Which Former Alabama Players in the Draft Could NFL Teams Build Around??

All Things CW takes a different look at Alabama's players in the NFL Draft, identifies who has the most to gain during Pro Day, and notes another group that deserves praise for getting through the pandemic
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The NFL draft can always turn on a dime, with each pick having the potential to dramatically alter the future of both every player and franchise. 

It's unpredictable nature will especially come into play this year, as not having a combine will likely result in fewer consensus opinions, never mind things like the Senior Bowl being the only all-star game this year plus the FCS season currently being played and going into the spring.  

But that's all on top of teams, coaches and front-office officials having different philosophies on how to build their rosters. 

Some organizations always enter the draft with a take-the-best-player approach regardless of the team needs. Ozzie Newsome was especially known for this as the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens.  

For example, in 2001, the Ravens took Arizona State tight end Todd Heap with the 31st pick in the draft even though Baltimore already had Pro Bowler Shannon Sharpe on the roster. Part of the thinking was that the matchups would only be tougher to try and defend, and things would eventually work out in terms of contracts. Sure enough, Sharpe left in free agency in 2002. 

When Al Davis was alive, the Raiders had the philosophy that the team should be built around the cornerback, as the shut-down talents were the hardest to find. They're arguably even more valuable now with teams constantly in nickel and dime packages. 

The list of those who believe the quarterback is the key is too long to include here. More coaches and general managers are fired over decisions at this one position than all the others combined. They can survive making a mistake at a position like linebacker or wide receiver, but most can't if the quarterback doesn't pan out.

With all that in mind, I recently asked Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. if he had a brand new team and could select one former Alabama player in this draft class to set the foundation, who would it be?

Maybe DeVonta Smith, whom he calls the best overall talent? Patrick Surtain II? Mac Jones? 

Nope. 

"This might surprise people, but I think I would take Alex Leatherwood," Mora said. 

"I believe in that you have to protect your quarterback. I think he's a guy who has the size, the athleticism, the toughness, the grit, all the things I think he needs to be a really good left tackle. I think he has to work on his footwork a little bit. 

"But you have to have a great left tackle. Great left tackles and guys who are built like him play forever, they play 15 years. You can have a great quarterback, but if you can't protect him it's really difficult."

Mora's buying in that Leatherwood will be a left tackle at the next level, but there's a lot of talk that many teams view him as more of a guard moving forward.

It mostly comes down to two things, size and footwork. 

As for the first, Leatherwood has good size for an NFL left tackle, but not great.

  • Height: 6’5 1/8
  • Weight: 312 pounds
  • Wingspan: 85 3/8
  • Arm: 34 3/8
  • Hand: 9 1/2

He also doesn't have the power of say teammate Deonte Brown. Instead, he's relied more on his length up to this point.

Combined with his footwork, edge rushers have been a problem at times, thus the calls for Leatherwood to be a guard — which would likely drop him to the second- or third-round in the draft. 

The good news for Leatherwood is he can add more weight, and strength, plus the Outland Trophy winner for best interior lineman showed at the Senior Bowl that he can quickly learn and adjust. 

He and linebacker Dylan Moses, who didn't quite look the same last season coming off knee surgery, have the most to prove at Alabama's upcoming pro day for NFL scouts and team officials on March 23.

But that's how important left tackle is in the NFL. It's a cornerstone position, and Alabama has a few guys in this year's draft who can fill those kinds of roles. 

"You might ask me that question again in 10 minutes and I might change my mind," Mora said. 

Pro Day 

It'll be interesting to see how many former Alabama players participate in the traditional combine-like drills on pro day.  

Most of those vying to be selected figure to attend, but there probably won't be much incentive for the top players to do a lot outside of interviews and select events. 

Alabama played 13 games, including a 10-game SEC regular season, so there's plenty of film against top competition. Jones and running back Najee Harris participated in Senior Bowl practices, while center/offensive lineman Landon Dickerson is coming off a knee injury. 

It would be a lot of fun to see Jaylen Waddle and Smith run the 40-yard dash, but otherwise there's little to be gained out of doing so. Waddle is still coming off an ankle injury, and Smith is at the point that he can probably only hurt, and not help, his draft stock.  

Moreover, teams are relying less and less on drills like the 40-yard dash. Instead, they can just ask for the Crimson Tide's analytical information, including how fast players have run during games. 

“GPS stuff is going to be big this year because we haven't had as much verified numbers, and talking to some teams around the league, Waddle had the fastest GPS of any receiver any country," Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network said. “Your eyes aren't deceiving you when you watch him. He's freaky fast.” 

A Year Later ...

It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year since the 2020 SEC Tournament was canceled in Nashville. The shutdown wasn't limited to basketball as the spring sports were just about to start conference play, and the winter postseason was otherwise in full swing.

For example, the Alabama track team was in San Antonio ready to compete in the NCAA Indoor National Championships starting the next morning when the meet was suddenly called.  

We've learned a lot since then, but lost even more with 500,000-plus deaths (and the nation's overall death rate significantly higher). 

So while it's great that as a nation we're beginning to have a taste of normalcy, and fans will soon have brackets to fill out again for Mask Madness, there are still regular reminders that we aren't at the finish line yet. 

For example, the Duke men's basketball team will not play in the ACC tournament after a positive COVID-19 test within the program.

With that in mind, Alabama's success in avoiding major setbacks during the pandemic have been impressive. Not only did the Crimson Tide successfully navigate the national championship run in football, but men's basketball was one of the few teams in the country to play a complete regular season schedule. 

That's a tribute to a lot of people, who have gone to great lengths in trying to minimize the risk of the pandemic. It includes the the medical staff, Jeff Allen's trainers, the approach devised by Saban, athletic director Greg Byrne, an emphasis on mental health, and other teams following a model that obviously worked.

It's also a credit to the students, who had a year like none ever imagined, and had to go to great lengths just to get back and compete. Here's hoping they enjoy the winter postseason and spring seasons more than anyone. 

Tide-bits 

• While its pitching continues to be outstanding (the staff ERA is 1.02, compared to 5.84 for opponents), two statistics really jump out for Alabama softball as it opens SEC play this weekend at Auburn. 

1) The ability to answer. In the 15 innings opponents have scored against Alabama, the Crimson Tide has responded immediately with at least one run in the next half-inning 10 times. 

2) Clutch hitting. Alabama is 50-for-164 (.305) with two outs. Overall, 54 of the team's 104 RBIs this season have come with two outs. Freshman Bailey Dowling is 9-for-27 (.333) with 13 RBIs, four doubles and three home runs with two outs. 

• This week's D1Baseball.com Top 25 poll has five SEC teams at the top, with Arkansas at No. 1 followed by Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida. South Carolina, Tennessee are also ranked, which means that again Alabama will have a relentless schedule. The Crimson Tide didn't get a chance to see how it measured up last year, when the season was canceled after a 16-1 start and Missouri set to visit The Joe. Brian Bohanon's team is 12-2 with Stetson visiting this weekend and Alabama visiting Troy on Tuesday. It'll then be at No. 1 Arkansas, No. 4 Ole Miss and No. 15 Tennessee the first three weekends of SEC play.  

• The national champions in men's and women's wheelchair basketball will be crowned this weekend as UA Adapted Athletics will serve as host at Stran-Hardin Arena. The program also recently opened a new tennis facility located on Peter Bryce Boulevard near the Student Recreation Center. The new 5,400-square-foot Parker-Haun Tennis Facility is the only collegiate tennis facility for adapted student-athletes in the nation. “People don’t realize adapted athletes need the same facilities, equipment, opportunities and resources that other athletes do,” executive director Brent Hardin said. “Once people see our athletes and what we’re doing, they want to get involved, and it makes a huge difference.”

Did You Notice?

• What We've Learned: From shutdown to bubbles to today, the last 12 months have revealed truth after truth about sports and their role in our society, by J.A. Adande

• Did the NBA Get Too Much Credit For Its Coronavirus Response?

• When the World Stopped, the NFL Didn’t

• Former LSU Board Member Goes Inside School's 2013 Decision to Keep Les Miles

Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears every week and will soon be part of the BamaCentral+ premium section.