Alabama Football: 2017 Defensive Line becomes position of strength

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: Defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: Defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne /

Going into spring football the 2017 defensive line was a concern to Alabama football fans. The talent lost to the NFL no longer appears irreplaceable.

In 2016, Alabama football had one of the best defensive lines in college football. The physical skills and toughness of players like Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson cannot be replaced in every signing class.

During an early spring media briefing, Nick Saban was asked about a lack of depth on the 2017 defensive line. Alabama football fans were keenly interested in Nick’s answer.

Saban bristled a bit at the assumption the position group was lacking. His terse response as reported by David Paschall was,

"“We’ve played with worse.”"

At the time, Alabama football fans found little comfort in Nick’s response. Da’Ron Payne is great but alone he could not compensate for the loss of Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlison. In 2016, Allen and Tomlinson contributed 22 quarterback hurries and 13.5 sacks.

Add the loss of two more, physical, defensive enforcers, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster, it appeared the 2017 front seven could not come close to the 2016 group.

2017 Defensive Leaders

It is too early to tell how good the defensive line will be in 2017 but the outlook is promising. Da’Ron Payne will be as good as anyone in the nation at his position. Based upon this NFL Draft analysis, Alabama football will have two of the nation’s best seven defensive linemen in Payne and Da’Shawn Hand.

The other end opposite from Hand has been the position of biggest concern. It turns out Alabama football’s recruiting superiority will save the day. Isaiah Buggs is the likely starter, but Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams are not far behind. With Hand, Buggs, Davis and Williams, Alabama football has quality depth at end.

2017 Defensive Backups

In the middle, Johnny Dwight has been a pleasant surprise. The redshirt junior has seen little action in his Crimson Tide career. Directed by Tide coaches, Dwight dropped 10 pounds and got stronger in the weight room. After the spring game, Dwight (along with Payne) won the Billy Neighbors Defensive Lineman Award. His offseason work and spring performance made him the second-team backup to Payne heading into fall camp.

Alabama football has other depth on the defensive front in Josh Frazier and Jamar King. The most recent news is that summer enrollee LaBryan Ray is physically ready to play as a true freshman. Counting Ray the 2017 defensive line depth is nine players and could be ten if true freshman Phil Mathis hits weight and conditioning goals.

The best feature of the 2017 defensive line is flexibility. Hand, Buggs, Williams, Davis and Ray can play outside or inside.

Our conclusion is it turns out Nick’s early spring retort “we played with worse” was an understatement.

Next: 30 Great Tide Players who were 3-Star Recruits

We are not many days away from fall camp practice reports and scrimmages. Until Saban releases a depth chart around August 28, we will keep updating our Fall Camp projected Depth Chart.