Which Alabama football players stand to boost their NFL draft stock the most at Senior Bowl?

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Senior Bowl practice began Monday, bringing with it an opportunity for five Alabama players to improve their draft stock with their play: plus wide receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson in town for meetings with NFL franchises.

As those players begin their post-Alabama football careers, some have more at stake than others.

Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood may be the one with the most to gain, trying to break into the first round of a crowded class of tackles. Most draft projections have Oregon’s Penei Sewell as a top-10 pick, in almost all cases the first tackle off the board, with Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater taken not long after him, but there is little consensus beyond that.

Leatherwood is in a group with Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield and BYU’s Brady Christensen as tackles who could see their names called in the first round.

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA;  Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) shows off the championship trophy to his teammates after Alabama defeated Ohio State 52-24 to win the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Currently, Leatherwood is not in the first round as most recently projected by Sporting News, The Athletic, Daniel Jeremiah of or Seth Galina of Pro Football Focus. A strong showing in Senior Bowl week could change that, given all draft projections have several tackles going in the first round, and Leatherwood could become one of them if he improves his stock.

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Quarterback Mac Jones, a late addition to the roster, is in Mobile in hopes of solidifying himself in the first round. Most projections have Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 overall pick with BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance all in the first round. Jones would have to make a compelling case to hear his name called in the first round after those four, considering only once in the last 15 years have five quarterbacks been drafted in the first round.

Jones is widely projected as a first-rounder — No. 15 overall by Galina, No. 19 overall by Sporting News and No. 24 overall by The Athletic — and his Senior Bowl performance could help him lock that status or cast it into question.

Another UA player vying for the first round is Najee Harris, fighting the NFL’s recent move away from drafting running backs in the first round. Harris’ primary competition for the first running back off the board, Clemson’ Travis Etienne and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, are not joining him in Mobile, granting him a window of opportunity to push ahead of them. There are competent threats alongside Harris in the Senior Bowl, including Kylin Hill (Mississippi State), Larry Rountree III (Missouri), Michael Carter (North Carolina) and Trey Sermon (Ohio State).

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Smith is already seen as a top-10 prospect by most draft projections but is in a unique position to put himself even higher in that top 10: the Miami Dolphins, owners of the No. 3 pick, are one of the two NFL staffs coaching the Senior Bowl, and are likely to be looking for perimeter playmakers to support former UA quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins coaches will have ample opportunity to be in Smith’s presence during the week, even if they won’t see him on the field.

Offensive lineman Deonte Brown will be looking to improve his mid- to late-rounds projection, while long snapper Thomas Fletcher tries to thread a narrow needle, since exactly one long snapper has been drafted in each of the last six NFL drafts.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson