Alabama Football: 2015 Team Outlook


Fans of Alabama football are still stinging from the heartbreaking Sugar Bowl loss and end to the 2014 season. Meanwhile Nick Saban and his coaching staff are already looking forward to 2015 and what will be considered a rebuilding year.

2014 was considered to be a rebuilding year for Alabama by many, considering the key positions being replaced, including that of quarterback. This will be again the biggest question on the Alabama roster, but not the only one. We won’t know for sure what to expect with returning players until all underclassmen that are going to the NFL Draft declare within the next few weeks.

Potential NFL Draft Entrees (Juniors)

As usual Alabama has several juniors that are likely to go to the April draft. The two most obvious jumps are receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins, both considered top 10 picks.

Running back TJ Yeldon would likely be considered one of the top running backs in the draft, but as the draft stock of running backs in general has dropped over the last few years. He likely wouldn’t be a first round pick, but with Derrick Henry continuing to emerge in the backfield along with a slew of other young backs, Yeldon may make the jump anyway.

Center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Cyrus Jones have already confirmed they would be returning for their senior seasons, but linebacker Reggie Ragland is mulling the possibility of jumping. Ragland would be a big loss for a Tide defense that is already losing starters in Landon Collins (safety), Nick Perry (safety), Trey DePriest (linebacker), and Xzavier Dickson (linebacker).

Ragland would likely be considered the centerpiece of the Alabama defense, and I expect him to return, if for no other reason than raising his draft stock after another year in the Alabama system while Yeldon, Cooper, and Collins head to the NFL.

Senior Departures

Alabama loses 12 seniors that are either starters or reserve players with a ton of playing time. On offense Alabama losses their quarterback (Blake Sims), two wide receivers (DeAndrew White and Christion Jones), tight end (Brian Vogler), fullback (Jalston Fowler), and three linemen (Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd, and Leon Brown).

On defense Jarrick Williams (star/safety), Nick Perry (safety), Xzavier Dickson (linebacker), and Trey DePriest (linebacker) are gone.

The offensive line may be the biggest loss, with three starters gone and not a ton of experience behind them. Cameron Robinson was the best lineman on the team in 2014 and one of the best freshmen in the country. He should be even better in 2015. DePriest and Collins were the unquestioned leaders of the defense in 2014, so those are huge losses on that side, but Xzavier Dickson may have been the most underrated player on the defense as by far the best pass rusher.

Incoming Freshmen

We won’t know for sure what the full recruiting class of 2015 will look like until National Signing Day next month, but we already know six (with a potential seven) of those freshmen who have already enrolled at Alabama will be able to attend spring practice.

Quarterback Blake Barnett (Corona, CA), safeties Deionte Thompson (Orange, TX) and Ronnie Harrison (Tallahassee, FL), offensive guards Dallas Warmack (Atlanta, GA) and Brandon Kennedy (Wetumpka, AL), and running back Desherrius Flowers (Mobile, AL) are all on campus at Alabama and will be attending spring practices to get a jump start on the rest of the class.

Highly touted receiver Calvin Ridley (Pompano Beach, FL) could potentially join those players in the next couple of weeks if he is cleared by the NCAA’s clearinghouse. It is interesting that all seven of these players, including Ridley, are at positions of need where starters are leaving for Alabama. Alabama is losing both starting safeties and guards from the 2014 team and are bringing in replacements at each position in this freshman class along with Barnett at quarterback, Flowers at tailback, and possibly Ridley at receiver.

Offensive Outlook for 2015

For the second straight year quarterback will be the biggest point of interest among fans and analysts, as another record-breaking quarterback will need to be replaced. Alabama has a lot of bodies at the position, just not a lot of experience.

Senior Jacob Coker is the only quarterback on the roster to have thrown a pass in college, and he will be the favorite heading into the spring to take over for Sims. Coker had a full year to sit behind Sims and learn the offense, so I’m fairly confident he will at least start the season as Alabama’s No. 1.

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Behind him is a wealth of young players including junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett. Cornwell is a prototypical Lane Kiffin quarterback, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 234 pounds with a massive arm, but Blake Barnett is already a fan favorite and is probably the highest recruited quarterback in the Nick Saban era. Barnett is different than any other QB on the Alabama roster in that he is a dual threat QB, drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel and Michael Vick. He has a big arm and is athletic, but putting everything on an incoming freshman is not something Nick Saban would be too keen on doing unless Barnett is just amazing coming into camp.

Yeldon is likely gone from the backfield and fullback Jalston Fowler is as well, meaning Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones, and Bo Scarbrough are what is left at tailback. Michael Nysewander and Corey McCarron are the fullbacks remaining on the roster.

Alabama is still going after 5-star running back Damien Harris in this upcoming class, and if he signs with Alabama that will be a big gamechanger in the Alabama backfield, as he is the No. 1 rated running back in the entire freshman class.

Scarbrough made his debut with the Alabama team in January after academic issues kept him from the team in 2014, and could be an impact player at the very least on special teams considering his elusiveness and speed. Yeldon returning would be massive for this group but it is unlikely, and Henry will be the go-to man in 2015 with hopefully a healthy Kenyan Drake offering a great change of pace.

The top three pass catchers in 2014 will more than likely be gone in 2015, with Cooper considered one of the top potential prospects in the entire draft and DeAndrew White and Christion Jones as seniors. Tight end Brian Vogler, mostly a blocker, was also a senior and is gone for 2015.

Behind Cooper, White, and Jones is a ton of talent but not a lot of experience. ArDarius Stewart and Chris Black both earned more playing time as the season went on this year and had an injury not slowed Stewart up he may have actually ended up as a starter. Robert Foster and Cameron Sims also earned playing time down the stretch.

Those four may combine for one of the more all around talented groups of receivers in the SEC, but with a new quarterback throwing them passes it is still going to be a struggle. Stewart, Sims, and Foster are excellent blockers, especially Sims and Foster, who both earned playing time solely because of their ability to block downfield.

The biggest receiving weapon will likely be junior tight end OJ Howard. Howard’s biggest detriment thus far has been his lack of blocking ability, which kept him off the field far too much in 2013 and 2014. As the season progressed Howard improved as a blocker and I fully expect him to finally reach his full potential in 2015. Whether he is split out wide or lines up at traditional tight end he is an absolute matchup nightmare for defenses and will be a huge security blanket for whoever else lines up under center.

Ryan Kelly is returning for his senior season and will add a lot of leadership to the offensive line at center. Grant Hill will likely take Shepherd’s spot at the other tackle and I would imagine Bradley Bozeman and Alphonse Taylor taking the guard spots. Incoming freshman Dallas Warmack is the brother of former Alabama All American and current NFL star Chance Warmack, and the highly touted recruit will have a chance to compete at guard to potential replace Kouandjio or Brown. Grant Hill and Cameron Robinson could end up combining for one of the most talented offensive tackle duos in the country if Hill continues to improve the way that he did in 2014. Alabama will more than likely need to rely on the running game with all of the losses at receiver, tight end, and obviously the starting quarterback so this line will need to gel quickly early.

Defensive Outlook for 2015

Alabama loses seniors at linebacker (Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson), safety (Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry) and another safety (Landon Collins) is surely jumping to the NFL. Two others (Jarran Reed and Reggie Ragland) may jump to the NFL as well, so there will definitely be holes to fill on defense but there is still a ton of experience and talent on that side for Kirby Smart.

If Reed returns in 2015, that means every player with meaningful playing time in 2014 will return except for nose tackle Brandon Ivory. Reed, DJ Pettway, A’Shawn Robinson, and Jonathan Allen all shared the starting spots during the year along with Ivory, while Da’Shawn Hand, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Darren Lake all saw plenty of playing time as well.

This group will only get better in 2015 and I expect Allen to raise a ton of eyebrows next season as one of the better pass rushers in the SEC. Robinson played primarily at nose tackle this season after playing defensive end as a freshman. It hurt his statistics but he was dominant in the middle of the Alabama defense for the majority of the season. I expect him to continue to play the nose in 2015 but will probably be given more of a chance to rush the passer from the edge in four linemen sets.

Xzavier Dickson and Trey DePriest will be departing linebackers and two of the better players on the defense. Dickson had nine sacks this year and was by far Alabama’s best pass rusher, while DePriest was one of the leaders of the defense and one of the best inside linebackers in the country.

Reggie Ragland emerged as another in the long line of great inside linebackers for Nick Saban. If he leaves Alabama it will leave a massive hole in the defense with three departing linebackers being an obstacle that would be difficult to manage. If Ragland returns it would be huge for Alabama as he and Reuben Foster would combine for one of the most hard hitting inside linebacker duos in the country. On the outside Denzel Devall only played in eight games due to injury. A healthy Devall will add a lot to the pass rush in 2015. Joining him at outside linebacker will be Dillon Lee and Rashaan Evans. Evans could potentially fill the hole that Dickson leaves with his speed, but because of his smaller size will likely share the duties with Ryan Anderson. Shaun Dion Hamilton will get a look at middle linebacker with Foster as well.

All of Alabama’s cornerbacks return in 2015, for what that’s worth, while three safeties (Collins, Jarrick Williams, and Nick Perry) are out the door.

Collins was one of the best defensive backs in the country, and along with DePriest the leader of the defense in 2014. He will be a massive loss and I expect hard-hitting sophomore safety Hootie Jones to get a shot at replacing him. Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington will likely fill Perry’s spot with Smith playing at the star in the nickel.

Tony Brown, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, and Bradley Sylve all earned starts at cornerback in 2014, with Jones ending up as the best of the bunch. He returns in 2015 and will be called upon to be a leader of this group along with Jackson, who will need to rebound after an inconsistent 2014. Jackson was coming off of knee surgery last spring, so expect a more consistent Jackson in 2015.

I expect redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey to finally see playing time next season. A full year learning under Nick Saban and Kirby Smart may see him end up starting the season as one of Alabama’s top four corners, and his speed could add a lot to special teams.

Special Teams Outlook for 2015

Punter JK Scott was the best punter in the country in 2014. Now imagine what he will look like in 2015. Scott is a huge weapon for Alabama, and will likely handle kickoff duties as well.

Adam Griffith struggled as the season progressed in 2014, dealing with a stress fracture in his back didn’t help matters, and will look to rebound next season as he gets healthy.

Christion Jones and DeAndrew White were the primary return men in 2014 and are both gone, so someone new will be returning kickoffs and punts. I think Marlon Humphrey, Cyrus Jones, and ArDarius Stewart will be the top options at punt returning. It will likely be Humphrey, Stewart, and Bo Scarbrough vying for the kickoff return duties.

Players to Watch in 2015
Derrick Henry, RB
Jacob Coker, QB
ArDarius Stewart, WR
OJ Howard, TE
Cameron Sims, WR
A’Shawn Robinson, NT
Jonathan Allen, DE
Rashaan Evans, LB
Marlon Humphrey, CB
Hootie Jones, SS
JK Scott, P

Freshmen to Watch in 2015*
Blake Barnett, QB
Dallas Warmack, OG
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB
Daron Payne, DT
Calvin Ridley, WR
Ronnie Harrison, S

*List could change after National Signing Day