Alabama players in high demand in 2021 NFL Draft

It’s almost time. The 2021 NFL Draft is set to take place in Cleveland, Ohio this Thursday. 


CW / Hannah Saad

Maxwell Donaldson, Contributing Writer

The journey to Cleveland looked different this year, but that hardly stopped former Alabama football players from showcasing their talent to several NFL teams. 

Typically, 330 prospects are invited to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine. Considered the flagship test, the players go through various psychological, physical and mental tests with NFL teams. Many prospects call it the hardest part of the draft journey. 

That bump in the road was removed this year. 

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the NFL scouting combine was not held this year. Prospects now had to showcase their skills and talent on their school’s Pro Days. Interviews and tests were held virtually for all 32. The new-look process provided a less stressful environment for players. 

High levels of performance were still expected, but Alabama is no stranger to that. 

Considered a modern day draft factory, Alabama had four players drafted in the first round last year. Head coach Nick Saban has had 38 players go in the first round since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. 

With 15 former players hoping to make their dreams a reality, Alabama has another chance to add to their rich draft history. Let’s look at each player’s journey:

Mac Jones

Former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones threw on both Pro Days. Jones used the showings to answer criticisms of his play— especially ones that claimed “he can’t move around the pocket” and “he lacks arm strength.” Notably, Jones showed off his athleticism with a 4.83 40-yard dash and positional skills. Throughout his throwing session, he ran bootleg moves around the pocket. Those throws included lots of deep passes to his receivers.  

The 4.83 40-yard dash time showed that Jones is not a statue behind center, and the throwing portion of the day showed that he does, in fact, have the arm strength that talent evaluators love to see. Jones threw 50-yard passes with ease and on target. But even with two good Pro Days Jones didn’t surpass the top-two quarterbacks. 

On most draft boards, Jones is QB3, below former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. However, some draft boards have Jones as QB5, below former NDSU quarterback Trey Lance and former OSU quarterback Justin Fields. Despite mixed reviews from analysts, a few teams are interested in Jones. Reports state that the San Francisco 49ers are the top team to take Jones with the third overall pick. NFL Insider Adam Schefter discussed the 49ers’ level of interest in Jones. 

“Not right now. … I believe that in the end, they will pick Mac Jones at three. That’ll be the pick. And they will keep Jimmy Garoppolo this year,” Schefter said. “They believe they have a Super Bowl-caliber roster, a playoff-caliber roster and they want to draft a quarterback and have him sit on the bench, learn, get acclimated, even though some people say that Mac Jones is ready to play right away.” 

The 49ers are not the only team that wants to draft Jones. The New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints are also interested in the quarterback. These teams have been eyeing Jones since the Senior Bowl. His Pro Day outings have helped his draft stock skyrocket before Thursday Night. 

Patrick Surtain II

Former Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II had an incredible Pro Day. Surtain has most likely solidified his spot as the number one cornerback in this class. His 4.42 40-yard dash and his 39-inch vertical showed the explosiveness that scouts love to see. In today’s NFL, speed and explosiveness are important to compete with wide receivers. 

Surtain has drawn interest from several teams. Notable ones include the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys are the most interested, as they look to pair Surtain with former teammate Trevon Diggs. The Cowboys’ secondary was a sore spot for the team. Surtain would be a great addition to a young and developing defense. 

Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle

Former Alabama receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle didn’t participate much in either Pro Day, but Smith did catch a couple passes during Alabama’s second Pro Day. Despite limited participation, Smith and Waddle’s stock has suffered little damage. 

The Heisman Trophy winner is among the top pass catchers in the 2021 class. Smith is considered one of the top pass catchers, along with LSU receiver Jamarr Chase and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Waddle is still a top prospect, despite his injury in Knoxville. Smith is not likely to fall outside of the top ten. 

An Alabama reunion is most likely for Smith, who might reconnect with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Jaylen Waddle could reunite with another former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts as the Eagles take him with the 12th overall pick. 

Najee Harris 

Former Alabama running back Najee Harris improved his draft stock a lot in 2020.  Throughout the season, Harris showed that he can be an every-down back in the NFL. Harris’s pass-catching skills and run game make him an unique prospect. 

Harris is the consensus top running back in this class. While running backs aren’t always picked in the first round, three teams look poised to take Harris. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills are ideal fits for Harris. Harris could also go mid-first round, if the Miami Dolphins like him. All three could end up taking Harris, but don’t be surprised if he falls out of the first round.  

Christian Barmore

Former Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore is a top defender in a weaker position class. Barmore, however, is still regarded as a first-round talent by many analysts. With an improved draft stock, Barmore can be a mid-first round pick. There aren’t many teams with interior defensive lineman with their biggest need. However, teams could select him if he is the best player available.

Several draft boards have the Philadelphia Eagles taking Barmore at number 12. The draft ceiling for Barmore is high. 

Alex Leatherwood

Former Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood also increased his draft stock last season. Teams like the Los Angeles Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use Leatherwood’s versatility. 

This draft, however, is filled with offensive line talent. If players like Christian Darrisaw and Rayshawn Slater are still on the board, Leatherwood could slip out of the first round. But his athleticism may entice the later first-round teams to use their pick on Leatherwood. 

Later Rounds

Alabama could have seven players going in the first round with Jones, Harris, Smith, Waddle, Barmore, Surtain and Leatherwood. There are some players that could go in later rounds of the draft. Former Alabama offensive linemen Landon Dickerson and Deonte Brown could be Day 2 picks. Several teams, like the Cincinnati Bengals, are in need of offensive linemen. This year’s draft is particularly deep for offensive linemen, so Dickerson and Brown could go in either of the first three rounds. 

Even with the first-round caliber talent Alabama has, there are some sleepers. On the offensive side of the ball, former Alabama tight ends Miller Forristall and Carl Tucker may have to wait to hear their phone ring. Forristall is projected to be a seventh round pick. Tucker may become an undrafted free agent. On the defensive side, former Alabama middle linebacker Dylan Moses is projected to go in rounds 3-5. Injuries have hurt these players’ draft stock. However, their upside in talent and production still has teams interested in them.

Alabama has 14 NFL hopefuls this draft season go around. Seven can possibly add to the first-round legacy of Alabama football. Twelve players overall could be drafted from the Crimson Tide, showing the world that there’s still NFL-caliber talent in Alabama.