ATLANTA – Alabama has left Big Al-sized tire tracks on opponents through its first eight games during a season that might include another berth in the College Football Playoff. To ESPN analyst Todd McShay, the Rammer Jammer roll should continue through the NFL Draft.
“Just on the plane in, I was kind of collecting our grades and updating our top 32 prospects overall, like we do every few weeks, and I knew I was coming down here, and I was kind of looking at the SEC in general,” McShay told SEC Country on Tuesday night. “It’s the same deal — seven out of the top 10 were from the SEC, three of those seven were from Alabama. Basically, the defensive front guys: (lineman) Jonathan Allen, (linebacker) Reuben Foster and (linebacker) Tim Williams.
“So just like last year, it’s a heavy defensive draft, heavy SEC draft, and Alabama is going to be very much a part of it.”
The Crimson Tide are very much a part of anything related to college football dominance these days. On Tuesday, the drama surrounding the top team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings was as compelling as watching a rerun of an I Love Lucy episode.
Still, it’s never too early to peek toward the NFL Draft, which could serve as a Roll Tide victory lap if Alabama continues to crush foes on its trek to Tampa.
With Allen, Foster and Williams helping to transform the Crimson Tide’s defense into Team Wrecking Ball, Alabama has limited opponents to 14.9 points per game and 274.5 yards per contest (204.4 passing yards and 70.1 rushing yards). Ragdoll offenses have been held to 14 points or fewer in six of the Crimson Tide’s games, with only Ole Miss (43 points) and Arkansas (30) producing a pulse against Nick Saban’s SWAT team.
Trying to select an MVP of Alabama’s defense is like attempting to name the most talented member of The Beatles. All voices are valuable when creating masterpieces. Still, McShay considers Allen to be the author of particularly memorable hits of late to complement others in a bruising band.
“He’s always been a really good player,” McShay said of Allen, who has 35 tackles and six sacks this season. “I thought that was the best recruiting job that Nick Saban did the whole offseason was to get him to come back. I didn’t think there was a chance. And then (tight end) O.J. Howard was the second-best recruiting job that he did. Just to get those two players to return when they could have left for the draft a year ago and certainly been top 50 picks and probably both first-round picks (was good). Those guys stand out. Tim Williams, I thought, really struggled and was not himself the first few weeks of the season but has gotten better and better in each of the last several weeks. (Linebacker Ryan) Anderson continues to be a really dynamic difference-maker at outside linebacker. Reuben Foster is a stud. I think we have him at No. 6 overall in the class. I think he’s a legitimate top 10 prospect, which says a lot. When you’re an inside linebacker and you’re getting drafted in the top 10, it means you can do every little thing.”
But the praise has limits when turning attention elsewhere within the SEC.
McShay said Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who has 606 yards and 5 touchdowns this fall after racking up 222 yards and two scores in a season-opening victory over North Carolina on Sept. 3, will be puzzling for evaluators if the junior makes himself available for the NFL Draft. After a firecracker-like start, Chubb has fizzled, an anticlimactic development for the player after big expectations following his return from a significant left knee injury sustained against Tennessee last year.
“Nick Chubb is tough to evaluate, just because the offensive line has struggled,” McShay said. “He had such a big game in the opener and has just not been the same guy we expected to see. So I don’t put it all on him. I know he’s still recovering from the knee injury. Where’s he going to be a year from now? If he leaves early, it makes it tough on evaluators, and a lot of that evaluation will come down to, ‘All right, this is what we think he is as a football player. But what do the doctors tell us? Is he going to continue to get back to 100 percent?’ And if he is, then he’s a late first-, probably second-round pick. But it’s tough right now, because of the line and the injury and there’s a lot of unknown with him.”
What about SEC players who have plenty to gain with a strong finish?
McShay has sights set on The Swamp, where Florida will try to preserve its SEC East lead over Kentucky and Tennessee with conference games against Arkansas, South Carolina and LSU ahead in the next three weeks. Two players caught his eye within a defensive unit that has resembled a ticked-off swarm of wasps.
“The Florida guys have played well,” McShay said. “(Jarrad) Davis is nicked up right now at linebacker, but he’s a really good player. Their secondary, they’ve got (Marcus) Maye at the safety position. If he continues to play well in big games, then people will start realizing how good he is. We’ve got him in the top 32 overall. I know it surprised some people. I think he’s an underrated talent with some versatility.”
If you want to talk talent and versatility among potential NFL talent within the SEC, then the discussion must include a heavy helping of Alabama. If the Crimson Tide continue enjoy life on cruise control, then expect the NFL Draft to serve as another display of their dominance.
“There’s a lot of praise to go around,” McShay said.