TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though pandemic protocols have severely limited NFL teams in their evaluations of players for the 2021 NFL Draft, there were a number of things going on with Alabama's pro day this past week that could really help the former Crimson Tide players this year.
Granted, Alabama went undefeated last season while winning the national championship, plus most of the major individual awards awards — from the Heisman Trophy to the Doak Walker — so the Crimson Tide was already looking at having a good draft.
Moreover, both Nick Saban's name and the Alabama emblem obviously carry a lot of weight. Every NFL team has had a Crimson Tide player on its 53-man roster during the regular season during the past decade, and there are more players from this program playing in the NFL than any other school, with the margin only growing.
It no longer matters the position. You need say a linebacker, chances are Alabama has a good one it produced that year.
"There’s a value to that in the NFL," Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. said. "Certainly you’re evaluating an individual and how he fits in your scheme and your system, and in your organization, but when you know they come from a program like Alabama, and you know the demands that have been put on them by that coaching staff, you know the fundamentals that have been taught by that coaching staff, you understand the games that they’ve been in, the high-profile games that they’ve been in and their ability to handle pressure, and it makes them more valuable to you as an NFL team or an NFL coach.
"You want those types of guys because the pressures on coaches right now. You have to win. You have to win immediately or you’re gone. You’re seeing way too many coaches in the NFL who are one year and out if they don’t have success, or two years and out. So if you can get a player who comes from a great program you know that they’re ready to play at that level, not only physically but mentally, that’s something you value."
This year it could especially work to Alabama's advantage, and not just because Alabama played an SEC-only schedule that was probably as close as we'll ever see as being like its NFL equivalent.
Whereas the pandemic severely limited how NFL teams traveled and scouted in person, and the combine in Indianapolis was canceled, they've had to be more creative in their approach.
It means relying more on innovative data, but the flip side is that they'll go more with what they know. There's an obvious comfort that comes with familiarity, especially when it comes to those making the financial decision.
"Pedigree," Mora called it. "The other thing is that Nick Saban is so well respected as an NFL coach, if you pick up the phone and you call Nick and ask him about one of his players you’re going to get the straight scoop. He’s probably not going to sugarcoat it. He’s going to accentuate the positives, but he’s most likely going to tell you the truth and you can count on that, and that’s important."
Pro day, though, was a chance for scouts and team officials to see first-hand how the players prepare and approached the testing. It also gave them an opportunity to see how the players interacted with coaches and teammates, how they reacted to instruction, how they work with others.
Moreover, does what they saw here in Tuscaloosa match what they saw on the game film?
With that context, go back to pro day and some things really stood out:
• Alabama having more than one pro day, giving players more opportunities to stand out in front of a representative of every team, is a huge plus.
• Interview sessions with reporters were scheduled, something Alabama had previously not done before. At minimum it helped the players get their names out a little more.
• Running back Najee Harris driving in overnight from Dallas just to support his teammates was something that really stood out.
All of this can help a player at any level. If a team has two prospects evaluated pretty equally, Alabama has provided numerous extra reasons for opting for the Crimson Tide option.
It could also be the difference of someone getting drafted, like tight end Miller Forristall.
Another winner from Pro Day
Quarterback Mac Jones and cornerback Patrick Surtain II clearly helped themselves with their impressive Pro Day performances, but another player who turned heads was Alex Leatherwood.
It's such a strong year for tackles that NFL Draft Bible rates the the Outland Trophy winner eighth among left tackles. Moreover, some teams considered him more of a guard than tackle, which would translate into a lower draft value.
However, the athleticism Leatherwood demonstrated will probably make teams re-evaluate him and make it a lot more likely that he'll be drafted as a tackle who could always move to guard as a fallback option.
“Some teams like me at tackle, some at guard,” Leatherwood said on Monday. “It just all depends on what team you’re talking about and their team needs but I feel like most of them think that I can play anywhere on the offensive line.”
The bottom line is that he's a lot more likely to be selected in the second round and not drop into the third.
... additional bonus note:
After this article was initially published, the San Fransisco 49ers traded up to land the No. 3 pick in the draft.
The prevailing thought is that they have set their targets on a quarterback. Think it's a coincidence that the move came three days after Alabama's Pro Day? Either way, the move can only help Jones.
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Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears every week and will soon be a part of BamaCentral+.