As outside linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams prepare for the 2017 NFL Draft, we look at the hole they’ll leave in Alabama’s defense and who is best suited to fill it. Replacing these stars will be an uphill battle for the Tide, as the duo put up incredible stats last season. Combined, they posted a total of 92 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. In addition, Anderson also returned an interception of Washington quarterback Jake Browning for a touchdown in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal).
To replace this kind of production is going to be one of the most difficult obstacles Alabama will have to overcome this off-season, but there are a handful of extremely talented guys salivating at the chance to earn a starting job for the Tide.
#33 Anfernee Jennings: Jennings is one of the more seasoned players of the group that has a chance at a starting position. Last year, the redshirt freshman saw action in 10 games and tallied 19 total tackles with two for loss. The 6-4 Dadeville (Ala.) native could earn increased playing time on experience alone.
#47 Christian Miller: Like Jennings, Miller accrued playing time last season as a redshirt sophomore. In nine games, he managed 16 tackles and two sacks. After last year’s SEC Title game, Tim Williams was being interviewed by our own Stephen M. Smith when he pointed at Miller and deemed him as “the next great” at outside linebacker. The buzz around Miller has been growing since he first got to campus as a four-star recruit and is expected to also see a huge increase in playing time.
#24 Terrell Hall: The former five-star recruit was considered one of the premiere pass rushers in the 2016 class, and managed to play in 11 of the Tide’s game last season as a true freshman. Though he recorded just 11 tackles and one sack, the ceiling is high for Hall. At 6-5, he towers over most running backs that stay in the pocket to pick him up and his speed adds a nice burst off of the line.
#1 Ben Davis: Also a former five-star recruit, Ben Davis took a redshirt last year. Originally recruited as an inside linebacker, Davis has been flipped to the outside. Nick Saban praised him for the successful beginning of the transition saying that “athletically, (he) might have a better chance to contribute (as an outside linebacker) and he’s done a nice job.” Though still a dark-horse candidate to become a starter this season, I fully expect him to receive a plethora of minutes at outside linebacker in 2017.
Prediction: Due to the high amount of success Williams and Anderson had a season ago, I believe that the outside ‘backer position will be played by committee. I predict that Miller and Hall will be the starters by fall but that Davis and Jennings will be on the field for at least 40% of the defensive snaps next year.