The Alabama Crimson Tide are always one of the most talented teams in all of college football, and for the 2011 season, that will not change a bit. Nick Sabam has put together a perennial powerhouse in Alabama, and even losing as many big name players as they did (four first round picks), they are still primed for a deep run.
Trent Richardson (Junior), RB, 5’11″ 220
Keep an eye on Richardson as a potential Heisman trophy candidate. After pairing with Mark Ingram the last two years, Richardson is ready for a full load and could be one of the nation’s most powerful and dominant running backs. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him finish a fully healthy season with more than 2,000 yards on the ground, and I would put him right behind Andrew Luck as the top Heisman candidate as of right now. This is a guy who is relentless, and not just on the field, but off. Richardson is an absolute beast in the weight room, and consistently puts in the time and effort. He averaged over six yards per carry last year, and really developed as a receiver as well. He is one of the best players in the country, and has the potential to be a top 10 pick in the 2012 draft if he declares. He might be the best RB prospect to come along since Adrian Peterson in the class of 2007.
Marquis Maze (Senior), WR, 5’11″ 185
Not an overly productive receiver, but this is not a pass oriented offense, and Maze is one of the Crimson Tide’s best playmakers. He can help your team out as a speedy possession receiver as well as in the return game. Averaging almost 16 yards per reception the last two seasons, Maze is a guy who is consistently improving his game. He might not be a highly regarded small receiver like a Titus Young or Jerrel Jernigan, but Maze will make an NFL roster and find a way to contribute. Not a flashy player, but consistent, and I would love to see a breakout season from him this year as the primary target in the Alabama passing game. Probably a complementary or slot receiver in the NFL.
William Vlachos (Senior), C, 6’2″ 290
Slightly undersized player, as the listed 6’2″ is probably a bit generous. However, when we talked to one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC (Ole Miss DL Jerrell Powe), he noted that Vlachos was the best offensive lineman he had ever played against .Vlachos is the clear leader of the Alabama offensive line, and is the guy up front making all the calls. If he was bigger, he’d likely be a first round pick. This guy is a technician, and does his job better than most in the country. With another year under his belt, this is a guy who could sneak into the 2nd round conversation by seasons end, and should be a starter in the NFL for a long, long time.
Josh Chapman (RS Senior), DT/NG, 6’1″ 310
When the 2012 NFL Scouting combine rolls around, you can expect Chapman to be one of the guys who leads the group of defensive linemen in the bench press. According to Alabama trainers, Chapman bench presses 580 pounds and squats 630. This man is a gap clogger and ideal fit for the nose guard in any defense. He might draw comparisons to Stephen Paea, and could play a similar role at the NFL level. He likely won’t put up huge numbers, because he will be the one opening up lanes for the top tier talent behind him at linebacker. He might not be as good a player as Terrence Cody was for the Tide, but he will play the same role. Very hard worker off the field, and had the large task or replacing the All-American Cody at NT. Shared the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter award at the ‘Bama Spring game with LB Dont’a Hightower.
Jerrell Harris (Senior), LB, 6’3″ 242
Big, athletic linebacker who is constantly improving. In fact, Harris won the award for the team’s most improved player award this offseason, known as the Bart Starr award. The Crimson Tide have one of the most impressive groups of young linebackers that you will see in all of college football, and this guy is merely one of many. He is a versatile player who will play outside this year, but can also play inside if needed. Was suspended SIX GAMES for accepting a laptop. Great speed and quickness for his size, which is why he plays on the outside at SAM for Saban’s crew. High school All American who hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of what he should have been coming out, but great athletic upside and should be drafted sometime next year.
Absolute beast of a linebacker prospect who might be best fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Teams might ask him to lose a little bit of weight to improve his ability in coverage, but he is the top inside linebacker in the 2012 class of players. Imposing physical talent who really emerged as a star in 2010 when he was a first time starter. Hard-nosed mentality, and could draw comparisons to Ray Lewis. Effective in pass rush and especially effective against the run. Has excelled in every role he has played for Alabama
Dont’a Hightower (RS Junior), LB, 6’4″ 260
The combination of Hightower and Upshaw is going to make it nearly impossible to run on the Alabama defense all season long. HIghtower would have been a high choice in the 2011 draft had he chosen to come out. Somewhat raw right now, but was dominant as a freshman before missing out on the entire 2009 season due to injury (granted medical redshirt). This is a guy who is the perfect fit for the 3-4 defense, and could play inside or outside. Won the Mal Moore leadership award following Spring practice in 2010. He has a similar body type to Brian Urlacher coming out of New Mexico State, but is not quite as athletic (Urlacher returned punts). Could have a similar impact as a MIKE linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment, and may have upside as a SAM or rush linebacker in a 3-4.
Nico Johnson (Junior), OLB, 6’3″ 238
The high school Parade All American and top ranked recruit has certainly not disappointed for the Tide, though he really is expected to break out in 2011 as a junior (seems to be a theme with this talented squad). As a freshman, Johnson had 28 tackles and a sack, and as a sophomore had 33 tackles and an interception. Made the All-SEC Freshman team, and the Tide will be looking for big contributions from him in 2011. The question becomes whether or not Johnson will play inside in the NFL in a 4-3, outside in a 3-4, inside in a 3-4, or outside in a 4-3. He seems like the ideal WILL linebacker in either scheme, and has the frame to add a little more weight to come off the edge. There may not be enough tackles to go around in this supremely talented group of players, but Johnson is one of the better ones.
DeQuan Menzie (Senior), CB, 6’0″ 200
Former junior college player who dominated the JUCO ranks and was a four star prospect on Rivals.com before transferring to Alabama. Tide head coach Nick Saban criticized his very talented defensive unit’s overall toughness and tackling ability, but noted Menzie as one of the shining stars:
“DeQuan Menzie was a guy that if you went on the last scrimmage based on him being healthy and being able to practice all the time, I sort of felt like in that particular scrimmage he was our best corner,” Saban said. “Because of that, maybe the guy expands his role on our team. It makes good competition because we’ve got three guys that have played a significant amount at that position. It’ll be interesting to see how those guys compete and respond to that.”
Now, injuries are a concern for Menzie. He has had a torn Achilles tendon, and has also battled through hamstring problems, but he has every tool required to play corner at the NFL level, but the ‘Bama defensive backfield is so loaded, he might not even start there. Keep an eye on this guy. If he can stay healthy through the season, he will emerge as a top 10-15 cornerback.
Let the comparisons of Dre’ Kirkpatrick to Nnamdi Asomugha begin. Speed, agility, shut-down coverage ability–you name it, and Kirkpatrick has it. Not only is he a physical specimen, he is quite possibly a better cornerback prospect overall than Patrick Peterson was in 2011. Kirkpatrick is a top notch player on the field, and will have to do some serious damage personally to prevent himself from being a top 10 pick in next year’s draft if he declares. He was a top rated recruit coming out of high school, and he has not disappointed since becoming a full time starter in 2010. Two time high school All-American, will be one of the front-runners for the Thorpe Award in 2011.
Mark Barron (Senior), SS, 6’2″ 215
Barron is the top strong safety in the class of 2012, but he comes with a HUGE “Buyer Beware” tag attached to him. Barron was arrested just before Spring practice with a misdemeanor of hindering prosecution, and also has torn a pectoral (November 2010). Barron is treading thin ice and will likely start the 2011 season with a short suspension, but will be one of the top safeties in next year’s draft. Led the talented Alabama defense with 75 tackles in 2010, and will have started three years in one of the best defensive units in the entire country, as well as under one of the best coaches in all of college football.
Clearly, this is one of the most talented teams in the country, potentially 10 guys drafted in the first two rounds. That is incredible to me.