No college football program produces more elite talent than Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Since 2000, Alabama is tied with Ohio State for having the most first-round picks in the NFL Draft with 31 players being selected. Alabama is coming off the heels of an impressive 2020 Draft class which featured nine players, including four first-round picks in Tua Tagovailoa, Jedrick Wills, Henry Ruggs III, and Jerry Jeudy. Believe it or not, the list of top Alabama prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft might be even better.
Upon initial review of the Alabama roster, the Crimson Tide could have anywhere from 12 to 15 players selected in the 2021 Draft. Even more impressive, it appears they could have in the range of five to seven first-round picks in next year’s draft. Last year, LSU produced 14 players selected in the 2020 Draft, which tied an NFL record. Dare I say the list of Alabama prospects for the 2021 Draft is a threat to challenge that record?
Alabama’s top prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft
Jaylen Waddle, Wide Receiver, Junior (5’10”, 182 pounds)
Jaylen Waddle is one of the most electrifying players in all of college football. Don’t run and look at last year’s stats, because you won’t be impressed, as Waddle didn’t see a lot of targets playing behind the likes of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. With that said, his skill-set and game-changing speed lead me to believe that he might be the best Alabama receiver to enter the NFL ranks since Amari Cooper.
Waddle’s speed and explosiveness will draw comparisons to Tyreek Hill. Waddle can create yards in chunks after the catch and is lethally elusive in the open field. As Nick Farabaugh points out, “Waddle’s vertical route running is ridiculously impressive. A lot of it comes down to how good he is at stemming his routes to get defensive backs to hesitate and open their hips.”
Jaylen Waddle thrives in the vertical passing attack. Combine that with his breath-taking speed and playmaking ability, and you have all of the ingredients for a top-ten selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
DeVonta Smith, Wide Receiver, Senior (6’1″, 175 pounds)
Despite battling Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III for targets in 2019, DeVonta Smith was very productive in 2019 for the Crimson Tide. He hauled in 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging an impressive 18.5 yards per reception.
Smith is a silky smooth route runner, demonstrating a diverse route tree and an ability to seamlessly transition in and out of his breaks. He has great hands, as he can effortlessly pluck the ball out of the air.
Matt Valdovinos highlights Smith’s ability to catch the football here, stating “Smith sports a 2.9% drop rate on 118 career receptions, and also regularly makes difficult catches look easy. He’s also an above-average athlete and route runner, it’s easy to see why some draft pundits are so high on Smith for the 2021 Draft class.”
He may not have the game-breaking speed that his teammate Waddle has, but Smith has the capacity to create yards after the catch and make defenders miss in the open field.
Like Waddle, Devonta Smith is a surefire first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He is a reliable pass-catcher, who displays big-time production and will thrive in a fast-tempo NFL passing attack.
Alex Leatherwood, Offensive Line, Senior (6’6″, 312 pounds)
Alex Leatherwood is a versatile mauler who currently anchors the Alabama offensive line. One of the best traits that Leatherwood brings to the table is his versatility. During his tenure at Tuscaloosa, he has demonstrated the ability to play left tackle and offensive guard at an elite level.
For his size, Leatherwood is extremely athletic, consistently displaying the capacity to get the second level. The way he finishes blocks is fun to watch. Tony Pauline is also a big fan of Leatherwood, stating “I am much higher on Alex Leatherwood than most others, including scouts. I love his footwork, blocking range, and ability in pass protection. He’s a natural left tackle with starting ability on Sundays.”
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I can’t see a scenario where Alex Leatherwood survives Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. In a league where teams are thirsting for talent at left tackle, Alex Leatherwood is NFL-ready and could be relied upon immediately.
Najee Harris, Running Back, Senior (6’2″, 230 pounds)
For my money, Alabama’s Najee Harris is the most complete running back in the 2021 NFL Draft. These thoughts of mine from a recent piece naming Harris as a potential Steelers target do well to quantify Harris’ capabilities.
“[Harris] is coming off the heels of an exceptional 2019 season, in which he rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. One of Harris’ best traits is the capacity to be a viable receiver out of the backfield, and this was evident last season as Harris caught 27 passes for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Harris has great size, sporting a compact and muscular build. He is a powerful runner, who rarely goes down on initial contact. He runs with good vision and possesses elite contact balance. He excels at picking up the blitz and is a quarterback’s best friend in the passing game.”
Due to the value of the running back position in today’s NFL, Najee Harris might not be a first-round pick, but if he fails to go on Day 1, he won’t last long on Day 2.
Patrick Surtain II, Cornerback, Junior (6’2″, 202 pounds)
Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II is currently battling the likes of Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley for the title of “CB1” in the 2021 NFL Draft class. In 2019, Surtain II displayed first-round tape, notching eight passes defended, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions.
In addition to having prototypical size for the position, Surtain II possesses elite ball skills and is extremely sticky in coverage. He utilizes his length to match up with big-bodied wide receivers. Also, his ability to locate the football is unparalleled at the position.
Surtain II has the makings of a top-ten selection. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if his 2021 Draft prospectus could climb even higher with a strong performance this season.
With that said, not everyone shares the high praise I am giving Surtain II. Again quoting Tony Pauline, “Patrick Surtain II is a big, physical corner who has a great combination of athleticism and muscle. He physically beats down opponents to defend the pass, but I’m concerned with the way he constantly faceguards opponents and rarely gets his head back around to locate the ball.”
It will be interesting to see where Surtain II is selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Dylan Moses, Linebacker, Senior (6’3″, 240 pounds)
Dylan Moses didn’t play a down in 2019, as he suffered a torn ACL prior to the season. He is back for 2020 and if he plays to the level he did prior to the injury, he should be able to cement himself as a top-15 pick in the 2021 Draft.
Moses is a three-down linebacker, who is stout against the run and athletic enough to excel in pass coverage. His range is staggering, as is his explosiveness and ability to locate the football. When you watch tape on Moses, his ability to be an impactful blizter is evident. He checks all of the boxes to be an impact player at the next level.
Equally impressive to his talents on the field is the way Moses carries himself. He is a leader of men, playing the game with a never-ending motor and passion that is contagious.
Simply put, Dylan Moses is the type of defensive stalwart that you can build a defense around. Teams should be lining up to select him early in 2021.
Christian Barmore, Defensive Tackle, Redshirt Sophomore (6’5″, 310 pounds)
One of the players with the most to prove in 2020 is Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore. The 2021 defensive tackle class is loaded, featuring the likes of Marvin Wilson (Florida State), Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh), and Tyler Shelvin (LSU). However, Barmore has the highest potential of the group.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, “Albeit only registering one start in 11 games in 2019, Barmore’s 26 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 6.0 tackles for a loss, and two passes defended helped him become a freshman All-SEC team selection by the league coaches. According to Pro Football Focus, Barmore’s 20.8% pass-rush win rate in 2019 ranked first of all defensive tackles, edging out San Francisco 49ers’ first-round pick Javon Kinlaw.”
Christian Barmore oozes talent. In a limited sample size, he has flashed the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage and make plays in the opponents’ backfield. Barmore has the potential to be one of the biggest risers in the 2021 Draft if he plays to his potential this season. Do you remember when no one knew who Quinnen Williams was heading into the 2018 season and he ended up being the third player selected in the 2019 Draft? We could see a similar rise from Barmore in 2021.
Deonte Brown, Offensive Line, Redshirt Senior (6’4″, 350 pounds)
Alex Leatherwood isn’t the only Alabama offensive lineman with high-level NFL potential, as the massive Deonte Brown is a battle-tested left guard who is ready to play on Sundays. Brown is experienced, powerful, and a dominant blocker in the running game.
As Dalton Miller explains, “Brown is an absolute mauler in the run game. Despite his lack of anatomical length, he doesn’t display many instances where that becomes an issue. His stout frame and natural power allow him to absorb blows and use his hands and lower body strength to close the gap and get his hands inside the defender’s breastplate.”
He performed admirably against Auburn’s Derrick Brown in 2019, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Brown is a lock to be a Day 2 selection in 2021.