Analysis: Candidates who could fill openings left by Alabama football draftees on offense
Alabama football players who leave for the NFL frequently leave big shoes to fill. But in a normal year, those might be a men’s 12 or 13 shoe size. This year, Crimson Tide players have left shoes closer to size 20.
Alabama had a Heisman winner, a Heisman finalist and six total players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft alone, tying the record for one school.
They, along with other Alabama players headed to the NFL, leave behind openings for which there will be tough competition come fall camp in August.
Here's the first of two looks at some of the candidates to replace them, starting with the offense:
Gone: Mac Jones (15th overall, Patriots)
Analysis: Sophomore Bryce Young, a former five-star recruit, sits in a prime position to take over for Jones. He doesn’t have much college tape, having played primarily in cleanup duty in 2020, but Young has the potential to make a national impression quickly with his ability to extend plays. Alabama also has redshirt sophomore Paul Tyson and freshman Jalen Milroe at quarterback, both of whom will likely compete for the No. 2 spot.
Gone: Najee Harris (24th overall, Steelers)
Analysis: Redshirt senior Brian Robinson has been in the room with elite running back talent for years. Now, he has the best chance he’s had while in Tuscaloosa to be the lead back. He rushed for six touchdowns in 2020 while playing behind Harris, Alabama’s all-time leader in touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and rushing yards. But just because Robinson has waited patiently for this opportunity doesn’t mean he is guaranteed most of the work. He is joined by some talented young backs, such as sophomores Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan. Incoming five-star freshman Camar Wheaton could also receive some carries. Redshirt sophomore Trey Sanders, who’s recovering from an injury suffered in a November car accident, could also contribute if healthy. Even with some recent transfers, this group remains one of Alabama’s deepest.
Gone: Jaylen Waddle (6th overall, Dolphins) and DeVonta Smith (10th overall, Eagles)
Analysis: The receiver position might be the most primed for quality competition come August. Alabama must replace a Heisman winner who caught 23 touchdowns in 2020. Some players saw more opportunities with Waddle out half the season because of an injury, and they will have even more chances for playing time with Waddle and Smith gone. John Metchie III, who caught six touchdowns this past season, has a chance to lead the group. Who joins him will be sorted out throughout camp and probably into the season. Jameson Williams, an Ohio State transfer, will bring electric speed to the lineup. Other names who could see increased roles: redshirt juniors Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams, sophomores Javon Baker and Thaiu Jones-Bell and others. Also, keep an eye out for freshman Agiye Hall, who impressed in the spring game.
Gone: Miller Forristall (undrafted free agent, Titans)
Analysis: Forristall is gone, but his receiving production isn’t irreplaceable. The Crimson Tide brings back Jahleel Billingsley, who caught 18 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. With his athleticism and knack for finding soft spots in the zone, he could take on an even bigger role this season. Redshirt senior Major Tennison is also set to return, as is redshirt junior Cameron Latu.
Gone: LT Alex Leatherwood (17th overall, Raiders), LG Deonte Brown (193rd overall, Panthers), C Landon Dickerson (37th overall, Eagles)
Analysis: The logical move would be for Evan Neal to move from right to left tackle, a position he played in high school. Emil Ekiyor, who started at right guard, will likely assume another starting spot this year. That leaves an opening at tackle, guard and center. Redshirt senior Kendall Randolph started the spring game at right tackle, but that doesn’t guarantee he will start the season there. Alabama also has two five-star freshmen who could compete for playing time in J.C. Latham and Tommy Brockmeyer. Sophomore Damieon George is a name to watch at both tackle and guard openings. At center, Chris Owens has a prime opportunity to keep the spot he filled in the College Football Playoff with Dickerson injured. There will be no shortage of competition and likely mixing and matching on the offensive line this season.
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