Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban has excelled at three things since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007, winning, recruiting and preparing players for the National Football League. 2014 provided Alabama with three juniors that made a significant impact: Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Landon Collins. All three individuals have had stellar careers at the Capstone, and will look to take their talents to the next level. Alabama witnessed 37 victories, two Southeastern Conference titles (2012, 2014) and a national championship (2012) with Cooper, Yeldon and Collins.
T.J. Yeldon: A balanced running back
T.J. Yeldon became a stud as a freshman in 2012. He totaled 1,108 rushing yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Yeldon’s 12 rushing touchdowns tied Mark Ingram’s freshman record in 2008. His production guided Alabama to a 13-1 season, an SEC title and a national championship.
Yeldon shared a backfield with Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry in 2013, yet he still put together a productive season. He maintained a six-yard per carry average, and totaled 1,235 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns. Yeldon battled injuries and inconsistency this season, but he possessed a veteran’s confidence. He ended 2014 with 979 yards and 11 touchdowns on five yards per carry.
Yeldon’s a physical runner, but he excels as a pass catcher. He’s recorded 46 catches for 494 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons at Alabama. Blitz pickup is another element that Yeldon has added to his repertoire. He has the size and toughness to take on a blitzing linebacker or defensive linemen, giving a quarterback enough time to make a decision.
Strengths: Vision, speed, power, balance and hands
Weaknesses: Ball security and injury prone
Projected Round: Early—Late 2nd round
Amari Cooper: A game-changing receiver
Amari Cooper became a household name in Alabama’s matchup against Mississippi in 2012. A knee injury caused DeAndrew White’s season to end abruptly, but it kick started Cooper’s career. He collected eight passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
The moment propelled Cooper to a great freshman campaign, in which he posted 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Like Yeldon, Cooper went through an injury period. He saw his statistics drop in 2013. Cooper nursed a toe injury, and wasn’t on the same page with AJ McCarron. He got stronger as the season moved on, and ended his sophomore year with 45 catches for 736 yards and four touchdowns.
Cooper was a breath of fresh air as a freshman and a sophomore, but his leadership skills came in full surface this season. He developed chemistry with quarterback Blake Sims, and became his primary target. Cooper improved as a route runner, and opened up opportunities for teammates. He had a record-setting season, totaling 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Strengths: Hands, speed, balance and route running
Weaknesses: Creating separating in zone coverage
Projected Round: First round, 3rd overall pick
Landon Collins: A complete defensive back
Landon Collins was a special teams terror as a freshman (2012), but showed promise as a star defensive back in 2013. He accounted for 70 tackles, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Collins’s shining moments came against Tennessee and Arkansas. He recorded six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Tennessee. Collins’s interception was returned for 89-yard touchdown. He had five tackles and two pass breakups against Arkansas.
Collins continued to be a force covering kicks, but 2014 saw him become Alabama’s defensive anchor. C.J. Mosley, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri all were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. Collins returned to Tuscaloosa, and displayed a solid performance this season. He led the team in tackles (103) and totaled seven pass breakups with three interceptions.
Collins has exceptional on ball skills, but NFL scouts salivate over safeties that are productive in run support. He showed no fear in taking on running backs that were 200 pounds or bigger. Collins does a great job in negate the edge from opposing running backs and securing tackles.
Strengths: Size, speed, physicality (toughness), ball skills and tackling
Weaknesses: Man-to-man coverage
Projected Round: First round, 10th overall pick
ESPN has already reported that Cooper, Yeldon and Collins will declare for the NFL Draft, but Alabama will hold a press conference Friday at 11a.m., to confirm a final decision. All three individuals are special, and have made a positive impact on the University of Alabama. Crimson Tide fans will hate to see them leave, but it will be fun to watch them succeed at the next level.
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