TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football had five juniors declare their intentions to enter the NFL draft on Thursday afternoon.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, running back Bo Scarbrough, defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne and safety Ronnie Harrison will all forgo their final season of eligibility to chase professional dreams.
Ridley, Fitzpatrick, Harrison and Payne were members of Alabama’s productive 2015 class. The group leaves with two national championships (2015, 2017) and two SEC titles (2015, 2016).
Fitzpatrick, Scarbrough and Harrison attended a news conference on Thursday. Ridley and Payne couldn’t make it, but Alabama coach Nick Saban confirmed that they’re going pro.
“I love that so many our players come back for the games,” Saban said, getting emotional. “It gets a little crowded on the sideline, and I always want to put them in the game. … I’ll want to put these guys in the game one day, too.”
Ridley is considered by many to be the top receiver in this draft class. Fitzpatrick has been mentioned as going as high as the top five.
The good news for Alabama fans is that key juniors Damien Harris and Isaiah Buggs are returning for one more season.
Harris, the Crimson Tide’s top running back, is only the second player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (T.J. Yeldon, 2012, 2013).
He returns to a backfield that will be high on talent with guys such as Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. But the group will be low on experience. Harris’ leadership will be big for the offense, which is losing standouts such as Bradley Bozeman, Cam Sims, Robert Foster and Ridley.
Harris finished the season with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 135 carries.
Buggs should lock in one of the top defensive line spots along with rising junior Raekwon Davis. Buggs, a junior college transfer, flashed down the stretch in his first season in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama loses Payne and Da’Shawn Hand (senior), but getting Buggs back should help with leadership and depth. Buggs finished the season with 51 tackles, including 4 for loss, and 1 1/2 sacks. He added 7 quarterback hurries.