TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s been a long draft season, and not just because the National Championship Game in college football was 108 days ago, when Alabama dramatically defeated Georgia in overtime, 26-23.
It’s gotten to the point that even the analysts are over-analyzing what could potentially happen when the first picks are made the 2018 NFL Draft, while knowing that no matter what they project, the chances of nailing even the initial 10 selections are about zero.
For example, during a recent conference call with reporters, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah got into a discussion about Crimson Tide players who might be a good fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, the safety, is a classic Steeler-type player,” he said. “He can play high, play low, he’s a force player, he’s smart, he’s tough. He kind of reminds me of a Steeler, and his teammate Rashaan Evans, the linebacker who can play inside and outside, I think would be a nice player to plug into that defense.”
There’s nothing wrong with anything Jeremiah said and maybe one or both of those players will end up in the Steel City. However, the Steelers don’t have an Alabama player on the roster, really haven’t one since Deshea Townsend retired in 2009, and haven’t selected a Crimson Tide plater in the draft since taking the former cornerback in the 1998 fifth round.
Maybe that’ll change with former Alabama defensive line coach Karl Dunbar now with the team, but it’ll depend on how the draft plays out — which is the point. A year ago, no one projected that cornerback Marlon Humphrey would be the first Crimson Tide player selected and few believed that left tackle Cam Robinson would still be around in the second round.
Every draft is different. Every draft has surprises.
Regardless, the 2018 NFL Draft is expected to be a very good one for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama had a team-high 14 players invited to the NFL Combine, which is always a pretty good measuring stick to what teams are thinking, and that didn’t include center Bradley Bozeman or safety Hootie Jones, who’s season ended with a knee injury).
- CB Anthony Averett
- DB Tony Brown
- LB Rashaan Evans
- DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
- WR Robert Foster
- DL Joshua Frasier
- LB Shaun Dion Hamilton
- DL Da’Shawn Hand
- DB Ronnie Harrison
- DL Da’Ron Payne
- WR Calvin Ridley
- RB Bo Scarbrough
- P JK Scott
- CB Levi Wallace
The Crimson Tide draft record of 10 selections, initially set in 1945 and tied last year, seems destined to fall this weekend, but at the same time it’s anyone’s guess to whether they’ll have a player go in the first 10 picks.
Fitzpatrick is the odds-on favorite to be Alabama’s first player selected, with Payne, Evans and Ridley widely projected to be first-round selections.
Here's the full list of this year's ESPN NFL Nation Mock Draft. I took Alabama LB Rashaan Evan at No.17 for the Chargers. pic.twitter.com/9ZLVnzy78O
— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) April 25, 2018
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has Fitzpatrick fifth in his list of top 100 prospects, with Evans 13th, Payne 16th, Ridley 28thand safety Ronnie Harrison 34th. Of course that’s not when he expects them to be selected, just like he doesn’t have a quarterback in the top five, but believes at least two will go that high.
In his lone annual mock draft released Wednesday night, Mayock had Fitzpatrick lasting to the Colts after trading down to No. 12, Payne to the Chargers at No. 17, Ridley to the Panthers at No. 24 and Evans to the Titans with the subsequent pick.
“If Rashaan Evans was there from Alabama, I would jump all over that,” Mayock said about Tennessee’s pick.
It’ll make for a nervous night, especially considering the stakes involved.
Last year the difference in the four-year contract signed by No. 8, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey by the Panthers, and No. 28, Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton by the Cowboys, was almost $8.5 million (17.1 to $8.65).
Yet in many cases, very little can separate the evaluations, and obviously teams have different needs and view players in contrasting ways. A perfect example this year is at defensive tackle, where Payne and Washington’s Vita Vea are considered the cream of the class, but are very different players.
“I give Vita a little bit higher grade,” Jeremiah said. “I was in Baltimore when we drafted Haloti Ngata, was covering the West Coast during that time, and he reminds me so much of Haloti. You play him up and down the line of scrimmage, they move him all over the place. He’s got a nasty hump move as a pass rusher; you can see that physical power.”
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists Payne as the best defensive tackle in the draft because he’s more of an every-down player and “Georgia couldn’t block him in the title game.”
Two teams that have a huge need for a defensive tackle are the Washington Redskins (No. 13) and the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 17), but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily take them.
Possible Pick: Alabama's Calvin Ridley is arguably the most NFL-ready wide receiver in the draft, making him a strong 1st-round candidate for the Cowboys who will be looking for a playmaker at that position.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) April 18, 2018
Similarly, while most still consider Ridley the best wide receiver, Mayock is now learning more toward Maryland’s D.J. Moore because he has more of an interior presence that might work better for team like the Baltimore Ravens at No. 16.
“Ridley is an outside guy only, even though he runs great routes and his acceleration and burst is tremendous, at 188 pounds or whatever he is,” Mayock said. “I struggle with him inside. I think D.J. Moore has a little bit more versatility, plus he’s a return guy. So I kind of like D.J. Moore a little bit more than Ridley for Baltimore.”
Crimson Tide legend Ozzie Newsome is Baltimore’s general manager for one final draft and he’s been known to take the best player available regardless of position and favoring Alabama players, in contrast to the rival Steelers. It may be why Jeremiah went with Ridley when making the Ravens’ pick in his network’s live mock draft.
Regardless, the waiting and speculation are thankfully finally over.
2018 #Steelers 7-round mock draft: 1. Alabama LB Rashaan Evans. 2. Oklahoma State WR James Washington. 3. WVU Safety Kyzir White. 5 (A). Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli. 5 (B). Ole Miss OLB Marquis Haynes. 7 (A). Villanova CB Trey Johnson. 7 (B). Alabama DT Joshua Frazier.
— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) April 25, 2018