The Saban 250: 41-45 and Stories About Landon Dickerson

BamaCentral marks the end of the Nick Saban coaching era with the definitive rankings of his top 250 players with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (69) celebrates with the CFP National Championship trophy after beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (69) celebrates with the CFP National Championship trophy after beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Landon Dickerson may not have played his entire collegiate career at the University of Alabama, but he certainly became a fan favorite during his time in Tuscaloosa. During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the transfer from Florida State became absolutely crucial to the Crimson Tide while lining up at center, a position he had never played before.

Three stories about him will be forever told in Alabama, and all are reflective of the kind of person and player he was for the Crimson Tide.

The first was when named the winner of the Rimington Trophy as best center. The 2020 season was the Covid year in which games were played before sparse crowds and extra precautions were in place including a shortened schedule. Award shows were done remotely, with the winners accepting and interviewed remotely on campus.

Dickerson used the opportunity to invite not just the other linemen, but all of the offensive starters to stand on camera with him, regardless of what they might be wearing.

The second is the bumper story. While Alabama was making its championship run, Dickerson had a railroad tie in lieu of a front bumper on his truck. He bolted a “BAMA” license plate onto it.

“A while back my bumper was ripped off while my truck was getting worked on, towed somewhere,” Dickerson explained. “Couldn’t really figure out what happened to it, but to be safe to me and other drivers, I decided to take it off because it was a hazard, and the railroad tie was a cost-effective method to keep some sort of bumper-esque device on the front of my truck.”

But that's not where that story ended. With his collegiate career officially over, Dickerson had a bunch of teammates including DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood, Mac Jones, Deonte Brown and Thomas Fletcher autograph it. He then Dickerson partnered with Firefighters to the Rescue to raffle off the bumper with the proceeds going to a Crimson Tide fan battling lung cancer. They raised $45,900.

The third was the National Championship Game against Ohio State. Alabama voted on permanent team captains at the end of the regular season, which for 2020 were Dickerson, Mac Jones, Alex Leatherwood and DeVonta Smith. For the coin flip, though, Dickerson was the only one at midfield, in full uniform despite having suffered a torn ACL during the SEC Championship Game. 

Not having a defensive player named a captain was extremely unusual for a Nick Saban team. Sending Dickerson out alone was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment.  

"Nick Saban did something that Nick Saban doesn’t do very often, and that’s put an individual in the spotlight," former Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. said. "To me that speaks volumes about what kind of man Landon is. You’re talking about a great character athlete in your locker room."

Dressed in full uniform, Dickerson did actually get into the game. With Alabama running out the clock, Saban let Dickerson make the final snap of the season in the Crimson Tide's victory formation. 

"Great leader," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "Great intensity. Nick Saban speaks to that, what he was doing in the National Championship Game. He's just a great teammate."

Something that often got overlooked about Saban was the emphasis he put on the center position. While Alabama was known for its linebackers and running backs especially, in addition to the wide receivers, defensive backs and then quarterbacks, having a top-notch player snap the ball was one of the secrets to his success. 

For example, when Saban was at LSU, Ben Wilkerson was a co-winner of the Rimington Award for the most outstanding center. At Alabama in 2012, Barrett Jones, who had won the Outland Trophy the previous season as a left tackle, was the Crimson Tide's first winner of the Rimington. Ryan Kelly won in 2015, and Dickerson in 2020. The two times Alabama won the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in college football, it had a Rimington winer at center, 2015 (the first year of the honor) and 2020. 

"The center is typically the captain of your offensive line, and that’s always such a close-knit group," Mora continued. "When you have someone with a Landon Dickerson-type personality leading your group, it brings everyone closer together and makes everyone better. He has all the intangibles you’re looking for in a player, and especially in an offensive lineman."

Dickerson was also Alabama's nominee for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is considered the academic Heisman Trophy of college football. Jones won it in 2012.

Intelligence, leadership, toughness, versatility, grit, attitude, size ... all were on display prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, when only Dickeron's injury history kept him from being a first-round selection. But his knee issues couldn't stop him from doing everything he could to crack a smile and laugh from the player nicknamed Joker, Mac Jones, on live TV.

While the quarterback was doing an interview following one of his pro day workouts, the man listed at 6-6, 325 pounds, was doing a whole succession of cartwheels behind the cameras just a couple of months following surgery.

The Saban 250: 41-45

The Saban 250 ranks the players who made the biggest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007-23).

41. Dee Milliner, CB, 2010-12

• 2012 unanimous All-American
• 2012 All-SEC
• Ninth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft
• Was credited with 54 tackles and 22 pass breakups in 2012; 81 tackles and six interceptions for his career
• Per ESPN, Alabama's opponents completed only 49 percent of their passes outside the hashmarks, with four TDs and 11 interceptions

42. Landon Dickerson, OL, 2019-20

• Won 2020 Rimington Award
• Unanimous All-American 2020
• 2020 co-SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy
• 2020 All-SEC; 2019 second-team All-SEC
• Second-round selection in 2021 NFL Draft
• Team captain 2020
• The Florida State transfer was originally a tackle, but played mostly at center at Alabama, a position that was new to him. His first season with the Crimson Tide he started four games at right guard and nine at center.
• His senior year, Pro Football Focus listed Dickerson as the top-rated run-blocking center with a grade of 92.8 while ranking No. 2 among centers in the FBS with an overall offensive grade of 91.5 entering the College Football Playoff
• Averaged an overall blocking grade of 91.3 by the Alabama coaching staff and 99.6 on assignments
• Suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. He returned as a team captain (the Crimson Tide’s one representative for the coin toss) in the national championship and then finished the game snapping in the victory formation

43. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, 2013-15

• 2015 consensus All-American
• 2015 All-SEC
• Second-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft
• Led Alabama in sacks as a freshman with 5.5
• Over three years had 133 tackles, including 22 for a loss
• Blocked a kick during each season, including an extra-point attempt by leaping over the long snapper

44. D.J. Fluker, T, 2010-12

• 2012 All-American; second-team All-American
• 2012 All-SEC
• No. 10-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft
• Graded out at 98.6 percent on blocking assignments his final season
• Started 36 games for the Crimson Tide

45. Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, 2021-23

• 2023 All-American; second-team All-American; 2022 second-team All-American as both defensive back, return specialist
• 2023 All-SEC (CB); 2022 All-SEC (CB); second-team (RS)
• Second-round selection in 2024 NFL Draft
• The three-year starter played in 42 games, and was credited with 92 tackles, including five for a loss and two sacks. Had 25 passes defended and two interceptions.
• His final season broke up seven passes to go with 32 tackles, including two for loss. Also returned 14 punts for 86 combined yards with a long gain of 33.
• During 2022 season, ranked second among Division I punt returners with 332 yards, 15.8 average. He returned 21 punts with a long of 45. Also totaled 35 tackles, including two for a loss and one sack, while notching a team-high 15 pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
• Might have the best nickname of the Saban era. It originated with his grandmother because his smile reminded her of the Kool-Aid Man. First name is actually Ga'Quincy

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson
Dec 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (86) celebrates the win over the Michigan State Spartans in the 2015 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Saban's Oldest-Looking Player: A'Shawn Robinson

Without hesitation, senior center Ryan Kelly called it the best defensive line in the nation. Sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson used words like “amazing” and “unbelievable” to describe the group and individual players he went up against every day in practice.

The opposition was even more complimentary.

"They are as talented as I have ever seen,” then-Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said about Alabama’s defensive line. “They are as deep and talented as you can imagine. They have had some really good defensive squads and this is as talented as I have ever seen."

Any way they were described, the Crimson Tide defensive linemen were a undoubtedly special group in 2015; possibly the best Nick Saban’s coached outside of the Miami Dolphins.

“We’re excited about this unit,” former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said at the time, and with good reason about the group headed by A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen, and went about 10 deep.

That’s not 10 deep of players who could possibly play or have a lot of potential, but 10 deep of players just about every program in the nation would have wanted. They gave Alabama a huge edge in that they can essentially attack in waves and keep going after opponent.

“It makes each and every person ready to get back out there, as well as you coming off and he’s about to go in there do the same thing except he’s fresh,” Reed said about the Crimson Tide’s rotation. “So it’s like ‘Oh yeah that tackle, that guard about to catch a fresh one.’  Same thing.”

Wisconsin was the first team to learn it during season opener at A&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The program that prided itself on having its top running back exceed 1,600 rushing yards in each of the four previous seasons was limited to just 40 rushing yards, 25 of which were on a trick play by a wide receiver.

The longest carry by a running back was just 5 yards as there just weren’t any open lanes. Alabama applied some serious pressure in the passing game as well as  quarterback Joel Stave was sacked three times and took numerous hard hits, and had four passes batted down – three by reserve junior Dalvin Tomlinson. 

“We kind of dominated the line of scrimmage,” Saban said afterward.

“We wanted to come out here and make a statement and I feel like we did a great job maintaining our standards and setting a tone for who we are,” said Allen, who then added that he difference was “aggression.”

“It’s the main thing coach has been preaching to us in the offseason. We have to come out and be the aggressor, pound their line of scrimmage, take the battle to them. I feel like as a front we did a great job of that tonight.”

Although Allen would go on to win a host of awards, including the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, and be the No. 17 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, he technically didn’t start the game.

That’s how good the line was, led by A’Shawn Robinson.

“We don’t really compare ourselves, we just push ourselves no matter what,” Robinson said. “It’s just a competition no matter what we’re doing. If we’re walking we’re just trying to compete and see who gets there first. It’s really just a competition every day to get each other better. Because it’s all about getting each other better, not about comparing yourself to one person.”

Consequently, the players weren’t just “hungry” on the field, but “Really hungry,” Robinson said. “We’re starving.”

While Alabama had a number of talented and successful players on the 2015 team, including running back Derrick Henry, the defensive line may have been the biggest key to the team’s overall success. It could nullify nearly anything thrown at it, even by the Alabama offense during practices.

“I always told myself never to downplay anyone we play, but I tell myself that I play against the best competition in practice every day,” Cam Robinson said.

So which player in particular did the left tackle hate facing the most?

“All of them,” he said.

See also: Top 50 Begins With A True Alabama Legend, Rashad Johnson

Next up: 36-40


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Christopher Walsh

CHRISTOPHER WALSH

Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.