Although all 14 teams in the SEC were represented at media days in Hoover, Alabama, this week, all eyes were once again on the Alabama Crimson Tide—from the masses of fans clamoring for autographs to the hundreds of reporters in the interview rooms.
The defending SEC champions, who were picked by the media to win the SEC West in 2015 but not the conference, were the biggest draw of the week.
Head coach Nick Saban took the podium Wednesday morning and wasted no time in making some comments that created quite a stir in the college football world.
He was joined by running back Kenyan Drake, offensive lineman Ryan Kelly and linebacker Reggie Ragland at the annual event. Like their head coach, these veterans answered plenty of questions on their preparation for the upcoming season in Tuscaloosa.
Now that the dust has settled from media days, here are a few key quotes and takeaways from Saban and the rest of the Alabama contingent in Hoover.
Saban, the Sugar Bowl and a storm
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Saban caused what was perhaps the biggest controversy of the entire media days event Wednesday when he mentioned his desire for the NFL Draft Advisory Board to move back their grading process for interested underclassmen.
He mentioned the draft grades having an effect on Alabama prior to January’s Sugar Bowl loss to eventual national champion Ohio State.
“I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff game was affected by something,” Saban said.
Last year, juniors contemplating the decision to leave school early for the NFL had to submit a request for a draft grade by Dec. 15. Saban said they received those grades “around Christmas” and right during the middle of bowl preparation.
“So I think a week, 10 days [added to the process] would be beneficial,” Saban said. “And I think a rule that says you don’t get information to players on draft status until after they’ve completed their college competition would be beneficial.”
Saban’s comments were immediately taken as an excuse for the loss to Ohio State by media members and college football fans all over the country, but he denied that in a later interview with the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum.
Saban: “It wasn’t an excuse at all for losing to Ohio State. There’s no excuse.”
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) July 15, 2015
The Alabama head coach had support from his players on this issue and its effects on the Crimson Tide prior to last season’s playoff game.
Did NFL draft grades affect Sugar Bowl mindset for Alabama? Ryan Kelly: “To say that it didn’t affect anybody is obviously a lie.”
— Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis) July 15, 2015
“I think it should be pushed back,” Ragland told Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples. “It would give people more time to make the right decisions for their lives. If you’ve got to rush it, you’re going to make a bad decision.”
No matter how much criticism Saban’s comments received, they were good proposals for change in the draft process and gave interesting insight on what was going on behind the scenes at Alabama prior to the loss in New Orleans.
Here comes Coker
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
QB Jake Coker
Saban was quick to say no one has emerged as the leading candidate for Alabama’s starting quarterback job, but he did give some criteria for the winner.
“That’s going to be one of the keys to the drill in terms of somebody taking the bull by the horns at that position, being assertive, playing with confidence, distributing the ball and executing in a positive way, being a good decision-maker and showing leadership at the same time,” Saban said.
Senior Jake Coker, one of the two presumed front-runners in the race, received some high praise from the head coach during his main media session Wednesday. Saban spoke of Coker on the SEC Network’s broadcast of media days:
Jake Coker has done an outstanding job for us. I think he’s made a tremendous amount of improvement. I think that a better understanding, better knowledge of the system, better knowledge of what we expect, what’s expected of him in our offense are all things that have contributed to his confidence and his performance level.
In terms of leadership, the veteran Coker isn’t overly vocal, but his teammates say he is still showing the qualities of someone who could take over the Alabama offense in place of Blake Sims this season.
“He’s not the most outspoken person,” Drake told AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. “But he’s leading by example, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the competition as it progresses.”
Focusing on the freshmen
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
S Ronnie Harrison
Alabama’s three player representatives at media days each mentioned some freshmen who were catching their eyes this offseason.
“Really, the entire freshman class has impressed me,” Drake told Casagrande. “They came in with the hunger and a lot of will to learn from the older [players] who have been here, and they’ve definitely taken on even leadership roles.”
According to Casagrande, Ragland was “impressed with cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety Ronnie Harrison, … running back Damien Harris and receiver Calvin Ridley.”
“I think they’re going to get a shot to play this year, but I tell them all the time, every time [Saban] talks about the process, the process works,” Ragland told Casagrande. “I’m a testament to it myself. It took me a couple of years before I could understand what coach was really talking about, and I started to see everything clearer and better.”
Kelly’s freshman to watch on the offensive line was guard Brandon Kennedy, who enrolled early at Alabama and went through some of spring practice before suffering an injury.
A super summer so far
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
RB Kenyan Drake
After the arrests of four Tide players in the spring, Bleacher Report’s Marc Torrence put “stay out of trouble” in his summer checklist for Alabama earlier this year.
The Crimson Tide have done just that this summer, and Saban is pleased with their progress.
“[I told] them how well I think they’re doing this summer—working hard, everybody’s all into doing things the way we want them to do them, not a lot of negative energy around, a lot of positive energy, a lot of good character, a lot of positive leadership,” Saban said.
The spring had several headaches for the Alabama program, but everything has calmed down as fall camp approaches.
For Saban and every Alabama fan, that’s the best news you can get out of the long offseason. As Saban said on the SEC Network:
The good news at this time of year is there’s no news. If there’s no news, that means your players are doing the right things personally, they’re doing a good job academically, they’re all into what they should be doing to get prepared for the season, and that has certainly been the case with our team this summer and since spring practice.
They’ve done extremely well in terms of their decision-making and judgment.
All quotes taken from SEC Network broadcast unless otherwise noted.
Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have long established themselves as a dominant defensive team. Now Bama looks to rebound after an early exit from the College Football Playoff.Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joine…
HOOVER, Ala. — One year ago, Alabama’s quarterback position was a mess.
Jake Coker had just transferred in from Florida State, backups Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris were unknowns, and David Cornwell was coming off a torn ACL suffered during his senior season of high school in Norman, Oklahoma.
As it turns out, none of them won the job, and quarterback-turned-running back-turned-quarterback Blake Sims led the Crimson Tide to the 2014 SEC title.
The cast of characters who fell short last year are back to contend for the job, along with true freshman Blake Barnett.
Coker and Cornwell appear to have a slight edge over the field, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter who wins the job.
Bill Haber/Associated Press
Alabama QB David Cornwell
Alabama will be just fine, whether it’s Coker or Cornwell.
Head coach Nick Saban didn’t put a timetable on making a decision but did compliment both of the primary contenders for the job. Here’s the Coker praise.
“Coker has done an outstanding job for us. I think he’s made a tremendous amount of improvement,” Saban said. “I think that a better understanding, better knowledge of the system, better knowledge of what we expect, what’s expected of him in our offense are all things that have contributed to his confidence and his performance level.”
Butch Dill/Associated Press
Alabama QB Jake Coker
As for Cornwell, this spring marked the first time that the coaching staff had seen their former 4-star pro-style prospect at 100 percent. After spring practice last year, he underwent ankle surgery and wasn’t back to form until late during his redshirt year of 2014.
Since that time, he’s elevated to the Crimson Tide’s clear-cut No. 2 in a five-man battle.
“David is a bright guy,” Saban said. “He has a great understanding of the offense. He’s a very good passer and a very accurate passer. I think that understanding the speed of the game and processing information quickly and making quick decisions and getting the ball out of your hand and doing it accurately is probably the thing that all quarterbacks gain understanding of. How quickly he does that will determine how quickly he can become the guy.”
What gets lost in the increased—and overblown—focus on the quarterback battle is that history has proved Alabama will be fine.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Alabama QB Jake Coker
All of those same concerns were present last year even three games into the season, and all Sims and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did was post the program’s most successful offensive season. Sure, wide receiver Amari Cooper was awesome, but Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are both ultra-talented receivers, utility stud Kenyan Drake is back, leading rusher Derrick Henry returns and the offensive line should be solid with veterans Cam Robinson and Ryan Kelly returning.
Will the absence of an entrenched starter cost Alabama in 2015?
“When we’re running the ball great, I don’t think anybody can stop us,” Kelly said. “That’s one of the things that we got back to this spring was to become a balanced offense. We do the no-huddle stuff now and then, but we don’t want to shy away from what Alabama is.”
What Alabama is, and what Alabama should be, is a team that runs the ball downhill, works off play action and incorporates tempo when appropriate.
Kiffin proved that he can adjust to what the offense needed on the fly last year with a quarterback in Sims whom nobody expected to win the job, and will do the same again in 2015.
Five of the last six national titles have been won by teams with first-year starting quarterbacks, and eight of the last 12 starters in the national championship game have been in their first year atop the depth chart.
Don’t get caught up in the hype. Alabama has the right coach, plenty of talent and more experience on offense than meets the eye.
As long as somebody takes the job, it doesn’t really matter who it is.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Star ratings from 247Sports. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
For the second time in as many years, Alabama—which has long been known for quarterback stability—is embroiled in one of the fiercest quarterback battles of the offseason.
Senior Jake Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett are all squaring off to win the top spot on the depth chart, with Coker and Cornwell apparently separating from the field at the conclusion of spring practice.
Should the veteran Coker get the nod, or is Cornwell the man for Alabama in 2015 and moving forward?
Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should roll with Cornwell.
Youth Gone Wild
Bill Haber/Associated Press
Alabama QB David Cornwell
There’s no such thing as a rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa; the Crimson Tide just reload. But in this specific situation with the youth across the roster on the offensive side of the ball, it’s possible for Alabama to rebuild/reload while also planning for the future.
In former Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence’s post-spring depth chart projections, there are young skill players littered all over the place.
Projected starting wide receivers (and co-stars of the spring game) Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are sophomores, fellow wide receiver Chris Black is a junior and Alabama only has two senior wide receivers—graduate transfer Richard Mullaney and former walk-on Parker Barrineau.
If the story of the Crimson Tide offense is going to be “youth,” Kiffin and Saban should go for it.
Plus, it’s not like Cornwell is battling with a veteran who has significant game experience. After all that we heard about Coker coming in, he attempted just 59 passes last year—most of which came in mop-up duty and against cupcakes.
There’s going to be a steep learning curve for whichever quarterback Kiffin goes with, so if it’s close, why not go with the player who has the eligibility clock working in his favor?
So Different, Yet so the Same
Butch Dill/Associated Press
Alabama QBs Jake Coker (14) Blake Barnett (6) and David Cornwell (12)
If the battle does indeed boil down to Coker vs. Cornwell during fall camp, it might seem like it’s a battle between two polar opposites.
The veteran vs. the rookie.
The nomad vs. the homegrown talent.
The backup vs. the upstart.
None of that is true. In fact, Coker and Cornwell are incredibly similar. Both stand tall in the pocket at 6’5″, both can move more than they get credit for, both have fought through leg injuries (Coker’s meniscus and Cornwell’s ACL/ankle) and both have cannons.
One of Cornwell’s biggest attributes coming out of high school was arm strength that 247Sports rated as a “nine” out of 10. I saw firsthand Coker sling it 60 yards with relative ease before the West Virginia game after just a few minutes of warm-up with that knee wrapped.
If the race is close and the two players are similar, wouldn’t it be wise to go with the one with the most room to grow? Without a doubt, the one with the most room to grow would be Cornwell. After all, if it were Coker, wouldn’t he have won the job last year?
Moving On Up
Cornwell sits at the unquestioned No. 2 after spring practice, and if you don’t find that overly impressive, you should probably think again.
He enrolled at Alabama in January 2014 as a 4-star pro-style prospect, fresh off of a torn ACL suffered during his senior season of high school football in Norman, Oklahoma. He rehabbed during his first few months in Tuscaloosa and participated in some work last spring.
After spring practice, he underwent surgery to repair an ankle injury. According to Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, he never really felt comfortable after that surgery until midway through his redshirt season of 2014.
“It’s been great,” Cornwell told Burnett in January. “Great experience with coach (Lane) Kiffin and coach (Nick) Saban. Coach (Scott) Cochran has been a part of it. I’ve lost some weight and got healthy finally.”
That’s important, because the first time that the coaching staff got a look at Cornwell at 100 percent in college, it was this spring. All he did was elevate himself to a clear-cut No. 2 in a five-man quarterback battle that included players with much more game and practice experience than he had coming in.
If Cornwell was able to make up that much ground in half of a spring practice session, that tells me that he has impressed the staff far more than expected and has a ton of momentum heading into summer workouts. If he’s a close No. 2 now with all the momentum, the best is yet to come and his ceiling hasn’t been reached.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alabama QB David Cornwell
For the second straight spring game, the Crimson Tide offense left a lot to be desired.
According to stats released by the University, Coker completed 14 of 28 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception playing with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, while Cornwell connected on 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and two picks with the “twos.”
Who will be Alabama’s starting QB?
Neither quarterback looked comfortable and Cornwell took two sacks, but Saban went out of his way to compliment Cornwell and everybody with the second team based on the specific setup of the spring game.
“This game was set up to try to look at the quarterbacks, to try to give them an opportunity,” he said in quotes released by Alabama. “I think the guys that played with the second team, because of the offensive line, was not up to snuff and where it needs to be, relative to the second defensive line. They probably didn’t have the same opportunity to have success.“
That’s not coach speak. He’s exactly right.
Alabama’s two-deep in the defensive front seven is as loaded as any team in the country, while even its first-team offensive line is looking to plug holes and stabilize itself.
Is the second-team offensive line going to hold off that pass rush? That’s not likely. At least, not in spring practice.
It seems like Saban and the staff have more faith in Cornwell than it appears on the surface, which bodes well for his future.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
After surrendering the most passing yards of the Nick Saban era in 2014, the 2015 Alabama defense will have to tighten up its issues in the secondary to help earn a return trip to the College Football Playoff.
On a team loaded with talent, sophomore cornerback Tony Brown may be the key player in improving the secondary and bringing another national title to Tuscaloosa.
Last season, Cyrus Jones was able to lock down one of the starting cornerback positions in the Tide’s defense while the other cornerback spot seemed to have a revolving door.
Brown, Bradley Sylve and Eddie Jackson all got chances at cornerback, and all three had more than their share of struggles, as the Crimson Tide gave up 3,164 passing yards in 14 games.
After being named Second Team All-SEC, Jones will return to his starting spot at corner, and Brown came out of spring practice as the favorite to start on the opposite side after getting the nod in the A-Day game in Jones’ absence.
#Bama CBs Tony Brown and Bradley Sylve both starting on A-Day for the fist team defense. Eddie Jackson will see work at corner and safety.
— Stephen M. Smith (@ESPN_Future) April 16, 2015
In 2015, Brown could be crucial to the success of the Alabama defense.
The secondary may not have been the Tide’s only Achilles’ heel in 2014, but it was a glaring weakness, especially down the stretch, as Alabama gave up an average of 328 passing yards in its final three games.
Jones is obviously expected to continue to play at a high level, and if Brown can learn from a year of experience and live up to his 5-star potential, according to 247Sports, it could result in huge strides being made for the Crimson Tide secondary.
Two lockdown corners complementing a pass rush that should give quarterbacks nightmares could mean the return of the championship-level defense Alabama fans are used to seeing from the Tide.
Alabama Pass Defense: 2014 vs. National Championship Seasons
After the Tide’s second spring scrimmage, head coach Nick Saban said some positive things about Brown’s play, per 247Sports’ Charlie Potter.
“Tony Brown has done a good job, still needs to work on his consistency, doing things the right way all the time, but he’s had a really good spring.”
As an NCAA track and field All-American in the 4×100 meter relay, Brown has elite speed at the cornerback position.
That speed is especially essential in Alabama’s secondary, which struggled defending deep balls last season. Alabama fans are sure to remember Sammie Coates running past Alabama cornerbacks in last year’s Iron Bowl victory.
Jason Getz, USA Today Sports
Brown celebrates the 2014 SEC Championship win with teammate Maurice Smith.
At 6’0″, 195 pounds, he has the size to come down and provide run support as well, a key responsibility of any cornerback in a Saban defense.
As 247Sports’ No. 2-rated cornerback in the country out of high school, there have never been any questions surrounding Brown’s ability. But this season, he’ll have to show the maturity to be a reliable option in the secondary.
Brown is easily the most talented option Alabama has to complement Cyrus Jones. Now is the time for Brown to step into the starring role that has awaited him since his arrival in Tuscaloosa.
With strong play from Tony Brown, an improved Alabama secondary could help propel the Crimson Tide to another College Football Playoff and give them a chance to reclaim college football’s crown.
All statistics via cfbstats.com.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist SamiHarb on Twitter @SamiPHarb.
Alabama fans should get excited for some of their top recruits to represent the Crimson Tide in Beaverton, Oregon, in The Opening Finals.Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the offensive commits as we…
The University of Alabama has had at least one player selected in the first round of each of the past seven NFL drafts, the longest active streak of any university. If junior interior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson declares for the 2016 draft, their streak will likely extend to eight.
Heading into the 2015 college football season, the defensive tackle position appears to be one of the deepest for draft-eligible talent.
Some of the top talents at the position project more favorably to specific defensive schemes over others. Robinson, however, is a player who should be near the top of the watch list for any team, regardless of scheme, that wants to bolster the middle of its defensive front in 2016.
For the purposes of this article, the sixth of 10 installments in Bleacher Report’s series of the 2016 NFL draft’s preseason top prospects at each position, Robinson is being classified as a defensive tackle, the position he would play in a 4-3 defensive front. That said, a big part of his appeal is that he could also project as either a defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment.
College Football’s Best Interior Run Defender
Alabama’s defense allowed the fourth-lowest average of rushing yards per game in 2014, and the presence of Robinson up front was a big reason for that.
Listed at 6’4” and 312 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, Robinson exhibits an excellent combination of size and strength.
As NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah pointed out in a tweet last week, Robinson consistently holds his ground at the point of attack.
Bama DTs Robinson (86) and Lee (90) both excel at the point of attack. Can’t move these guys. https://t.co/WLNHdlthu0
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 25, 2015
Robinson simply doesn’t let blockers push him around, even when he is double-teamed.
When blocked one-on-one, Robinson routinely shows the ability to stack and shed his opponents. He demonstrates very good understanding and execution of leverage. Advantaged by his long arms, Robinson does a great job keeping blockers off his body while getting into his opponent’s pads and thrusting his power forward to get offensive linemen moving in the wrong direction.
A textbook example of a stack-and-shed can be seen in the following clip from Alabama’s SEC Championship Game victory over Missouri this past season. Robinson (No. 86) shoots straight at Missouri left guard Brad McNulty, extends his outside arm into McNulty’s chest and then rips his inside arm across McNulty’s body to get off the block and stop Tigers running back Russell Hansbrough short on a 3rd-and-1 conversion attempt.
Robinson will need to continue refining those hand skills to be a consistently dominant run defender at the next level, but at times, he can also win at the line of scrimmage by simply overpowering his man. You can see that at work in the following clip—from the same game but this time against a different left guard, Mitch Hall—as Robinson pushed Hall backward to force a run wide left then worked off the blocker to make the tackle for a three-yard loss himself.
One can watch virtually any Alabama game and see those skills at work from Robinson. The GIF below, courtesy of Draft Breakdown, is another example of Robinson holding his ground and muscling himself off a blocker—this time, Mississippi State left guard Justin Malone, to make a stop for no gain moving outside left on 1st-and-goal.
Teams looking for a flashy, one-gap penetrator will want to look in a different direction from Robinson. Although he is a good all-around athlete for his size, he is not a player who will win at the next level with an explosive burst off the snap.
On the other hand, teams looking for a player who can consistently fill gaps, occupy blockers and shut down running lanes should be enamored by Robinson. He has the size, strength and skill to step in and provide immediate production as a run defender on an NFL unit.
Robinson’s range to make plays along the line of scrimmage is somewhat limited, but he does show the hustle to chase runs downfield when needed. The following play against Mississippi State was one such example, when the defensive tackle showed his speed in chasing down Bulldogs running back Josh Robinson—a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft—12 yards downfield on a screen play.
Versatility to Fit Any Defensive Front
As previously mentioned, Robinson is a player who should garner interest from 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike. The experience he has gained playing multiple positions across both alignments at Alabama should increase his readiness to step in and play in the NFL regardless of front.
Robinson might technically be considered a defensive end this year, as the Crimson Tide typically use the three-man front in their base defense. But as the following screenshots depict, he plays everywhere from the 0-technique (where the 3-4 nose tackle typically lines up) to the 3-technique (penetrating 4-3 defensive tackle) and the 5-technique (3-4 defensive end).
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 0-technique nose tackle
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 3-technique defensive tackle
Screenshot illustrated by author
A’Shawn Robinson lined up at 5-technique defensive end
Robinson has the anchoring strength to play nose tackle and the length to play as a 5-technique, and he combines those with the all-around athleticism needed to play either spot in the middle of a four-man front.
Assuming a team that selects him highly plans to maximize his ability, it’s likely that Robinson will see time playing multiple spots on his NFL team’s defensive line.
Can Robinson Be an Impactful Pass-Rusher?
That is the question, Robinson will need to answer affirmatively if he is going to be among the top picks in the 2016 NFL draft, assuming he declares for the draft following his junior year.
As a true freshman in 2013, Robinson actually led the Crimson Tide with 5.5 sacks. In 2014, however, Robinson did not record a single sack for the year.
In itself, Robinson’s ability to defend the run should make him a first-round selection. His ability to provide a consistent impact in that area gives him huge value as an interior defensive lineman, and he could play a part in making an NFL run defense instantly better.
Yet because pass-rushers are at a premium in the modern NFL, Robinson could end up being surpassed by numerous interior defensive linemen in advance of the 2016 draft if he does not show more ability to put pressure on the quarterback in 2015.
Using the same skills as demonstrated earlier, Robinson can generate a powerful bull rush that jacks a blocker backward toward the passer. He appears to be strong enough to be able to bring pressure in that capacity even at the next level.
Beyond his bull rush, however, Robinson has not demonstrated any regularly effective secondary rush moves. If Robinson is going to be an effective pass-rusher in the NFL, he must be able to do more with his hands to fight his way off blockers when his power rush gets absorbed.
When Robinson is able to get free with an angle toward the quarterback, he has enough closing burst to bring pressure. His long arms can once again be an asset in this regard, as they increase his reach to the quarterback while also allowing him to disrupt and even deflect passes by getting his hands up in the passer’s face.
The problem for Robinson is that NFL offenses will move faster than opponents do at the collegiate level, and he will be less likely to get shots at the quarterback that he does not earn by winning with technique.
Given that, Robinson will need to make significant improvements to his pass-rushing repertoire before he will be able to make a significant impact on an NFL pass defense. For at least the beginning of his career, Robinson will likely be a player who substitutes out of the game in obvious passing situations.
Even if he does make large strides as a pass-rusher from a skill standpoint, it’s also unclear whether Robinson has the stamina to be an every-down player. Because Alabama rotates its defensive linemen in and out of the lineup regularly, Robinson has not been tested to an extent of having to play every series for an entire game.
How Robinson Should Stack Up in 2016 Draft Class
Because he does not project to be a game-changer in pass defense, Robinson could potentially slide from early first-round consideration to being a late first-round player. As it currently stands, however, Robinson projects as the player with the most complete combination of size, strength, athleticism and skill among interior defensive line prospects for the 2016 draft.
While Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller placed Robinson 21st on his initial big board for the 2016 draft, ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him as the No. 6 overall draft-eligible prospect.
“Though he can eat up blocks on the inside, he’s actually in the backfield a lot, because he’s got strength and impressive athletic ability for a man his size,” Kiper wrote on Robinson in May. “To be an instant-impact player at Bama is usually a good sign, and Robinson should continue to get better.”
Robinson’s teammates, including linebacker Reggie Ragland (who himself is a potential early-round pick), also hold the defensive lineman in high regard.
“You can tell he’s the best player on our team,” Ragland said in April, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. “He’s hard-nosed, physical, and the sky’s the limit for him.”
With that being said, Robinson should have plenty of competition among defensive tackles/3-4 defensive ends with the potential to be first-round picks.
Some of the draft’s top 4-3 defensive end prospects, including Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche, also project as potential 3-4 defensive ends and as players who could kick inside, at least situationally, in four-man fronts. Those players were not considered for the top spot in this article, however, as defensive ends will be in focus in the next installment in this series.
Among true defensive tackles, Robinson’s steepest competition for draft position might come from Baylor junior Andrew Billings.
An outstanding physical specimen who broke the Texas state powerlifting record in high school, Billings has a truly rare combination of agility and strength. A more explosive athlete than Robinson, he offers more pass-rushing ability than his counterpart but is not as stout against the run. His appeal could also be limited for 3-4 teams, as he is undersized for a nose tackle (6’2″, 300 lbs) and has poor length for a defensive end.
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Among Robinson’s other competition, a case could be made that he is not even the best interior defensive line prospect on his own team. Jarran Reed, a similarly built player who projects to start at nose tackle for the Crimson Tide in his senior year, is coming off a breakout junior season in which he often topped Robinson as the most disruptive player on the team’s defensive line.
Another school with two potential early-round prospects on the interior defensive line, depending on how those players progress in their junior years, is UCLA. Physically gifted and highly touted, Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes have exhibited flashes of brilliance that could vault them up draft boards if they can take their games to the next level this fall.
There are also a number of interior penetrators, prospects who project as either 3-technique defensive tackles or 5-technique defensive ends, with the tools to end up in the first-round mix in 2016, including Penn State redshirt junior Anthony Zettel, Nebraska junior Maliek Collins, Ohio State senior Adolphus Washington, Notre Dame senior Sheldon Day and Mississippi State junior Chris Jones.
With so much prospective competition to be a top pick on the interior defensive line, Robinson will need to play up to expectations to be the early first-round selection he has the potential to be in 2016.
Robinson’s game is not as flashy as that as some of the other top prospects, and that could hurt him in the draft process. From a standpoint of consistent substance, however, Robinson offers the skill set that will likely bring the most immediate impact to a team that drafts an interior defensive lineman next year.
This article is part of a series on the projected top prospects at each position for the 2016 NFL draft. Also read:
Meet Jared Goff, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top QB Heading into Next Season
Meet Ezekiel Elliott, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top RB Heading into Next Season
Meet Tyler Boyd, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top WR Heading into Next Season
Meet Evan Engram, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top TE Heading into Next Season
Meet Ronnie Stanley, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top OL Heading into Next Season
Meet Joey Bosa, the 2016 NFL Draft’s Top DE Heading into Next Season
All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown and YouTube.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is unquestionably the face of his Crimson Tide team, and perhaps college football as a whole. The four-time national champion and three-time SEC Coach of the Year is among the most recognizable figures in all of American sports, setting the stage for sustained success on the recruiting trail.
The program entered unprecedented territory last February, securing its fifth consecutive top-ranked class, via 247Sports’ composite, on national signing day. The Crimson Tide have landed among the top five on that list every year since 2008, which was Saban’s first full cycle with Alabama.
After a relatively “slow” start toward signing day 2016, the Crimson Tide caught first in late spring. Alabama surged to fourth overall in national composite class rankings this month, spurred by 12 commitments during an nine-week stretch.
Saban, known as a tireless pursuer of top-tier high school prospects, surrounds himself with similarly tenacious assistants. It’s a staff that turns “down time” into recruiting-department strategy sessions and casts its net across the country in an attempt to keep momentum moving toward more titles in Tuscaloosa.
Whether or not a team is led by the likes of Saban, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher or Urban Meyer, a cohesive and consistent group effort within football facilities is required to reel in large volumes of talent. The roster counted on to chase championships four years from now ultimately demands replenishment in the present.
Current 2016 Recruiting Class Rankings
247Sports composite rankings
Alabama’s recruiting efforts occasionally require improvisation, including increased attention toward the Texas landscape. When the SEC welcomed Texas A&M into the fold a few years ago, it essentially expanded the conference’s borders, and the Crimson Tide are taking advantage.
Saban signed 5-star cornerbacks (Tony Brown and Kendall Sheffield) from the Lone Star State during each of the past two recruiting cycles. Alabama currently holds three 2016 pledges from Texas products.
Defensive line coach Bo Davis, an original member of Saban’s staff who returned to Tuscaloosa in 2014, plays a big role in this department. He previously served as a Texas Longhorns assistant and continues to claim recruiting victories in the talent-laden region.
Davis played a key role in the recruitment of Sheffield leading up to his 2015 signing. Last month, he helped Alabama beat the Longhorns in a head-to-head showdown for prized Texas defensive tackle Kendell Jones.
“He’s a good guy,” Jones’ head high school coach Channon Hall told Hank South of 247Sports. “We knew him when he was at Texas. It’s always good when our guys see those guys walk through the door.”
Davis was instrumental in landing Texas DT Kendell Jones.
Davis also served as a key facilitator for a June commitment from fellow Texas standout Jalen Hurts, a 4-star quarterback and Elite 11 finalist.
The Crimson Tide currently hold more 4-star pledges from Texas (three) than the Longhorns (two), and there could be more to come.
Meanwhile, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal is making another strong case as one of the country’s premier recruiters. He finished atop national assistant coach recruiting rankings last cycle and is off to another strong start.
Cristobal, who served as head coach at FIU for seven seasons before coming to Alabama, was the primary recruiter for three 5-star signees in 2015 and already helped land four 4-star offensive linemen in this class.
Since Saban hired him in February 2013, Cristobal has helped Alabama claim 12 blockers who command a prospect rating of 4-star or 5-star. The list is headlined by No. 1 overall 2014 lineman and potential top-10 NFL draft pick Cam Robinson.
His most recent additions along the offensive front—Chris Owens, Deonte Brown and Charles Baldwin—are each 4-star recruits who joined the 2016 class since April.
Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal continues to help stockpile talent in Tuscaloosa.
Cristobal is part of an offensive staff led by coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, who made significant recruiting splashes as head coach at Tennessee and USC. He and Saban have evolved the offensive vision, emphasizing more importance on dual-threat quarterback talents like Hurts and 5-star 2015 signee Blake Barnett.
“I’m extremely excited about the chance to play for Coach Kiffin,” Barnett told Bleacher Report. “Obviously, he’s had a lot of success offensively at other places and I think there’s an opportunity to do some new things on that side of the ball at Alabama. They’re going to do some things to get me on the move and out of the pocket.”
This new approach could also help Alabama pluck coveted quarterback Jawon Pass out of Georgia. The athletic 6’5″, 220-pound specimen is expected to decide between Auburn, North Carolina, Louisville and the Crimson Tide when he announces July 13.
Pass is yet another piece who, if added to the equation, could help Alabama capture a sixth straight No. 1 recruiting haul. Fellow high-profile 2016 targets include defensive tackle Rashan Gary, offensive lineman Greg Little and Crimson Tide linebacker legacy Ben Davis.
Will Alabama extend its streak of top-ranked recruiting classes in 2016?
Alabama looked extremely likely to finally surrender its recruiting crown just two months ago.
Now at the start of summer, Saban and his determined staff of assistants appear primed to push for that top spot yet again.