As we hit the summer portion of the offseason, Touchdown Alabama Magazine will release a series of player spotlight pieces on starters and marquee contributors for the 2019 football season. In these articles, we will dive into the strengths and weaknesses of each player, provide expectations for 2019, give NFL Draft projections for those who are eligible, and conclude with how each one can impact the team.
The eighth offensive player is Alex Leatherwood
Alex Leatherwood’s attributes
-Position: Offensive Line (Guard)
-2018 stats: Started 15 games, never graded lower than 83 percent on snaps
Summary: When it comes to offensive linemen, Alex Leatherwood was the prize of the 2017 recruiting cycle and Alabama won him over Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Tennessee.
The former five-star from Pensacola (Fla.) was No. 8 overall on the ESPN 300 network and the site’s No. 3 offensive tackle. After a strong career at Booker T. Washington High School, Leatherwood immediately showed how valuable he was as a freshman.
He saw playing time in seven games during the 2017 season, with his best performance coming against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship matchup.
Leatherwood replaced Jonah Williams (injury) at left tackle in the third quarter and earned a grade of 88 percent on 44 snaps. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder assisted then freshman quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, to 166 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 26-23 comeback win in overtime.
While he is naturally a tackle, Leatherwood sacrificed for the team last season and started all 15 games at right guard. He made second-team All-Southeastern Conference from the league’s coaches as he set the tone for the most high-powered offense of the Nick Saban era.
With him on the interior, Tagovailoa set multiple school records and the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack had three 100-yard outings from Damien Harris (two) and Najee Harris (one).
He never graded lower than 83 percent; however, Leatherwood’s finest outing was against Arkansas on the road. The Razorbacks could not affect Tagovailoa, as Leatherwood guided his signal caller to 334 passing yards in the first half with four scores in a 65-31 rout of the Hogs.
Leatherwood finished with a grade of 90 percent – his highest of the year.
For someone who carries the size of former Tide star, Cam Robinson, Leatherwood has power as a run blocker and pass protector. He is rarely moved off his base by defensive linemen or edge rushers, and is quick to re-establish position upon defenders thinking they have an angle on him.
Aside from Barrett Jones and Jonah Williams, the typical left tackle for Saban is one that possesses a massive wingspan. Long arms and long fingers keep sack specialists away from the quarterback, and Leatherwood has both.
No sack of Tagovailoa came through him in 2018 and it led to Alabama having the nation’s top-ranked pass efficiency offense (197.34) and No. 6 passing offense (323.6 ypg).
-Adjusting back to tackle (natural position)
Summary: This is not a full-blown weakness; however, one does wonder on how Leatherwood will adjust going back to tackle after a season at guard.
Fortunately, he will have something competent beside him at guard – whether it is Emil Ekiyor, Matt Womack or Evan Neal.
Seeing as he took reps at left tackle throughout spring practice, it should not be difficult for Leatherwood to regain a feel for it. Nevertheless, football on Saturdays in the fall is much bigger than spring activities.
Fall camp will provide insight on how he continues to progress.
Expectations for 2019 season
Along with aiding Tagovailoa to another big year, Leatherwood expects to provide the Tide with a 1,000-yard rusher in the fall.
He looks to be a crucial component to a group that has all the tools to win the Joe Moore Award, which goes to college football’s best offensive unit.
In terms of individual honors, Leatherwood will pursue the chance to win either the Outland Trophy or Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the SEC. Quinnen Williams, his former teammate, won the Outland in 2018 for his outstanding play at defensive tackle. Being a first-team All-SEC or first-team All-American is also in sights for Leatherwood.
Anything that could place him in the arena of becoming a high first-round pick for the 2020 NFL Draft is ideal for him next season.
A national championship is still the primary goal for Leatherwood.
Projection for NFL Draft 2020
Alex Leatherwood: Second Round (First five picks)
Leatherwood’s competition: Alaric Jackson (IOWA), Trey Smith (Tennessee), Ben Cleveland (Georgia), Nick Harris (Washington) and Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame)
Leatherwood was a promising five-star recruit that has lived up to the billing.
He played a big role as a freshman to win a national title and sacrificed his sophomore year in learning a new position to help the team. He expects big production in his return to offensive tackle and potentially get Alabama back to the CFP title stage.
A huge season for him could land a Top-15 to Top-20 pick in next year’s draft.
*Get the BEST Alabama football insider information, message board access, and recruiting coverage today! SIGN UP HERE to unlock our subscriber only content!*