Four Alabama football players entering NFL Draft early, but Crimson Tide has replacements ready

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Four Alabama football players announced Thursday that they will be passing on remaining years of eligibility to enter the 2021 NFL Draft early: quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive lineman Christian Barmore and cornerback Patrick Surtain II. All have been projected as first-round picks in recent weeks.

Jones worked for three years to become Alabama’s starting quarterback and only needed one season in the job to launch a professional career. He passed for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns, finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting.

Those numbers were good enough for first in school history in single-season passing yards and second in single-season touchdown passes.

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Jones’ departure opens the door for five-star freshman Bryce Young to take over as starting quarterback. He was Jones’ backup in 2020, completing 13 of 22 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. UA is also adding four-star recruit Jalen Milroe to its quarterback room, which includes Paul Tyson, a redshirt freshman in the 2020 season.

Through injury and preexisting depth, Waddle never got to experience the full breakout season that was projected. Playing behind Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith for his first two seasons, he averaged just 2.7 receptions per game. Waddle was on his way to that breakout as a junior before the ankle injury.

Waddle should be a highly-sought draft prospect with help from his kick and punt returning expertise, particularly after the 2019 season in which he was unquestionably the best punt returner in the nation. He added a kickoff return for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl for good measure.

While Waddle played in the slot and outside, a great deal of his value came from the slot. Slade Bolden is the heir apparent, but UA will have other options in the slot, such as Xavier Williams as a bigger alternative and some of the incoming freshmen, including Christian Leary.

In Barmore, UA is losing a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman to the NFL Draft for the second time in three years.

Barmore is leaving early after producing 9½ tackles for loss and eight sacks, most of which came in the final six games  when he broke out to earn All-SEC honors and become a third-team All-American.

Barmore was primarily an interior defensive lineman in his first two seasons but played some defensive end in 2020.

Barmore’s departure opens the pathway to more playing time for freshmen Tim Smith and Jamil Burroughs, who saw varying degrees of rotational work in the 2020 season. Freshman Jah’Marien Latham is also an option, in addition to incoming signees Anquin Barnes, Tim Keenan, Monkell Goodwine and Damon Payne.

Surtain leaves UA in the top 10 in career pass breakups with 27, having been a consistent starter for nearly his entire career.

In Surtain’s absence, UA will need a second corner to start alongside Josh Jobe. A pair of sophomores, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Marcus Banks, were the backup cornerbacks this season, but that was with junior college cornerback Ronald Williams Jr. suffering a broken arm in the preseason. Those three will be factors in the competition, in addition to five-star freshman Ga’Quincy McKinstry, an early enrollee.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson