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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #1-Alabama

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 23, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews

 

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide

 

2012 Recap:

Another year and another title for Nick Saban. Seems the only program that can stop Alabama these days is…Alabama.

 

Coaching:

Saban is known for jumping ship so one wonders if he is here for the long haul or if he feels like turning around another club. He is widely regarded as the best coach in college football and few will argue that point.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

With back-to-back championships under his belt it looks like all is well for A.J. McCarron. With that said I am not sure McCarron actually gets the credit he deserves, especially after last year when he posted an amazing 30 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. McCarron has led the Crimson Tide on a number of big drives and at 175.3, McCarron led the nation in quarterback rating. At 6’3” and 215 pounds size should not be a problem. McCarron looks the part of a quarterback that is cool under pressure and doesn’t get rattled. His predecessors before him (John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy) have hung around the NFL and were an undrafted free agent and a 7th rounder respectively. McCarron should be gone by the 2nd round as his mid-range passing ability and accuracy is unmatched at the FBS level. Arm strength is not outstanding but he has everything else you are looking for.

A quarterback's best friend is always a good running game and in sophomore T.J.Yeldon, McCarron has more than just a “good” running game. Yeldon has great size and speed and gained 1,108 yards on the ground backing up Eddie Lacy a season ago. Yeldon only caught 11 passes a season ago, but expect him to be more involved in the passing game as he possesses a terrific all-around game that has him currently projected as a 1st round talent. Kenyon Drake is now the backup as he had nearly 300 yards and a 6.7 YPC average in limited duty last season. When recruited by Alabama some thought he would get more time than Yeldon and Drake is not shy about his prospects or ability as he routinely strikes the “Heisman Pose” when making big runs. The running game will be as strong as ever, especially behind the Crimson Tide’s superior offensive line.

Best Draft Prospect: T.J. Yeldon RB 1st Round 2016 (Possible early entrant for 2015).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Amari Cooper is by far and away the most talented wide receiver Nick Saban has had the pleasure of coaching while at Alabama. Cooper is another first round prospect who posted exactly 1,000 yards as a freshman and did so on only 59 catches, 11 of which were touchdowns. Cooper plays bigger than his 6’1” frame would suggest as he is a frequent red zone target or asked to go up and get a lot of balls. Played through some ankle issues last year and it makes you wonder if he would have had even more catches if 100%. Cooper will be joined by Kevin Norwood who was a starter last year and second to Cooper in catches. Christion Jones is back at wide receiver as well, meaning the only target McCarron liked to utilize last season not back is tight end Michael Williams. Brian Vogler will be the new starter but he only logged a pair of catches last season and is there as more of a blocker. Incoming freshman O.J. Howard looks like he will quickly become a favorite for McCarron and his athleticism will allow him to split out like a wide receiver in a number of formations. Aside from Cooper there are no other blue chip NFL prospects but Alabama is deep at the position and covered in the event of an injury to one of the starters.

Best Draft Prospect: Amari Cooper WR 1st Round 2016 (Possible early entrant for 2015).

 

Offensive Line:

Let’s talk about left tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, who completes the trifecta of all three offensive positions chronicled having at least 1 first round draft pick. Kouandijo was probably the most consistent lineman Alabama had last year as he routinely outperformed all-conference tackle D.J. Fluker. Fluker was eligible for the draft while Kouandijo was not last season and Fluker was #11 overall so you can see where I am going here. If anyone in the nation can join the Jake Matthews/Taylor Lewan-best tackle overall discussion, this is the man.  Only one other player returns along the line and that is the steady guard Anthony Steen. There is competition at the other spots and this could be a good thing as Alabama is naturally deep along the line, though it is noticeably weaker than it was a season ago. The other Kouandijo, older brother Arie looks like he will be the left guard and potentially playing beside his brother full time, while Ryan Kelly is the favorite to move into the center position. Junior right tackle Austin Shepherd has won the battle at right tackle and he has NFL potential down the road and will have the chance to show it this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Cyrus Kouandijo OT 1st Round 2015 (Likely entrant for 2014 draft).

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Alabama plays a base 3-4 and they did lose three big players in ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial along with All-America Jesse Williams at nose tackle and battering ram fullback on short yardage situations. To many teams this would be a severe blow but to Alabama it’s a mere bump in the road. While it doesn’t look like Alabama is as formidable up front, they still have one of the better front lines in the SEC and are led by Ed Stinson, a 3rd round prospect for the 2014 draft. Stinson had just 30 tackles a season ago but 8.5 were for loss and he posted 3 sacks. Brandon Ivory will play inside and Jeoffrey Pagan will man the other end spot, both of whom posted a combined 45 tackles a season ago. Look for end LaMichael Fanning to get turned loose on the SEC and he could be a super-sub for The Crimson Tide and have a huge impact throughout the season. Ivory looks like he could be a mid-round prospect but I want to see him with a year of starter's experience under his belt as he was effective in short stretches. The nose tackle at Alabama is a demanding role and we will have to see how he holds up playing at least 70% of the snaps.

Best Draft Prospect: Ed Stinson DE 3rd Round 2014.

                       

Linebackers:

Often when you see a team dominate like Alabama you hear whispers about how Alabama could hold up against a pro team and how the lower level NFL teams may get beaten by a superior college team like the Crimson Tide. This sort of talk always strikes me as absurd because you are taking the cream of the crop from every program so even a 0-16 NFL would more than likely defeat a college team quite easily. I can look at the corp of linebackers Alabama fields right now and I would take those players as a unit over maybe 10 NFL teams and what they start at linebacker. It sounds absurd but that is how good this group of linebackers is and all of the starters are 1st or 2nd round picks. This isn’t just four individuals who are talented by themselves, but each has individual talent and plays within the system making players around them better. If Trey DePreist and Adrian Hubbard were to go pro we'd be looking at 2 first round picks. I expect Xzavier Dickson to be a 2nd rounder but I feel he will come back in 2015 to show his talents and show what he can do without an All-American around him. These linebackers have amazing range and it’s not just about making tackles for losses or getting after the quarterback. Alabama has players that can defend the pass and clog up portions of the line or make run blitzes to free up a a teammate. No linebacking corps in the nation comes close to what the Crimson Tide fields.

Best Draft Prospect: C.J. Mosley 1st Round 2014, Adrian Hubbard 1st Round 2015 (Likely to enter draft for 2014) and Trey DePriest 1st/2nd Round 2015 (Possible entrant for 2014).

 

Secondary:

Yes Alabama had the top cornerback taken off the board last year in Dee Milliner but (surprise!) Alabama has more than enough talent to restock the shelves. Deion Belue is s 3rd/4th round pick for this season. He won’t wow you with athletic talent or playmaking ability but he is a solid, technically sound football player, who doesn’t make mistakes, . A trio of sophomores are next on the depth chart and Geno Smith is the player we will see make the majority, if not all, of the starts. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix led this secondary with 5 interceptions last season and was the beneficiary when teams would shy away from Milliner or try to be aggressive and go after him. Milliner should have had more interceptions but he tipped and deflected a lot of passes and Dix was there to clean up on more than one occasion. Dix is a likely 2nd round pick with the early stages of the 3rd round looking like the lowest he could go. Landon Collins steps in as the other safety and he saw action in all 14 games a season ago. Vinnie Sunseri always seems to be around the ball and he will work his way onto the field.  Sunseri specializes in run and pass blitzing and this will help his draft stock as he too should have a future at the next level.

Best Draft Prospect: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix S 2nd Round 2015 (Likely entrant for 2014 draft).

 

Special Teams:

Will redshirt freshman Adam Griffith finally have his shot at plackekicker or will the team stick with Cade Foster. It doesn’t matter as Alabama hopes the placekicker doesn’t need to be utilized often and they are relegated to kicking a lot of extra points. The kick coverage was well above average and with Christion Jones and Dee Hart returning, it will not be an issue in 2014. Cody Mandell continues to be overshadowed at the punter position and he will have a shot at a camp to displace a veteran.

Best Draft Prospect: Cody Mandell P UFA 2014.

 

Schedule:

We know everyone is gunning for Alabama, but the Tide get a crack at the only team to beat them last year, Texas A&M, early September 14th at College Station. No Florida, Georgia or South Carolina in the regular season means this is one of the easier schedules in the SEC. The home game to start November against LSU looks to be the toughees task. It definitely looks like we could be seeing a three-peat.

 

Draft Outlook:

The amount of talent is staggering, you have to look at Alabama and just be in awe of the amount of NFL talent they have on the roster. Right now this is as close to a dynasty as you can get and Alabama continues to get stronger and stronger.

 

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