“I think his speed and quickness is pretty unique. I think he’s going to be an outstanding player as well.”
Ridley finished his career as one of Alabama’s most productive receivers. He had 224 career receptions, second only to Cooper’s 228. He had 2,781 receiving yards, the third most in school history. His 19 receiving touchdowns are second only to Cooper in Alabama history. He caught at least one pass in all 44 career games at Alabama.
Ridley left Alabama after his junior season, but turned 23 years old in December. He’s closer in age to a senior or fifth-year player than an early entrant. He’ll turn 24 late during his rookie season in the NFL.
Tommy Deas contributed to this report.