Why the NFL combine could mean a lot more to one former Alabama player

T.G. Paschal/BamaCentral

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Although the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine means a lot to each of the 11 former Alabama players who were invited to attend, it could benefit one in particular.

There’s no doubt that defensive lineman Quinnen Williams will be one of the first players selected on April 25in Nashville.

However, there’s a big difference financially between being selected first and, say, seventh.

In the initial four-year contracts alone from the 2018 draft, it translated to approximately $12 million.

1] QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: $32.68 million

2] RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: $31.2 million

3] QB Sam Darnold, New York Jets: $30.25 million

4] CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns: $29.17 million

5] DE Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos: $27.27 million

6] OL Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts: $23,888,912

7] QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills: $21,183,038.

8] LB Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears: $18,477.168

9] OT Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers: $18.3 million

10] QB Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals: $17,597,760

The last time Alabama had a player selected first overall was Joe Namath in the 1965 AFL draft before the merger (he was the 12thpick in the NFL Draft by the Cardinals, but opted to sign with the Jets). The only Crimson Tide player picked first in the NFL draft was Harry Gilmer in 1948.

Since 1998, a quarterback has been the first-overall section 15 times, but this might be one of those years in which no stands out at that position. Even so, if the Arizona Cardinals don’t trade down out of the top spot they seem pretty content with Josh Rosen, which is partly why so many are projecting the standout defensive players to dominate the first few picks.

“If you want to look at the three super elite would be Josh Allen, Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Quinnen Williams with the year he had, he was the closest thing to Aaron Donald that you saw this year in college. He was in that backfield, he was destroying double teams, he was pursuing to the sideline. He’s a hard-working kid, hustles. He put together an unbelievable year for Alabama, and interior pressure bothers the quarterback more than anything.”

Alabama had 11 players invited to the combine, but not all will participate. Safety Deionte Thompson suffered a wrist injury and had surgery last Friday. Running back John Jacobs has what’s being called a minor groin injury that will limit what he can do physically.

Instead, he’ll set his sights on Alabama’s Pro Day, scheduled for March 19.

Here’s a look at the combine and the other 10 Crimson Tide players invited:

What you need to know about the NFL Combine

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

TV: NFL Network from Friday through Monday starting at 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. on Saturday); ABC on Saturday from noon-2 pm for quarterback and receiver workouts.

Streaming: NFL.com

The first group of players, headed by the offensive linemen and running backs, arrived Tuesday. Today they’ll go through measurements, medical examinations and interviews.

As for the on-field portion of the combine:

  • Friday: Offensive linemen (Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Ross Pierschbacher, Jonah Williams)
  • Saturday: Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends (Irv Smith Jr.), ABC
  • Sunday: Defensive linemen and linebackers (Isaiah Buggs, Christian Miller, Quinnen Williams, Mack Wilson
  • Monday: Defensive backs (Saivion Smith )

Alabama players

DL Isaiah Buggs: Depending on the team that takes him he could be an end or move to the interior. A lot of coaches will like his versatility, but not the lack of arm length that can make it tough for Buggs to get off blockers, particularly NFL tackles.

“Base end with interior experience thanks to Alabama's diverse personnel groupings and fronts,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein wrote for NFL.com. “Buggs might be targeted as a 4-3 power end who can reduce inside as a rusher, but he has the body type, play strength and quickness to make a full-time transition to three-technique as a one- or two-gapper. He will need to play with more consistent resolve, but has the talent to become an eventual starter.”

BamaCentral projection: Third round

RB Damien Harris: He’s still considered one of the best running backs in the draft, but Harris is being overshadowed by his former teammate, Jacobs. A lot of teams don’t want to use an early draft pick on a running back, either. On the flip side, he’s proven, steady and coaches love the way he’ll pick up a blitzer.

“Disciplined and rugged with a very strong sense of who he is as a running back,” Zierlein wrote. “He operates with a good feel for blocking schemes and finds the designed yards while adding extra with his power and some elusiveness. He lacks game-breaking juice as a runner and will need to keep his weight down or he'll end up in the "grinder" category of runners. Harris is more likely to be good than great as a pro, but his size, every-down game and ball security give him a chance to have fruitful career as a solid starter.”

BamaCentral projection: Second round

RB Josh Jacobs: No one may have more momentum heading into the draft than Jacobs, who had exactly one career start for the Crimson Tide. Last season he had 120 carries for 640 yards (5.3 average) with11 touchdowns in 15 games and also returned kicks. While some critics are pointing to the lack of career carries (251 in three seasons) as a reason to question whether he should be a first-round pick, the flip side to that is it means he’s fresh.

“I'm a huge fan of him,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who has him sixth overall on his top 50 list. “I think if you gave the league a do-over on Alvin Kamara, whose touches are almost identical to Josh Jacobs, we'd see Alvin Kamara go in the top 10, top 15 if you were to re-draft that year. So if that's the only concern you have about him, I don't have any concern about the fact that he's got vision, he runs with power, he can make you miss, he can catch the ball out of the, he can block. There's really nothing he can't do.”

BamaCentral projection: First round

LB Christian Miller: His overall numbers weren’t great last season, with 36 tackles and one pass breakup, but teams will overlook those in favor 11.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. Every team is looking for pass-rushers, so Miller is a player who could really help himself at the combine.

“How is he going to move around, how is he going to test,” Jeremiah said. “I know one thing, he is tall, he's long. You see him as a rusher. He's got great hands. He can finish. He's a little bit stiff in coverage. That's one of those things if you're a team looking at him as an outside linebacker, you want to see how does he do going through those drills, can he change direction, can he show you a little more fluid. That could be something that he could prove that could really help himself in that department, so he's one I would definitely keep an eye on.”

BamaCentral projection: Fourth round

OL Ross Pierschbacher: Being versatile and having played both center and guard will help him tremendously. However, he doesn’t create a lot of movement, which will only get tougher at the next level. The guess here is that some team will eventually snatch him up in hopes of having a long-term center.

“Four-year starter and cerebral interior line prospect who proved to be consistent and technically sound in Alabama's varied run schemes over the years,” Zierlein wrote. “Pierschbacher plays with good initial quickness and is likely to be targeted by teams looking for move-oriented run blockers. He might lack the mass and power teams would like to see from him as a guard, but he's close to pro ready from an experience and technique standpoint and could find early playing time as an average starting center within the first two years.”

BamaCentral projection: Fourth round

TE Irv Smith Jr.: Smith could be a first-round selection with a good combine, so this is an important week for him.Last season he caught 44 passes for 710 yards (16.1 average) and seven touchdowns. He’s a good blocker who could be better with some added bulk, but is a tough matchup for any linebacker in pass protection.

Jeremiah believes an interesting possibility would be the Patriots at No. 32: “I think would be a great fit there, and he'd be able to kind of plug in. You can play him in line, you can move him, just a real smooth, clean route runner who's pretty nifty after the catch and has some toughness that I know they covet there.”

BamaCentral projection: Second round

DB Saivion Smith: Smith surprised a lot of people when he declared a year early for the NFL draft, but with the emergence of Patrick Surtain II and Trevon Diggs returning he might not have been starting for Alabama next season. He was beaten for five touchdowns this past season, including the first play of the Ole Miss game. He has decent size, but inconsistency will keep him from being a top pick.

“Big, press-man cornerback with the traits and tools of a potential starter, but lacking a sample size of consistency to inspire confidence,” Zierlein wrote. “Smith's average speed could be mitigated by better instincts and ball skills, but they are both works in progress. He's athletic enough for man coverage, but his collection of strengths and weaknesses requires better technique and aggression from press to gain control of the rep. Smith's ceiling is NFL starter and his floor should be fourth cornerback.”

BamaCentral projection: Fourth round

DB Deionte Thompson: He may be limited due to an injury, but if he goes to Indianapolis the measurements will still be important for Thompson. Scouts love his speed, but at 6-2, 196 there’s a lot of concern that he may be too skinny for the NFL. Of course, they said the same thing about Levi Wallace a year ago. Thompson was a first-team All-American as a junior, with 79 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, two interceptions, six pass breakups, and four forced fumbles.

“I don't think Deionte Thompson finished up the season the way you'd want to finish it up,” Jeremiah said. “That Clemson game, there was — put a lot of doubt in some people's minds, can he really run. That was a concern there. I thought he kind of had some big games early on in the season where you got really excited about him. I want to say Ole Miss was one of those … He goes back to school and gets a little bit stronger and a little bit more consistent as a tackler as well as just making some more plays down the stretch, I think you're talking about somebody that's a first-round lock next year.

BamaCentral projection: Second round

OL Jonah Williams: Some team is going to get a long-term offensive lineman when it takes Williams, but he’s probably not going to be a top-10 pick because he lacks ideal size and length for the left tackle spot. Going in he’s listed as 6-5, 297 pounds, but every scout will be paying close attention to his measured arm length.

“Is he a tackle or is he a guard?” Jeremiah said. “I think there's a chance he could hold up at tackle and be a functional starting tackle. I think he's got a chance to be special inside. I think to me that's where he fits best. Some of these length issues, he's not a real long guy, shows up, shows up in the Clemson game this year, showed up in the Clemson game last year, where guys kind of get into his chest and he struggles a little bit on the edge. I like him kicking inside. He is a dominating run blocker. Talk about somebody that can get his hands on people and work up to the second level, combo blocks, he's instinctive, he runs his feet on contact. Played a lot of football there at Alabama. I know some teams actually like him at center. I wrote him up and said, I think he's got a chance to be a perennial Pro Bowl guard with the way that he plays. I love the nasty that he has.”

BamaCentral projection: First round

LB Mack Wilson: He has size, speed, can tackle and cover, so he’s going to be a high draft pick. However, Alabama had some issues at interior linebacker, especially with picking up delayed routes. Wilson made 71 tackles, five for loss, two interceptions, and five pass breakups during the season. Perhaps with a good combine he can get a little more buzz going his way.

“I thought Mack Wilson back in August would be a guy who would be a solid mid-first rounder and follow in the footsteps of all those other great inside linebackers coming out of Alabama, but he didn’t have the year expected,” Kiper said. “I thought he would go back, he didn’t. He’s in this draft. I think he could be a late one. I’m projecting him more as a two.”

BamaCentral projection: Second round

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