TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The double-edged sword of college football rears its head yet again as the deadline for eligible juniors and redshirt sophomores to declare their intentions looms closer: Either decide to stay for a senior season of not getting paid and potentially increase your standing with NFL scouts or injure yourself, or abandon ship, wish your teammates well and take your talents to the next level.
The more successful a college program like Alabama becomes, the more that players will receive national attention and decide to jump into the paid ranks of the NFL a year early. The annual rite of passage for Nick Saban’s players is no different this year as four underclassmen have filed their paperwork before Jan. 15 and will be available to be drafted by some mediocre teams in the early part of the first round.
Saban meets with each player before they eventually decide on going pro or not, giving them a fair assessment of the round in which they will most likely be taken. And Saban is rarely wrong about this: 11 of the 13 players who have left early under Saban were first-round picks, which obviously speaks to the talent of the players and the quality of the coaching, but also shows that players who leave early receive sound advice on this decision. Alabama has had 11 first-round picks in the last four years, more than any other team.
Besides graduating senior stalwarts quarterback AJ McCarron, offensive lineman Anthony Steen and linebacker C.J. Mosley, losing these clearly extraordinary underclassmen could damage a program. The Crimson Tide will, of course, reload for next season with yet another top-ranked recruiting class, replacing these players might be harder said than done.
Here are the players:
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety
2013 Stats: 52 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defended
Projected Draft Round: 1st
While Clinton-Dix sat out two games this season for violating team policy and was hampered by an injury during the Iron Bowl, he was one of the strongest parts of Alabama’s non-stellar secondary this year. His loss will be felt, but Clinton-Dix will be replaced by safety phenom Landon Collins, who played in Clinton-Dix’s position when he was suspended and was second on the team in tackles with 70—Clinton-Dix was fourth on the team in tackles. Incoming freshman Laurence “Hootie” Jones could also take snaps at safety, and Alabama will get team leader Vinnie Sunseri back from injury.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Line
2013 Stats: Do they keep stats for offensive linemen? McCarron got sacked 17 times, down from 22 last season. So, that’s good.
Projected Draft Round: 1st
Kouandjio struggled at times during the season—like, a holding penalty almost every game—and had a decently abysmal Sugar Bowl, but he was still an integral part of Alabama’s two most recent national championships. While he seemed to have trouble with the speed-rushers of Oklahoma, a player of his size and ability is a huge commodity in the NFL and should be one of the first offensive linemen taken in the draft. Fellow offensive tackles Grant Hill and Leon Brown will probably serve as the favorites to succeed Kouandjio, though incoming freshman and top-rated tackle in the country Cam Robinson may get some playing time too.
Adrian Hubbard, Linebacker
2013 Stats: 33 tackles, 3 sacks, 5.5 for loss
Projected Draft Round: 2nd-3rd
Hubbard couldn’t match the statistics of his sophomore season—41 tackles, 7 sacks and 11 tackles for loss—but still carried his weight in a linebacker corps with C.J. Mosley and Trey Depriest. Dillon Lee, rising freshman Reuben Foster, and new recruit Da’Shawn Hand could all fill the void nicely, especially with DePriest returning for his senior season.
Jeoffrey Pagan, Defensive Line
2013 Stats: 34 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss
Projected Draft Round: 3rd-4th
Alabama’s defensive line lacked a reliable pass-rush for the first time in years. Out of that defensive line, Pagan was a standout; however, his decision to turn pro was the most questionable of the ones declaring early. Almost guaranteed to drop past the first round, he must have come to the conclusion that being in the NFL in any capacity was better than another year of playing for free. Jonathan Allen, D.J. Pettway—who recently returned to Alabama after a stint at a junior college after he was kicked off the team in early 2013—and the aptly-named freshman Dee Liner will all be in the running to replace Pagan.
Players come and go—apparently most to the NFL—but the rebuilding and reloading “Process” starts immediately in Tuscaloosa.