How Alabama football is impacted by five early NFL Draft departures

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Thursday was a day months in the making: several Alabama football players turning team and individual success into declarations for the 2021 NFL Draft with eligibility remaining.

Quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive lineman Christian Barmore and cornerback Patrick Surtain II announced their decisions at a news conference Thursday afternoon, with inside linebacker Dylan Moses doing the same in an Instagram post shortly after.

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At most positions, Alabama has either an heir apparent or a deep crew of potential replacements.

Quarterback

Jones’ departure likely hands the torch to Bryce Young, who was widely considered a real challenger to Jones’ status as the starter going into the 2020 season.

11/21/20 MFB vs Kentucky
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9)
Photo by Crimson Tide Photo

Young’s flip in commitment from USC to Alabama brought the Crimson Tide the No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2020 and the No. 20 all-time in 247Sports’ rankings dating back to 1999. Young played sparingly behind Jones, completing 13 of his 22 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown, but was clearly ahead of Paul Tyson, who did not attempt a pass in 2020.

Provided he holds off Tyson and four-star signee Jalen Milroe, Young will be the starter. His skillset will be something for UA’s next offensive coordinator to take into consideration, given he is a far more mobile quarterback than Jones, to the point that he could feasibly be used as a running quarterback.

Wide receiver 

Waddle and the presumptive departure of DeVonta Smith would leave UA without two players responsible for 52.5% of its total receiving output. John Metchie III will have to play a big role in compensating for that production, and his 2020 gave him a good start in that direction. Despite playing alongside Smith, Metchie finished fourth in the SEC with 916 receiving yards.

Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III, left, congratulates wide receiver DeVonta Smith, after Smith scored a touchdown against Ohio State during the first half of an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Slade Bolden got some time in Waddle’s place in the slot, and UA turned to freshman Javon Baker and redshirt sophomore Xavier Williams for rotational reps. Alabama is also enrolling a class full of highly rated receivers with an opening to immediate playing time: five-star Jacorey Brooks and a trio of four-stars in Christian Leary, JoJo Earle and Agiye Hall.

Defensive line

Barmore’s announcement came hours after Phidarian Mathis declared he would return to UA, giving it a valuable presence at both defensive end and nose guard.

Nov 28, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama defensive lineman Tim Smith (50) hits Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

Barmore spent more time in 2020 than in 2019 at defensive end, a position of strength for UA with Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young and Mathis Manning, with the possibility that LaBryan Ray returns to help as well.

Where Barmore’s absence will be most missed is as an interior pass rusher. Tim Smith emerged into a bigger role later in his freshman season and has positioned himself best for such a role.

Inside linebacker

Christian Harris has played himself into veteran status as a starter over his first two seasons. Moses’ absence means someone with less experience will play alongside him, be it his 2019 co-starter Shane Lee, more recent backup Jaylen Moody or highly touted transfer Ale Kaho.

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Georgia running back James Cook (4) catches a pass which he ran in for a touchdown as Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (8) leaps but can't deflect the ball during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Lee may have started alongside Harris in 2019, but Moody has elevated himself on the depth chart. When Harris was injured on the first play of scrimmage in the Arkansas game, it was Moody who took Harris’ place, not Lee.

Kaho has been a valuable contributor on special teams, but he has yet to put it together as a linebacker.

Cornerback

Josh Jobe performed well in his first season as the starter, giving UA at least one good option. Ronald Williams could have been an option this season if not for a broken arm suffered late in the preseason.

Pinson Valley's Ga'Quincy McKinstry (1) rushes the ball into pressure. Spanish Fort and Pinson Valley squared off at the AHSAA Class 6A state championship game on Dec. 4, 2020 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Photo/Hannah Saad]

Jalyn Armour-Davis and Brandon Turnage were both reserve cornerbacks on last year’s team, but none will generate as much optimism as Ga’Quincy McKinstry, the five-star cornerback who is enrolling early to participate in spring practice.

Of the positions that lost players on Thursday, cornerback is the one with the least clear answer. Armour-Davis, Turnage, McKinstry and Jahquez Robinson are all valid options for the open starter position, among others.

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