Think you have a grasp on how absurd Nick Saban is at churning out first-round selections from his program? Well chew on this — more Alabama players were picked in the first round of the last two drafts than players from the entire Pac-12 conference. The Crimson Tide alone outdid the ACC too, 10 to nine.
Starting in 2009 — which gave Saban time to settle into his throne in Tuscaloosa — the Crimson Tide have had 39 players land inside Round 1.
Although history tells us three more Alabama studs will be picked in the first round of the 2022 Draft, let’s pinpoint all the potential #RollTide first-round selections next year.
(Players ranked in order of likelihood of being a first-round pick in 2022)
Evan Neal, OT
Remember how much attention Mekhi Becton received because of how gargantuan he was coming out of Louisville? (He was good too.) Well, Neal is Bectonian, listed at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. And like the Jets left tackle, Neal doesn’t carry much bad weight on that massive frame of his.
As expected, he’s an effortless run-game displacer. When Neal wants to move you to create a running lane, it happens. And his athleticism in all phases of the game is impressive relative to his mass. There are plenty of well-balanced wins in pass-protection on his film, but Neal does have a tendency to play too aggressively and get out over his toes. Even when he “loses” a rep, the edge rusher has roughly a quarter mile to navigate to get around him to the quarterback. The size, power, and quickness/balance make Neal a top-tier prospect, who, with a slightly steadier season in 2021, a top half of the first round prospect.
Jordan Battle, S
Saban-coached safeties tend to get drafted. Early. Battle was a star as a sophomore on Alabama’s national-title winning defense last season with 66 tackles, four pass breakups, and an interception in a completely multifaceted role. He played everywhere and rarely looked out of place. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Battle has close to an NFL safety’s body right now, and he hits like an old-school striker from the early 2000s.
Battle is more explosive than he is loose-hipped, but relative to his size, the former four-star recruit shouldn’t be labeled as a stiff safety. He’s mostly reliable in man coverage down the field and is a responsible slot defender on pass plays, typically executing his duties without much leakage. Like Xavier McKinney, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Landon Collins before him, Collins has the talent, and experience carrying out a variety of duties in Saban’s defense that’s a replica of an NFL scheme to be picked very early when he declares for the draft.
Josh Jobe, CB
Jobe batted away 11 passes and had two picks in his debut season as a starting outside cornerback in Nick Saban’s defense in 2020, a position on a pedestal many use as a stepping stone to the first round of the draft. At north of 6-0 and 190 pounds, Jobe has the ideal size to man a spot on the perimeter in the NFL, and his aggressive nature is a blessing and a curse.
He throws a variety of punches at receivers, often surprising them with his nuance. Jobe is also overly reliant on his physicality through the route despite not being overly powerful through contact. He was routinely flagged for holding downfield last year. He’s a quality athlete too — pretty light on his feet — although I’d like to see more consistency in his movement skills when breaking on the ball in 2021. But as a now productive two-year starter on the boundary for Saban, Jobe needs to be considered a potential first-round pick. That’s what Alabama does.
Christian Harris, LB
Harris is what teams want out of linebackers today. You’ve heard about it for years now — sleek, rangy, comfy-in-space linebacker with short-area quickness for days. He really glides around the field. Like most linebackers Saban coaches, Harris diagnoses in a hurry and plays with an impressive — but not otherworldly — second gear to strike at the ball carrier. Perfect for the modern-day NFL, dropping in coverage is a strength for Harris, and I love how he fared running down the seam with Kyle Pitts in SEC title game, which was quite the challenging task.
Now, Harris didn’t have a ton of ball production in 2020, but the athletic skill set is there for him to star in coverage. I’d like to see him shed blocks with ferocity on a more consistent basis and showcase more urgency to finish plays — particularly as a blitzer. Playing behind Alabama’s perpetually overwhelming defensive line, Battle is in line for a monstrous 2021. If the statistics pop in coverage, he’ll land in the first round next April.
John Metchie III, WR
Metchie fits exquisitely with what many teams are attempting to accomplish in their pass games today. Generate splash plays. He’s a vertical threat with adequate size/bulk and loads of experience running intricate downfield routes with subtlety.
For Metchie, flipping into top gear is more noticeable than his burst off the ball or twitch underneath/at the intermediate level. In 2020, there were some drops on film on throws in which he had to adjust, but he does track it well over his shoulder deep downfield. What makes him the least likely first-rounder of this wave of Alabama prospects is that there are only glimpses of creativity and electricity after the catch. He’s not yet dynamic in that aspect of the game, and while Metchie battles through contact, too often a physical corner can impede his route which essentially removes him from the play.
But like almost all of the recent Alabama receivers, Metchie is well-versed at beating press at the line with lightning quick releases and hand work. He had 55 catches for 916 yards (16.7 yards per) with six touchdowns last season. Heck of a sophomore season in a full-time role.