Alabama could have best defense in the nation
Even though Alabama might undergo some growing pains on offense (see our explanation on that here), it figures to again be in the SEC title mix because it could have the best defense in all of college football.
The Crimson Tide certainly aren’t the only team with a legitimate claim to that title. Headed by the superb pairing of Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry, Ohio State has a strong case to make, but the sheer number of quality players returning gives the edge to the Crimson Tide.
Interior defenders A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland set the tone, with 88.4, 88 and 81.3 grades against the run, respectively. That trio accounted for 85 run stops between them in 2014. The departure of inside linebacker Trey DePriest is a blow, but backups Reuben Foster and Dillon Lee impressed in spot duty.
On the edge, Jonathan Allen returns after having led Alabama with 41 total pressures last season, giving him a team-leading 84.1 pass-rush grade. Ryan Anderson and D.J. Pettway had 55 pressures between them, giving the team a strong starting trio. However, there is room for other players to make an impact in the edge rotation, and don’t be surprised if either Tim Williams or former star recruit Da’Shawn Hand see more snaps.
Cornerback has been an issue in Tuscaloosa since Dee Milliner left for the NFL, but the Tide have recruited the position well. Cyrus Jones should man one corner spot, having allowed just 48.9 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed last season, and while both starting safeties have left, Alabama will still have experience on the backend in the form of Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith. Both were primarily corners in 2014, but Smith played across the secondary, with 29.3 percent of his snaps coming while lined up at free safety.
It’s not a perfect group right now, but in terms of depth of talent returning, and strength of talent waiting in the wings, this looks like a vintage Alabama defense.