2016 season preview: Alabama Crimson Tide
The Alabama Crimson Tide come into the new college football season as the defending national champions, and despite losing plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, they remain as one of the favorites to win the SEC and head to the College Football Playoff once again.
So what makes them still such strong favorites after losing so much talent this offseason? Let’s take a look.
The two biggest losses Alabama has to replace on offense are quarterback Jake Coker and running back Derrick Henry. At quarterback it’s likely that they’ll go with Cooper Bateman or David Cornwell. Bateman played just 144 snaps at graded at -0.8 last year, while we haven’t seen any snaps from David Cornwell yet. The good news for whoever gets the job is that they have two talented receivers in ArDarius Stewart (+3.2) and Calvin Ridley (+8.8). Ridley is the star, forcing 13 missed tackles on 89 receptions a year ago. Much will be expected of Bo Scarborough at running back, and considering he stands at 6-2 and 230 pounds, expect him to fill the role left by Derrick Henry as Alabama’s physical runner well. He saw just 18 carries last season, but forced seven missed tackles and ran for 104 yards.
They lost Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson on the defensive line, Reggie Ragland at linebacker and Cyrus Jones at cornerback, but don’t let that make you think this Alabama defense is due for a down year. Up front Jonathan Allen had a pass rush grade of +19.1, registering 13 sacks, six hits and 17 hurries. He won’t be the only player bringing the heat however, with Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson expected to see much bigger roles in 2016.
Our pass rushing productivity signature stat measures pressure on a per-snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits, giving a better indication of production than sack totals alone. As part-time players, Williams (28.4) and Anderson (19.1) ranked first and fifth among outside linebackers in that category. In the secondary, Marlon Humphrey is an incredible athlete, and allowed just 50.0 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, coming up with three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Heading into 2016, he could be able to claim that he’s the best cornerback in the nation if he follows up his impressive 2015 season with an even better one.
It’s incredibly tough to pick a star player on this team, but it definitely comes from the defensive side of the ball. Humphrey, Williams and Anderson — among many others — could emerge as the defensive star, but right now Jonathan Allen comes away with the title. Considering he played just 251 snaps as a pass rusher last year, his 36 total pressures are impressive, and they gave him a pass rushing productivity rating of 12.1, ranking fifth in the nation among interior defensive lineman. He’s not one-dimensional though, with his +15.9 grade against the run on just 143 snaps pretty eye opening. If he can replicate this on a bigger snap count next season — look out.
Breakout player to watch
While colleague Steve Palazzolo placed Ryan Anderson near tops of his Top 25 breakout list, I’m going to go with Tim Williams at outside linebacker, given he played just 15.1 percent of the Alabama defensive snaps over the past two seasons. In 2014 he registered a pressure on 13 of his 46 total pass rushes, and upped that in 2015, registering 11 sacks, eight hits and 33 hurries on only 157 pass rushing attempts. His pass rushing productivity rating on 28.1 lead all outside linebackers by a considerable margin and he’s poised to have a huge 2016.
There’s a lot of hype around Tennessee in the SEC this year, and while they deserve that hype and might very well wind up being the best team in the conference, right now there’s nothing to suggest that they are a better team than Alabama. The defending national champions are loaded from front to back on defense, and there’s enough talent at wide receiver to create big plays on offense and be a very strong team once again.