Reuben Foster already was named the best linebacker in the country when he took home the Butkus Award this past December. He figures to be the top linebacker taken in the upcoming NFL draft.
But a suggestion from SEC Network commentator Booger McFarland got us thinking: Where does Foster rank among the best linebackers Alabama has had under Nick Saban?
Reuben Foster is everything I want in a run-hit LB. Vicious.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) February 24, 2017
Best Saban has ever had ? https://t.co/SVkvFqccCk
— Booger (@SECbooger) February 24, 2017
Just to get an idea, since Saban took over the Crimson Tide in 2007, seven different Alabama linebackers have been taken in the NFL draft, with three of them going in the first round.
To determine who qualifies as best, we factored in statistics, Alabama’s team success, accolades and signature play(s) during their time in Tuscaloosa. Here are the top five linebackers, Foster included, of Saban’s time in Alabama.
5. Reggie Ragland
Of the five on the list, Ragland didn’t see the field as much. But that’s largely because he had to share the field with the top two players on the list.
He still took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and was a contributor on three SEC championship teams. Ragland finished with 220 tackles with the Crimson Tide. He was taken in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
4. Dont’a Hightower
If we were factoring in NFL production, Hightower probably would be No. 1. He was still a consensus All-American in his time at Alabama and played a key role on Saban’s second Bama national championship team. Hightower finished his Alabama career with 234 tackles and was a captain in his junior and senior years.
While many Atlanta Falcons fans will remember his strip sack in Super Bowl LI, one of his many collegiate highlights came during the 2011 game against Tennessee, when Hightower hauled in a tipped interception to salt away the game.
3. Rolando McClain
McClain was the first great linebacker to play for Saban, and was the backbone for the first title team for Saban. In 2009, McClain took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors along with the Butkus Award. He finished his three-year career with 274 tackles and 5 interceptions.
McClain also found the end zone in the Crimson Tide’s 2008 game against Kentucky, recovering a fumble and returning it for a touchdown. The defensive score proved to be the difference in a 17-14 win over the Wildcats.
He’s had a troubled professional career featuring multiple suspensions, but he is still the highest drafted linebacker, when the Oakland Raiders took him with the No. 8 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
2. Reuben Foster
Foster ultimately comes in at No. 2 on our list. In addition to being named the country’s top linebacker this past season, he also was the MVP of the SEC championship game.
The linebacker finished his four year career with 222 tackles but also played a key role on three consecutive SEC championship teams. In the latest SEC Country mock draft, Foster is pegged to go No. 6 to the Jets.
As for a signature play, there’s a few to choose from. There’s the helicopter hit he delivered on Deshaun Watson in the national championship game, but he also leveling LSU star running back Leonard Fournette in 2014. Alabama went on to win that game in overtime, so we give that play the nod.
1. C.J. Mosley
While Foster had a wonderful career with the Crimson Tide, he couldn’t quite unseat Mosley as the top linebacker of the Nick Saban era. Like McClain and Foster, Mosley took home the Butkus Award. He also was a two-time consensus All-American.
Mosley finished with 320 tackles in his time at Alabama and won two national championships. After leaving Alabama, Mosley was taken with the 17th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and has gone to two Pro Bowls.
He also made the defining play of the 2012 SEC Championship Game, when he got a hand on Aaron Murray’s final pass of the game. The ball fell into the arms of Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who was tackled as time expired, giving Alabama the win.