Analysis: 2011 NFL Draft and Alabama Football

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If you're an Alabama fan, the 2008 Draft probably seems like ages ago.

After a tough debut season for new head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide saw a grand total of zero players drafted in the entirety of the '08 Draft weekend. It was like an insult to the injury that was the Tide's November collapse in the 2007 season, which had even some of diehard faithful wondering if the Saban Era was just a more expensive version of the Shula Era (all-expenses-unpaid trip to the Independence Bowl included). But in between the injury and the insult (and really, the NFL was only telling us something we should have already known: the players stunk), Saban inked his landmark 2008 recruiting class, upon which he'd form the nucleus of teams that would go on to make Crimson Tide history. And they did it again this past Thursday night.

Led by the first of the freshmen from that legendary 2008 class to declare for the Draft, a record 4 Tide players were selected in the 1st round: Marcell Dareus (#3), Julio Jones (#6), James Carpenter (#25), and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (#28). The previous record for Alabama 1st rounders in a single year was 3, back in 1993 when the backbone of the Tide's '92 national championship defense took the Draft by storm. This year's number also tied the SEC record for 1st rounders, previously shared by LSU in '07 and Auburn in '05. (Interesting to note that none of the great Florida teams from this decade ever produced four 1st rounders in a single Draft.)

Oddly enough, it was Carpenter who made the biggest splash of them all. Though he played left tackle for Alabama, Carpenter is projected as a guard in the NFL, maybe a right tackle at best. Those types of players aren't typically valued as high draft picks, and Carpenter himself was projected by most to be a mid-to-late 2nd round selection in a best case scenario. But as the saying goes, it only takes one team to fall in love with you, and for Carpenter, that team was the Seattle Seahawks. Afterwards, Seattle coach Pete Carroll cited the need to improve their running game as the reason they made the pick. Carpenter can definitely do that. Most of Bama's running game the past two years was built around running left behind him, and they had a great deal of success doing so. It was Carpenter who, literally, paved the way for Mark Ingram's Heisman campaign in 2009. But it was still strange to see the big man drafted before the Heisman winner himself.

Speaking of Ingram...While it wasn't completely unexpected to see him slipping perilously close to the 2nd round (most pundits had been talking that up for weeks), it was still incredibly frustrating to watch. I understand the knock on his lack of top-end, "score from anywhere" speed and the concerns about his knee. I also understand the declining value of the running back position in an increasingly pass-happy NFL. But even taking all that into consideration, I think the guy is a Top 15-20 talent in this draft, and everyone in that range who needed a back but passed on him is an idiot. That list almost included the New Orleans Saints, who took Cameron Jordan over him with the 24th pick but traded back into the 1st to snag Ingram at 28. I hate it that he had to wait that long (and lost a considerable amount of first contract money in the process), but ultimately I think this is a great landing spot for him. Obviously, Ingram gives them the inside running game that the Saints have lacked since Deuce McAllister's better days, but he's also exceptionally good at reading blocks in space on screen passes, which is a big part of the offense in New Orleans. If the knee holds up, he'll make a ton of big plays for them.

He will also get the pleasure of matching up against his good buddy Julio Jones twice a year. Julio was another big story on night 1, as the Atlanta Falcons paid a king's ransom to move up to #6 to take him. I'm very excited to see what he can do there. With all due respect to John Parker Wilson (I guess it'll be a reunion if JPW sticks on the roster) and Greg McElroy, for the first time in his career, he'll have a REAL DEAL quarterback throwing to him. Barring the last 7 or 8 games of his career, I always got the sense we were never seeing just how good Julio was capable of being because of the lack of pure throwing talent at QB. Matt Ryan has that in spades. I seriously think Julio is going to blow up in the NFL and be even bigger than he was at Bama. All the talk about the drops is overblown.

Finally, I was thrilled to see Dareus go #3, making him the highest Tide pick since Cornelius Bennett went #2 in 1987 (though he really should've gone #1, but the Panthers are clearly run by morons). However, it kinda sucks because he went to Buffalo, which pretty much insures I'll never be able to watch him. And, really, there isn't much more of a raw deal in all the NFL than having to go freeze to death while losing all your games for the Bills. At least the climate is hospitable in Oakland. In a just world, such a fate would be reserved for The Newtons.

As big as this one night was, next year's draft could be even bigger for Alabama. Despite the big opening night, it would take two whole days for another Bama player to come off the board, when Greg McElroy went to the New York Jets in the 7th round.  But in 2012, it could be all Crimson Tide, all the time.  With a huge senior class that includes the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron, and Courtney Upshaw (to name a few), as well as draft-eligible juniors such as Trent Richardson, Barrett Jones, and Dre Kirkpatrick, anyone who got tired of hearing "University of Alabama" Thursday night probably shouldn't tune in for the 2012 NFL Draft.


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