TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There are myths about the NFL draft that seem to perpetuate, even though they clearly aren't true.
Teams always draft for best available player in first round.
A quarterback must have a strong arm to succeed.
Alabama players are physically beat up when they get to the NFL.
You can ignore all three. Any team that buys into those notions are only putting themselves at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the league. Yet every year one keeps hearing all three, when the opposite is often true.
Yes, Crimson Tide offensive lineman Landon Dickerson suffered a season-ending knee injury, and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle missed a good part of last season with a fractured ankle. Ask both and they'll tell you injuries are part of football.
Yet both could still be first-round selections because teams aren't going to confuse the ability to avoid injuries with toughness.
Alabama players are VERY tough.
"Here’s what I think what happened, you’ve had some running backs who have gone to the NFL and done ok, they’ve done well, but maybe not to the extent that you would expect coming out of college," Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. said. "But I think that’s common for the running back position. Running backs get beat up."
Granted, Alabama has had its share of injuries in recent years, especially at the linebacker position (Dylan Moses included), and minimizing that has been one of the priorities with adding the sports performance center.
Najee Harris didn't get too beat up this past season or during his career. Neither did Mac Jones or Patrick Surtain II.
But wide receiver DeVonta Smith may the the perfect example of the difference. Despite being considered undersized he still won the Heisman Trophy. He has no qualms about running routes over the middle or going up to make a catch, both of which can leave a wide receiver especially vulnerable.
Sure Smith got beat up last year. Everyone did while playing a 10-game Southeastern Conference schedule followed by the league championship game and then the College Football Playoff.
But no one questions Smith's toughness, or Alabama's reputation in that respect.
"They’re physically tough players and they’re mentally tough. It’s not easy to play at Alabama, where you’re always in the spotlight," Mora said. "It’s not easy to play for a man like Nick Saban, who is so demanding in every single way and not just in football, but football, character and off-the-field things. I think Nick has done a tremendous job of taking care of his players and teaching them about life.
“When you get an Alabama player, he’s ready to go. He’s ready to play.”
Part of that has to do with the program's commitment to mental health, and making sure that players have access to everything from counsellors to psychologists. Saban brings in a daily guest speaker during training camp, some of which are high-profile, and they always have a strong message.
From nutritionists to tutors, it all feeds into the high expectation level of the program. It all fuels the success on the field at both levels.
The real proof, though, is demonstrated by the facts that Alabama has had the most players drafted and first-round selections since Saban arrived in 2007, every NFL team has had multiple Crimson Tide players on the roster since then, and there are more NFL players from UA than anther other program — and the gap is only widening.
Alabama may be on the verge of tying the record for most first-round selections in a draft (six). Not only did it have 10 players taken last year (including Jalen Hurts), but they were all in the first three rounds. It's had at least seven players drafted every year since 2007.
You think NFL really believe Alabama players are too beat up? If so, teams would be avoiding Crimson Tide players at the most physical positions. Instead, it had the most of any program at both sides of the initial point of attack, defensive tackle and center.
"Fundamentally sound on the field, they’re going to understand how to function at their position," Mora said about the Crimson Tide's reputation. "Secondly, I think they’re going to understand discipline and hard work, the extra things that you have to do to be a great player. Those are thing that Nick instills in those players from day one. I think they’re also very much team players."
The SEC could have a big NCAA Tournament
Even though the league doesn't dominate the polls, with four teams in the AP Top 25 and two others receiving votes, don't be surprised if the Southeastern Conference makes a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament.
The SEC’s automatic qualifier by virtue of winning the SEC Tournament, Alabama is making its 21st NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2018. The Crimson Tide’s No. 2 seed ties the 1987 and 2002 teams for highest seeding in school history.
But Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all appear to be in spots in the bracket where they can make a run deep into the tournament.
Consider the following:
• Six SEC teams rank among the Top 40 defensive teams in the nation according to KenPom.com.
• SEC teams are 37-12 (75.5 percent) in postseason opening games over the last six tournaments (7-0 in 2014, 6-2 in 2015, 5-2 in 2016, 5-3 in 2017, 7-2 in 2018 and 6-3 in 2019).
• SEC teams are 66-37 (64.1 percent) in the NCAA Tournament since 2012 (10-3 in 2012, 4-3 in 2013, 12-3 in 2014, 6-5 in 2015, 3-3 in 2016, 11-5 in 2017, 8-8 in 2018, 12-7 in 2019).
• The SEC has advanced a team in the Final Four six of the last nine tournaments.
• The SEC has had at least one team in the Sweet 16 in 29 of the last 30 NCAA Tournaments.
As for the quality of depth in the league, every SEC team has made at least one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six tournaments.
Baseball finally gets SEC test
It was a shame that the Alabama baseball team didn't get a chance to find out how good it was against top competition as the season was cancelled on the brink of SEC play.
The Crimson Tide was 16-1 at the time.
This year, Brad Bohanon's team is 14-3, and it gets the ultimate test in terms of a conference opener by visiting No. 1 Arkansas (12-1).
Alabama heads into the series with just 11 players, eight pitchers and three positions players, who have played in an SEC game. Redshirt junior Hunter Ruth is the only hurler with a win in league play, and that was for Florida against Alabama.
Outfielder T.J. Reeves is out with an injury, and after being sidelined in 2019 catcher Sam Praytor hasn't faced a league opponent since his freshman year.
The Crimson Tide has 18 freshmen on the roster, including 10 true freshmen and eight who were on the team last season and didn't lose a year of eligibility.
Nevertheless, Alabama does have a good record against No. 1 opponents, 17-20 (.459) overall, and is 7-3 in weekend series.
Surprisingly, Alabama's last meeting with the nation’s No. 1 team dates back to visiting Vanderbilt from May 16-18, 2013. The Commodores opened with a 7-6 win before the Crimson Tide evened things up with a 5-4 victory, before Vanderbilt won a 14-11 shootout to claim the series.
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Christopher Walsh's notes column appears Thursday, and will soon be part of premium BamaCentral+