Visits with NFL teams are starting to become more frequent as we push two weeks into the upcoming draft.
Owners, general managers and coaches are reviewing game tapes in their decisions on which players will be a system fit.
Multiple franchises are a rebuilding state, while others look for two or three quality pieces that can turn it to being a Super Bowl caliber squad.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has witnessed 51 former Crimson Tide standouts selected in the NFL Draft, dating back to his first year coaching in 2007. Five of which have won Super Bowl championships and seven were selected for Pro Bowl invites.
It would be amazing to see all 19 prospects in this year’s class for Alabama get draft, but it appears that only nine will hear their names called at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine now reveals the projections for Mock Draft 4.0.
Projections for Draft Picks
Derrick Henry, RB- New England Patriots
Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick will enter their 16th season together this fall (2000—to present).
New England does its drafting on not just talent, but also intangibles.
The players who are intelligent, well-conditioned and hard-nosed usually create a competitive edge in making their way to Foxborough, Mass., to link up with the Patriots for a chance to win a Super Bowl. New England has achieved four NFL titles, all of which have come in the 2000s.
A running back is not a dire need, yet New England does mix and match its ball carriers under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden and James White all contributed during the 2015 season.
Blount led the unit with 703 rushing yards and six scores on 143 carries, but he turns 30 in December and is a free agent.
Both Lewis and Bolden are both power backs, but Alabama prospect Derrick Henry can do some of everything.
He set a new school record for rushing yards in a season (2,219), while becoming the first back in Southeastern Conference history to record 2,000 yards rushing in a season.
The 6-foot-3. 247-pound back swept the College Football Awards show in Atlanta and won the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
He stands in the same category with SEC legends Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker in having four 200-yard rushing performances. Henry’s combination of size, power, speed and hands would make him a ideal asset to complement Tom Brady.
A deflate gate scandal cost New England a first-round pick, but it isn’t beyond grabbing Henry in the second round. The Patriots finished 30th in rushing, averaging 87.8 yards.
Reggie Ragland, LB- Atlanta Falcons
Acquiring Courtney Upshaw from Baltimore was huge for Atlanta, but the Falcons need more pieces around him, Vic Beasley, Jonathan Babineaux and Sean Weatherspoon.
Coach Dan Quinn saw his guys finish 8-8 last season.
Some of it was inconsistent play on offense, the rest was poor effort on defense. When Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston are in the same division, it pays to draft linebackers that can tackle, cover and pressure to disrupt their timing.
Atlanta finished as a middle-tier defense, allowing 347.6 total yards, 105 rushing yards and 243 passing yards per game.
It stacked up at Nos. 16, 14 and 18 in the league in 2015.
Alabama inside linebacker prospect Reggie Ragland anchored college football’s most fearsome defense a year ago. He accounted for 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, seven pass breakups six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
The Crimson Tide were first in the nation in run defense (75.7 ypg) and sacks (52), while being among the leaders in total defense (276.3 ypg) and scoring defense (15.1 ppg).
Ragland, a 2015 Butkus Award finalist and SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, put on a good showing at the NFL Combine.
He was clocked at 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Quinn and the Falcons still may draft a pass rusher seeing that it is a top need, nevertheless, Atlanta also needs a captain in the middle of its defense.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT- New Orleans Saints
Dennis Allen takes over at defensive coordinator for Rob Ryan, who was fired after three season at New Orleans (2013-15). The Saints have marquee names to generate a powerful defense, but it needs the pieces to gel together.
Cameron Jordan, Nick Fairley, John Jenkins, Danell Ellerbe and James Laurinitis are all on a squad that was second to last in total defense (413.8 ypg) and rush defense (129.8 ypg).
With help on its defensive line as a top need and having the 12th pick in the draft, New Orleans couldn’t go wrong with selecting Crimson Tide defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.
Robinson, 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, amassed 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two pass breakups, a team-high 10 quarterback hurries and a blocked kick in 15 games last year.
The 2015 Outland Trophy finalist was a crucial component on a defense that allowed only one 100-yard rusher (Nick Chubb, 146 yards). He dropped six pounds prior to the NFL Combine, which helped him secure a time of 5.20 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Robinson chimed in with 22 reps (225 pounds) on bench.
NFL analysts have doubts about Robinson after seeing him at Alabama’s pro day, yet and still someone will take him in the first round. He did show signs of fatigue in drills, but on tape he is an animal.
Jarran Reed, DT- San Diego Chargers
San Diego, like New Orleans, have needs to fill all along its defensive front. The Chargers have two former SEC standouts on its line in Darius Philon (Arkansas) and Damion Square (Alabama). It acquired defensive tackle Brandon Mebane from the Seahawks in free agency. Despite the talent, San Diego was dreadful in both rush defense and total defense last season.
Defensive coordinator John Pagano saw his team finishes at Nos. 20 and 27 in both categories. The Chargers allowed an average of 369.9 total yards and 125.3 rush yards per contest.
Alabama prospect Jarran Reed fits well here as a big time run stopper and someone who can create negative plays. He tallied 57 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two pass breakups and eight quarterback hurries in 15 games.
Reed’s 40-time—5.20 seconds—was one second slower than Robinson’s, however, Reed had the better vertical jump at 31 inches. He led all defensive linemen in tackles in the last two seasons.Reed’s 40-time—5.20 seconds—was one second slower than Robinson’s, however, Reed had the better vertical jump at 31 inches. He led all defensive linemen in tackles in the last two seasons.
Cyrus Jones, DB- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay has four experienced cornerbacks and despite acquiring Brent Grimes (32) from Miami, he is no longer in the prime of his career. Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson are the three corners that it depends on a lot. The Buccaneers managed to finish 16th in pass defense, while allowing opponents to complete 70 percent of its throws for 3,840 yards. Tampa Bay struggled to create turnovers, giving up 31 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Adding a textbook corner could greatly enhance its defense.
Alabama prospect Cyrus Jones was a three-year starter at corner (2013-15). He registered 106 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 25 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and seven interceptions in his career. Jones’ hip movements, footwork and ball skills can transition well to the NFL game.
He captained a secondary that surrendered 200.6 passing yards a game, a difference of 39.4 yards between Alabama and Tampa Bay (240 ypg).
His interception off Michigan State’s quarterback Connor Cook helped engineer a 38-0 victory over the Spartans in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Jones’ skills at wide receiver came in handy during the latter part of his career on special teams.
He recorded 521 punt return yards and four touchdowns.
Kenyan Drake, RB- Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart and Cameron Artis-Payne both serve as power running backs. Getting a change of pace guy to create big plays on the perimeter would be nice for Cam Newton.
Carolina ranked 11th in total offense (366.9 ypg), second in rush offense (142.6 ypg) and 24th in pass offense (224 ypg) last season. Newton threw for 3,837 yards with 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, en route to being the league’s most valuable player and offensive player of the year.
The Panthers, who finished 15-1, made it to Super Bowl 50 but lost 24-10 to the Denver Broncos. Lack of a running game and receivers not creating separation were the main factors.
Tide prospect Kenyan Drake based his career on being a diverse player. He served at running back, wide receiver and return specialist, with having success in all three areas.
He chimes in with 1,495 rushing yards, 570 receiving yards, 505 kick return yards and 23 total touchdowns.
Drake’s hands, acceleration and vision were components on his 95-yard kickoff return touchdown against Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Carolina will get Kelvin Benjamin back after he missed all of last season with knee injury (ACL). Wide outs Corey Brown, Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess and Kevin Norwood are all on the roster, but adding Drake brings more creativity on offense.
Jacob Coker, QB- San Francisco 49ers
The future of Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco is uncertain, regardless of a 75 to 25 percent chance that he remains a 49er.
Denver made a push for him to start the offseason, but later decided to have conversations with former Cleveland Browns signal-caller Johnny Manziel.
The circus show and troubled quarterback has not come to terms with the Broncos, but he is living with Vonn Miller (Super Bowl 50 MVP). Miller, like Manziel, played his college ball at Texas A&M University.
Kaepernick, who dealt with shoulder, knee and thumb issues, had a rough season in 2015. He completed just 59 percent of his throws for 1,615 yards with six touchdowns and five picks.
Chip Kelly is probably one coach that could get the maximum effort from Kaepernick and in return, guide San Francisco’s offense to being elite. His west coast, spread mindset brought him a 46-7 career record in six years at Oregon (2007-12).
Kelly’s style rubbed people the wrong way at Philadelphia, but it could be what’s needed in California. Kaepernick has participated in all offseason team meetings; however, anything can happen between now and this summer.
Quarterback still remains a top priority for the 49ers.
California standout Jared Goff would be the ideal pick, but keep your eyes on Alabama prospect Jacob Coker.
Size (6-foot-6, 236 pounds), arm talent, leadership skills and familiarity with a prostyle offense are four things that make Coker a viable draft pick. He encountered adversity in two season at Tuscaloosa, yet he persevered and delivered the school to a national championship in 2015.
Coker completed 66.9 percent of his throws for 3,110 yards with 21 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
His completion percentage, passing yards per game (207.3) and touchdown to interception ratio was better than San Francisco’s as a whole. The 49ers were second to last in total offense (303.8 ypg) and 29th in pass offense (207 ypg).
Ryan Kelly, C- Los Angeles Rams
Running back Todd Gurley was the lone bright spot for the Rams last season.
He totaled 1,106 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns on 229 carries. He earned rookie of the year honors from Sporting News, Associated Press and Pro Football Writers Association.
Los Angeles, formerly known as St. Louis, finished seventh in the league in rushing but was last in total offense (297.6 ypg) and pass offense (175 ypg). Nick Foles failed to consistently move the ball, completing 56.4 percent of his throws for 2,052 yards with 10 interceptions to seven scores. The center position stands as a need for the Rams in this year’s draft.
Crimson Tide star Ryan Kelly is widely-regarded as the best center prospect in the draft class.
He started three seasons at Alabama (2013-15), anchoring the group to two SEC titles and a national championship.
He blocked for Derrick Henry’s Heisman-winning campaign, while helping the Tide average 200 rushing yards in all three years. Kelly did not allow a sack during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, giving Blake Sims and Jacob Coker a chance to toss for 3,000 yards.
He won the Remington Trophy and Jacobs Blocking Trophy a year ago, nevertheless, Kelly’s finest achievement was guiding Alabama’s offensive line to the inaugural Joe Moore Award.
Gurley will continue to grow as a player but in a tough NFC West, Los Angeles needs a strong passing and rushing attack.
Having a center that can set the tone on offense is crucial.
D.J. Pettway, DE- Cleveland Browns
Cleveland needs help everywhere, despite the media naming quarterback as its lone issue.
The Browns were one of the worst defensive teams last year, landing at Nos. 27 and 30 in total defense (379.2 ypg) and rush defense (128.4 ypg). Desmond Bryant, Barkevious Mingo and Danny Shelton are prime time players, yet they cannot get off the field on third down.
Alabama defensive end prospect D.J. Pettway provides much needed depth and talent for this defense. He endured some character issues, but came out a national champion and a better person. Pettway collected 48 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in his career.
He had a faster 40-time than A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed at the NFL Combine, posting a 4.99. Pettway’s size (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) may not be elite for a defensive end; however, Cleveland just needs players that can step in and stop the bleeding on defense.