Alabama Football: No time like the present for the Tide

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The potential of the 2019 Alabama football team has plenty of Tide fans excited, but how’s the 2020 team going to look?

Alabama football head coach Nick Saban preaches staying locked in to the here and now, a macro definition of his famed “Process.” As he’s stated on numerous occasions, “play each play like it has a history and a life of its own.”

Don’t get caught up in the scoreboard. Don’t think about the next play, the next team, the next NFL Draft. And we especially don’t want to prognosticate (hypotheticals are major thorns in the Old Man’s side) about the next season.

However, I’m a glutton for punishment and while the following roster predictions could be rendered moot by January, if my current thoughts about who may leave early along with graduate attrition come to pass, 2020 could be Nick Saban’s first true rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa since 2007.

First off, this 2019 team is legitimately loaded with talent and experience, of which the latter was lacking in 2018, certainly on the defensive side of the ball. All told, if the depth chart on both sides of the ball remain fluid coming out of the spring, the 2019 team should have 14 returning starters, give or take one or two depending on the package, from 2018.

This includes such stalwarts as Raekwon Davis, Anfernee Jennings, Dylan Moses and Shyheim Carter on the defense and, of course, Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills on offense.

This doesn’t even consider Najee Harris, who’s been a contributor in a loaded backfield during his first two seasons and Terrell Lewis, who’s been injured for most of the last two of his.

You could say that Trevon Diggs hasn’t put together one full season at the starting cornerback position, but how much better off was the secondary when he went down with an injury in the sixth game of last season?

The above mentioned Alabama football players are all upperclassmen. Four are seniors, as are projected starting right guard Matt Womack, inside linebacker Josh McMillon and safety Jared Mayden. All told, that’s seven projected starters on the 2019 team who will run out of eligibility by season’s end.

Lewis technically has another year to use after 2019, but will he really want to tempt the possibility of injuring himself a third time before heading off to the pros? Of course, I thought Jennings would leave after last season for the same reason, but there he is and Saban is certainly lucky to have him back.

This leads us to the stickiest situation of them all: the third-year players from the ridiculously loaded 2017 Alabama football recruiting class. As I previously mentioned, this group of juniors and redshirt sophomores is the tipping point for how great a team the 2019 team ends up being. At least ten of these guys will be starters this season and it’s fair to say that eight of them could be declaring early for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Think about that. On top of the seven projected starting seniors that Alabama football will lose, there could be anywhere from six to ten more guys who will leave before their eligibility is up.

Don’t believe me? Do you think Tua or Jerry stick around? Maybe Leatherwood or Wills will stay for their senior year, but probably not both. It stands to reason that any running back with Najee’s talent will head out with the ever-increasing sentiment that running backs are being devalued at the pro level.

I don’t think all three of Alabama football’s trio of junior wideouts will leave, but, along with Jeudy, Ruggs’ speed and toughness will be very appealing to pro scouts.

Moses had to grow up quickly over the last two seasons, so if he builds on 2018 and shows everyone how truly gifted a middle linebacker he is, he’ll be gone. Same goes for Xavier McKinney at safety.

And this isn’t even considering LaBryan Ray, who may or may not have a breakout year as a first-year starter. I recall a certain 2019 NFL Draft first-rounder who was in a similar situation going into last season.

By season’s end, we could be seeing up to sixteen starters/contributors leave the program. This will be untrod territory for a coach who presumably “reloads” every season.

In 2020, we could be seeing new starters at quarterback, running back, both offensive tackle positions and right guard, a wideout position (Jaylen Waddle is pretty much a starter), defensive end, all four linebacker spots and four of the six “dime unit” defensive backs.

And that’s why Bama Nation should enjoy this season. That’s why a team with a fairly manageable regular season schedule could be something else to witness in 2019. Talent and experience to go with a major chip on its shoulder. I think it’s going to be fun.

I’m not saying that guys like Patrick Surtain, Jr., Waddle, Brian Robinson, Miller Forristall, Chris Owens, D.J. Dale and Phidarian Mathis won’t be great in 2020. They no doubt will be, but the development of the current freshman class will be pivotal to how Alabama football performs next season.

Next. Linebackers need to make Defense great. dark

I’m not saying 2020 will end up being 6-6 or anything, but with a much tougher schedule that includes Georgia from the East and a trending LSU team in Death Valley, a 10-2, 9-3 season is not out of the question.

Of course, the Tide will also have two kickers with plenty of eligibility left in 2020.

There’s always that.