Alabama’s front seven could be Saban’s best unit ever

Led by a dangerous trio of pass-rushers, the Crimson Tide are on pace for a historic season.

| 2 months ago
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama’s front seven could be Saban’s best unit ever


There are lots of talented units in college football, but one reigns supreme above them all — the Alabama front seven. On a team whose defense has been a major key to their success this year, the strength of their front seven has been evident in every win so far.

What makes this unit so impressive? Let’s take a look at the main components:

It starts up front

Dalvin Tomlinson has impressed in a smaller role in each of the past two seasons, but in a bigger role so far this season, he looks even better. With a grade of 83.5, he has been key to the Alabama defensive line, spending time along the defensive interior in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. He has graded well against the run, and made four tackles resulting in a defensive stop in that role last week against Ole Miss. He’s been even more impressive as a pass-rusher though, registering eight total pressures on 93 pass-rushing attempts so far this year.

He’s joined by the versatile Jonathan Allen, who with a grade of 88.4 is proving himself to be one of the very best defensive players in the nation this year. Part of this has been his dominance as a pass-rusher, registering three sacks, four hits and nine hurries on 96 pass rushing opportunities. Our pass rushing productivity signature stat tracks pressure on a per-snap basis, with Allen’s 14.0 PRP rating currently ranked eighth among 4-3 defensive ends. However, the other key to Allen’s important to the Alabama front has been his versatility. He has line up at nine different positions across the front even through the first three weeks of the season, ranging from as far wide as one snaps at 3-4 outside linebacker, to as far inside as two snaps at nose tackle. Most of his snaps however, have come at either 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end, or 4-3 defensive end.

Pressure off the edge

Allen’s versatility is so key because it allows them to move him around and get the most out of him, even when they want to utilize their star edge rushers in Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. With grades of 80.2 and 79.8 respectively, both have been impressive so far this season in bigger roles, after doing a lot of damage on limited snaps last year.

tim williams graphic following week 3

Williams has managed to register three quarterback hits and 10 hurries off the edge on 70 pass rushing snaps, working out at one pressure once every 5.4 pass rushing attempts and producing a PRP rating of 14.6 that ranks eight among 3-4 outside linebackers in the nation. His most impressive performance so far this year came against USC, where he was a complete nightmare for USC’s top offensive lineman, right tackle Zach Banner, registering two hits and six hurries in the game.

williams1

Anderson grades slightly lower than Williams does, but he too is having a big year in a bigger role on that defense. With two sacks, three hits and seven hurries on 77 pass rushing snaps, he is averaging a pressure once every 6.4 pass-rushing attempts, and has produced a pass rushing productivity rating of 12.3, ranking 17th among all 3-4 outside linebackers in the nation.

Summing all of that up, Alabama has three of the best pass-rushers in the nation in Allen, Williams and Anderson, making life miserable for quarterbacks that have to deal with pressure against them.

The man in the middle

One of the interesting stories heading into this season was whether or not Reuben Foster could step up and fill the role of Alabama’s top linebacker, left when Reggie Ragland left for the NFL in the spring. With a grade of 89.4, he not only has the top grade of any player on the Alabama defense, but currently is on pace for a higher grade than Ragland’s 87.8 from last season.

Our highest-graded linebacker in all of college football so far this year, he has been a stand out both against the run and in coverage. In coverage he has made a tackle of five receptions into his coverage so far this year, allowing an average of just 4.8 yards when he does so. He has played 50 snaps against the run so far this year, making a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 22.0 percent of those plays — the second-best mark among linebackers in all of college football.

foster

With stand-out players on the interior, on the edge and at inside linebackers, this Alabama front seven is not only the best unit in the nation right now, but arguably one of the best of all time.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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