The deadline for underclassmen to enter the 2019 NFL draft passed on Monday, leaving a clearer picture of what talent will return to Tuscaloosa this coming fall. While there could still be some standard roster changes in the offseason, here’s a first look at how much production Alabama loses and returns from the 2018 season in different phases of the game.
“Starts” as a statistic should only be considered as a big-picture measurement, because it often leaves out how much some key players contributed. For example, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs combined for one start in 2018 despite splitting time almost equally with Damien Harris. Alabama returns a healthy amount of experience from the 2018 season, but will still have questions to address during this offseason.
Presuming that Jalen Hurts follows through on the steps he’s taken to transfer, redshirt sophomore Mac Jones should back up Tua Tagovailoa in 2019. Tagovailoa should start the season in the Heisman discussion once again after breaking nearly every Alabama single-season passing record in 2018.
Senior Damien Harris, with more than 3,000 career rushing yards, departs the program. Josh Jacobs leaves early for the NFL after a strong junior season. Najee Harris posted 117 carries for 783 yards as a sophomore and he’ll return with Tuscaloosa native Brian Robinson. But the running back room will look very different in 2019.
Yes, Alabama brings back its top four wide receivers from 2018. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle will be key pieces to the offense in 2019. Losing both Hale Hentges and Irv Smith Jr. at tight end leaves a gap in experience at that position, though. Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs also accounted for 451 of the 458 receiving yards by Alabama running backs last season as well.
OFFENSIVE LINE STARTS
Left tackle Jonah Williams started all 44 games in the last three seasons, while center Ross Pierschbacher was a four-year starter with 57 starts under his belt. Lester Cotton Sr. started 10 of the 15 games in 2018 as well. The good news is that right tackle Jedrick Wills and right guard Alex Leatherwood will provide continuity. Deonte Brown should be back as well, though he may miss some early games. Matt Womack didn’t start in 2018 but started all 14 games at right tackle in 2017 and could be a factor again as a senior.
The late departures for the NFL draft might hurt Alabama the most. Mack Wilson, who started all 15 games, played nearly every snap with the first team defense in 2018. Safety Deionte Thompson also started all 15 games. Having those players return for 2019 would have changed the complexion of the depth chart entering spring practice and fall.
Sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses led the team with 86 tackles, and he’ll be back. Among 13 players with 30 more tackles in 2018, seven will return while six have exhausted their eligibility or headed to the NFL.
TACKLES FOR LOSS
Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams burst on the scene to lead the team and rank second in the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt sophomore. Anfernee Jennings was second on the team with 14 on the season, quietly doing an excellent job of setting the edge for the defense.
The top three players in sacks from 2018 will all be gone when 2019 begins: Isaiah Buggs (9.5), Christian Miller (8.5) and Quinnen Williams (7.0). Anfernee Jennings had 6.5, most of any returning player. A big senior season from Raekwon Davis, who had 8.5 sacks as a sophomore but 1.5 sacks this season, would bolster the pass rush.
Despite losing Deionte Thompson and Saivion Smith from the secondary, Alabama’s defensive backfield should be strong again. Trevon Diggs had an interception and six passes broken up in just six games. Shyheim Carter played well at star with two interceptions and 10 passes broken up. Jennings posted a team-best 11 passes broken up with one interception as well.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.