Tailback Eddie Lacy figures playing at Alabama gives he and his teammates an advantage going into the NFL draft.
It certainly isn’t hurting. Two-time defending national champion Alabama once again has four, maybe five, players who are likely to be first-round selections on Thursday with the flood of NFL talent showing no signs of ebbing.
Cornerback Dee Milliner and guard Chance Warmack are regarded as potential Top 10 picks while tackle D.J. Fluker also seems to be a sure first-rounder and Lacy figures to be the first running back chosen either late in the first or perhaps in the second. All four were invited to attend the draft in New York.
Some mock drafts project defensive tackle Jesse Williams as a first-round pick, too. The 325-pounder bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times at the combine and ran the 40 in the 4.9 range at the Tide’s pro day.
Alabama could have at least four first-rounders for the third straight year, thanks to underclassmen Milliner, Fluker and Lacy.
”Coming from a program like this, it’s a great program,” Lacy said. ”Everybody who comes out, you’re going to be in the first or second round, mostly in the first round. It’s just the way we practice. It’s the way we prepare. Everybody in the NFL knows when you come out of Alabama, you know you’re going to get somebody who’s playing like an NFL-type style. Coming from here, they know they’re going to get a good player.”
They have certainly produced as collegians for a program that has won three of the last four national titles behind Nick Saban’s steady hauls of top recruiting classes.
The Tide just missed a fifth first-rounder last season when linebacker Courtney Upshaw was the third player taken in Round 2.
It’s not the best NFL draft run for a college program, considering the Miami Hurricanes produced 15 first-rounders from 2002-04. Only those Hurricanes teams have had at least nine first-rounders in a two-year span.
It’s a dramatic turnaround after the Tide didn’t have a player drafted in 2008 and went eight years without a first-rounder.
The draft prospects include Outland Trophy and Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones, widely regarded as the draft’s top center. Linebacker Nico Johnson, safety Robert Lester and defensive end Damion Square are among a group expected to join the 20 Alabama players drafted the past three years.
”You’ve got to put them up there in terms of runs with the all-time teams in terms of pipelines to the NFL,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. ”It’s been amazing. I think part of it too is with Nick Saban, his experience in the NFL, being able to coach NFL teams, and also the schedule that’s he puts these guys on.
”There is not a whole lot when you get to the NFL that is surprising in terms of the schedule and discipline and policing yourself, and all the things you have to do in the NFL.”
Alabama’s pipeline is strong again going into next year with junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, linebacker C.J. Mosley and quarterback AJ McCarron among the upcoming crop.
Square might have summed it up with a partly tongue-in-cheek answer when asked how playing for Alabama has prepared him for the next level.
”This is the next level,” said Square, a team captain. ”No, we have quite a bit of guys go on and play in the National Football League from this place. They know what type of caliber of football we play here at the University of Alabama. The guys that I competed with in the SEC for five years, those are the guys on the next level that I have to compete against.”
It’s no surprise Alabama’s pool of NFL hopefuls and top prospects is heavy on linemen. Warmack & Co. paved the way for a bulldozing offense while Williams helped spearhead a stingy, physical defense.
”That’s kind of who Alabama was this year, was a lot of big guys. It’s fun,” Jones said.
Lacy, the BCS championship game MVP, is hoping to join extend the Tide’s string of having a tailback picked in the first round to three years, joining Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
”Everybody wants to go in the first round, but at the end of the day you don’t get to pick where you’re going to get picked,” Lacey said. ”You can’t really do anything about it. When you get your chance and you get picked, you’ve just got to go out and show them, if you’re not picked in the first round, you’re a first-round talent.”