Alabama football isn't immune to early exits to the NFL, but hasn't been devastated by them |Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

If this had been a normal year, Alabama football would look to have paid a relatively small toll in early exits, one of the prices that is extracted from every successful college program. The Crimson Tide had only three “3-and-done” players – talented prospects who spend three years on the roster before heading to the NFL – in defensive back Patrick Surtain II, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and defensive tackle Christian Barmore.

There were, technically, others who could have been awarded an extra year of eligibility because of NCAA's COVID-19 policy, including quarterback Mac Jones, but it’s hard to consider Jones or others who played as seniors by designation as early exits. 

The departures of Surtain and Waddle seemed certain almost from the day they signed with Alabama. Surtain had the NFL bloodlines, the requisite size, skill, speed and a maturity from the mentoring he received from his father, three-time All-Pro Patrick Surtain Sr. Not to mention the daily coaching from Alabama’s self-appointed “graduate assistant” in the defensive backfield, Nick Saban. Waddle didn’t have the same pedigree but had superior athletic ability that made his future clear. 

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The outlier was Barmore, who clearly has NFL ability but truly flashed it in Alabama’s postseason run. He will go high in the draft, but there have been questions on whether he is a “right prospect at the right time.” The 2021 draft class is short on strong interior pass rushers, always a scarce commodity. It’s also fair to wonder what Barmore would have done had he been at a program that didn’t make the CFP Playoff. Would he have opted out of a mid-tier bowl and entered the draft anyway, without the three games of stock-bolstering competition? Would that have been a wise move? 

No one who watched Alabama football on a regular basis failed to recognize that Barmore was a constant work in progress. It was hard to know what sort of competition he had in Philadelphia, a big city that isn’t exactly loaded with prospects in the way Texas or Florida are. He was a fan favorite for what he could do physically, blowing past blockers and getting to the quarterback on passing downs. Even among the clamor for more playing time, though, there was a recognition that, every so often, Barmore would be standing in the A-gap when the assignment called for him to be in the B-gap. It’s not something Saban would ever discuss publicly, and whatever evaluations he has given to peers in the NFL are done so with strict confidentiality.

Saban has talked in the past, most notably two years ago, about the financial ramifications facing players who leave too early and the difficulty in making up front-end value even if they make a team and have success. Ronnie Harrison and Mack Wilson are probably two examples. Barmore’s slide would have to be almost unprecedented for him to wind up in the fifth round like Wilson. He could use another year of seasoning, but if the market for interior defensive linemen buoys him into the first round, he is still far better off letting an NFL team pay him millions and solve whatever “resistance to coaching” issues might exist, if any. (A few million dollars can go a long way in overcoming that resistance.) 

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA;  Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) tackles Ohio State running back Master Teague III (33) during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

The flip side to that story may be Dylan Moses. Should the linebacker have dome back to Alabama for 2020, or entered the draft after missing an entire year, leaving teams in a tough medical quandary? Did he overcome his medical issues? What is the value of being a part of an undefeated national champion? Moses is unlikely to hear his name on Thursday night, but will be a fascinating watch on Friday night.

Alabama’s 2018 recruiting class was obviously strong. However, it wasn’t a year in which Alabama won a national recruiting title, according to most services. There are several top-100 national recruits coming back from that group: defensive ends Eyobi Anoma and Stephon Wynn, defensive backs Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe and center Emil Ekayor. All have a chance to enhance their status in 2021. Alabama will say goodbye to many players on Thursday night, many of whom did just that in 2020.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt