Breaking down Alabama's 2016 NFL draft class
The University of Alabama continued to dominate the FBS by winning another National Championship in 2015, and a number of Nick Saban’s players will hope to make the jump to the pro-game when the 2016 NFL draft rolls around.
While a handful of the Crimson Tide’s championship-winning team are likely to prove capable NFL players, to me, none standout as being difference-makers on Sunday. Here’s a look at Alabama’s top prospects, in order of my view on their respective draft values:
ILB Reggie Ragland: +32.7
Ragland is the ideal two-down, run-stopping middle linebacker that has gone out of fashion in the modern NFL. His instincts in particular are outstanding. Ragland diagnoses plays quickly and accurately, before attacking the line of scrimmage when he reads run. He shows the awareness to scrape along the LOS to find the ball carrier and make the stop. Ragland also flashes the ability to shed blocks even if he is inconsistent in that regard. He does prefer to avoid, rather than take on blockers, which occasionally means he finds himself going backward at the second level. Generally however, Ragland is able to use his agility to avoid blockers and get to the football. The athleticism shows up on wide runs too, where Ragland’s speed enables him to get to the sideline to make a play.
Those are the positives. One concern with Ragland is his tendency to hit rather than tackle. He’s able to deliver major blows when the opportunity arises, but lacks consistent form to bring runners to the ground. He missed 10 of 96 attempted tackles in 2015, which isn’t great for a run-defending linebacker. The other major concern is his ability in coverage. He wasn’t required to man-up against backs and tightends much at Alabama. That will change when he plays on Sundays. Ragland showed decent zone awareness in college, generally proving effective when the play was in front of him, but didn’t display the coverage skills necessary to be taken on Day 1 in April.
NT Jarran Reed: +46.7
Reed, much like Ragland, is a little too one-dimensional to be a worthwhile pick in the first round. He is a typical stack-and-shed nose tackle who makes his impact felt against the run. Few, if any, defensive lineman in this class possess the kind of technique Reed shows consistently when run defending. He wins off the snap, standing his blocker up to gain control, then reads the direction effectively to make the stop. Reed is also capable of controlling his blocker while moving laterally, enabling him to make plays across the field. He ended the year with 33 stops against the run, good for fourth in the nation, and with a top run stop percentage of 13.4.
Reed’s value, however, is limited to stopping the ground game. He barely generated any pressure at all while at Alabama. He generated just three knockdowns (all in 2015) from the two seasons we’ve been grading. Reed does show impressive ability to get into passing lanes, knocking down a combined 11 passes at the line of scrimmage, but an inability to collapse the pocket is a major flaw in the big nose tackle’s game. How valuable is a two-down run stuffer in the NFL at the moment? Reed is good enough at his speciality to be drafted on Day 2 but his ceiling means a first round investment is unlikely.
C Ryan Kelly, +13.9
Kelly displays all the traits evaluators look for in a starting center. He’s an ideal fit in a zone blocking scheme, where he could use his athleticism to make plays. One aspect of his game that stands out is his ability to make blocks across disadvantageous shades. He shows the ability to reach against 1 or 2-technique defensive lineman consistently on tape. Blocks of that type are the toughest to make, yet Kelly makes them look routine. He is also outstanding at the second level, where he’s able to pin linebackers to the inside on outside runs. Kelly climbs quickly to the second level, showing good feet to get into position and sustain his blocks.
Alabama’s center is less effective blocking in-line. He occasionally flashes the power to drive block, but only infrequently. Kelly is also only average in pass protection. He doesn’t always move his feet quickly to pick up rushers and he can be driven backwards by bull rushes. That said, he still graded positively in 2015, giving up just four hits and six hurries from 465 snaps. Kelly will rightly be one of the top centers drafted come April.
DE A’Shawn Robinson, +34.6
Robinson and Reed have a number of similarities. Both show excellent ability to two-gap against the run, but offer relatively little as pass rushers. Reed is slightly more consistent than Robinson, however, which explains his slightly superior ranking. The other draft-eligible Alabama defensive lineman is a solid player but lacks the upside to hear his name called early. He ended the year as only our 18th overall interior defensive lineman, with only a +5.7 grade rushing the passer. Robinson wins with effort and power as much as athleticism, limiting his likely impact at the next level. He can hold his ground in run defense, and made a number of plays himself, but also found himself blocked more consistently than his teammate. A one-dimensional lineman who doesn’t dominate in that facet of play is not particularly valuable. Considering the depth at defensive line in this draft, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Robinson fall further than the third round.
HB Derrick Henry: +22.7
If Henry does not hear his name called with the final picks on Day 2, expect a team to find a way to nab him early Day 3. Much like the rest of Alabama’s draft class, Henry is one-dimensional, but he performs that dimension exceptionally well. His +24.7 rushing grade was bettered by only UCLA’s Paul Perkins. Few power backs are capable of breaking as many tackles as Henry accomplished. He tallied 76 over the course of 2015, adding 3.4 yards after contact and 28 touchdowns. In some ways, however, those numbers work against him because they came on 396 carries. Shelf-life is a major concern for running backs, especially for those coming off 400-carry seasons. He also offers almost nothing as a receiver. Still, despite those limitations, Henry’s exceptional vision and underrated burst are likely to make him an effective thumper in the NFL.
HB Kenyan Drake: +9.9
The antithesis of Henry, Drake’s skillset may in some ways be more suited to the NFL. The threat he poses with the ball in space will be particularly appealing to NFL evaluators. Drake is at his most effective in the passing game. When he gets up to full speed going North/South, few defenders can bring him down. He broke 15 tackles on just 31 receptions in 2015. There are major concerns, however, about how well his running style will translate to the NFL. Drake bounced almost everything to the outside in college, where he was able to use his speed to outrun defenders. That strategy will fail in the pro game. He simply lacks the ability to run between the tackles, frequently getting taken down at or behind the line of scrimmage when he tried to pick a hole inside. Drake still provides enough in the passing game to be selected in the mid-rounds but don’t expect him to contribute much as a runner, at least early in his career.
CB Cyrus Jones: +12.6
Jones is a solid player overall but doesn’t standout in any area. He’s pretty small, not particularly fast and only average in coverage. He allowed 39 catches on 68 targets for 497 yards, six touchdowns, two picks and five pass deflections in 2015. To standout despite his physical limitations, Jones needed to be more productive. He is particularly effective in off-man where he shows a nice plant and drive to limit yards after the catch on short routes. In general he reads QBs effectively. There were times, however, where it appeared he busted a zone coverage, leaving a wide open receiver. Jones also needs a lot of work on his press-technique. He also could be more disciplined as a run defender, occasionally losing contain and failing to force the runner back towards his help. Jones was a solid college player but might struggle on Sundays.
RT Dominick Jackson: +8.1
Realistically, Jackson is at best a depth lineman in the NFL — perhaps he could forge a career as a guard in the pro game. His power is his most impressive trait. Jackson is particularly effective on double teams and down-blocks where he consistently generates vertical movement, driving his opposing lineman off the ball. It’s a completely different story when he finds himself in space, however. Jackson is a pretty poor pass protector, flailing at air frequently on dropbacks. On some occasions he failed to get his hands on the defensive lineman at all. Jackson also appeared to struggle with the mental elements of the game, missing a few too many assignments for our liking. Overall, he finished with a negative pass protection grade after allowing two sacks, two hits and 15 hurries in 2015.
QB Jake Coker: +11.9
Coker offers relatively little appeal as a starting NFL QB. He makes too many poor decisions, is inconsistent with his accuracy and looks a little tentative in the pocket. Coker took a number of sacks by holding the ball too long in 2015 and appeared a little gun-shy at times, preferring to go down rather than find a receiver down field. He still made a few bad decisions even as a game-manager. Combined with his struggles under pressure (-3.5 grade with a 77.7 QB rating), Coker failed to flash the requisite skills to succeed in the NFL.