Alabama Football: Draft decisions looming for upperclassmen

The Alabama football team boasts a large number of draft eligible juniors that are likely still making their NFL draft decisions. These decisions, which should be coming out over the course of the next couple days and weeks, will collectively give us an idea of what the 2022 team will look like.

On offense, Evan Neal and Jameson Williams are probably gone. Both are projected to be high first round picks. Neal has been a virtual lock for a top five pick in the ‘22 draft since last year. However, Williams was arguably the top receiver in all of college football. He is an explosive deep threat, and a big play waiting to happen. Hopefully the knee injury he suffered in the title game will not be enough to damage his draft stock, because he has earned himself a ton of money this season.

Jameson Williams’ running mate at the wide receiver position could also move on. John Metchie had a slow start to the season before becoming extremely effective in the latter portion of the year. Despite being overshadowed by Williams for much of the campaign, Metchie’s production is on par with that of a high draft pick. A torn ACL in the SEC championship ended Metchie’s season and could impact his draft stock, but it would be a pleasant surprise if he returned to Tuscaloosa in 2022.

Tight ends Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley are both draft eligible. While both became valuable contributors to the passing game, neither really elevated their stock enough to leave early. Latu and Billingsley should both be back in the fold and see increased roles next year.

Guard Emil Ekiyor battled inconsistency all season, and has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Most Alabama football fans would probably say he should return, but Ekiyor has the physical tools and resume (28 career starts at Alabama) to be on the radar of NFL GMs.

Alabama Football: 2022 Defense could be loaded

Defensively, a large group of juniors will have tough decisions to make. This group includes safeties DeMarco Hellams and Jordan Battle, corner Jalyn Armour-Davis, inside linebackers Christian Harris and Henry To’o To’o, and defensive linemen DJ Dale and Byron Young.

If I had to guess, Hellams, Dale, and Young will almost certainly be back. Hellams and Dale have both shown improvement, but hardly enough to garner early round attention. Byron Young became one of my favorite players on the Alabama defense over the course of the season. He had an extremely disruptive junior year, and could be in for an All-American caliber senior campaign.

Cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis built pretty good draft stock for himself, and could decide to leave even with the injury issues he’s had. Alabama football’s signing of LSU transfer Eli Ricks felt like a push out the proverbial door for Armour-Davis.

Christian Harris and Henry To’o To’o were pretty solid at inside linebacker, but weren’t particularly special. Neither quite met the lofty expectations of the Alabama fan base, but they are both ranked among the best draft eligible linebackers in the country. Harris had an impressive postseason, and could’ve vaulted himself into early round consideration.

Lastly, Jordan Battle is another guy who had a shaky start to the year but ended the season playing the best ball of his career. He likely played his way into being one of the first safeties off the board in the NFL draft, and I’d be surprised to see him back in Alabama uniform.

Alabama Football: Super Seniors?

With the extra year of eligibility granted to all athletes by the NCAA, there are several members of Alabama’s senior class that could also consider returning to the team. Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is highly talented but his career has been ravaged by injuries. Ray was a rotational player on the defensive line throughout the second half of the 2021 season. He may take his chances with the draft, but would provide a valuable veteran presence if he returns.

Outside linebacker Christopher Allen was one of the most important defensive players to Alabama’s 2020 title run. He was primed to be a leader on the 2021 squad before suffering a season ending injury in the first game. Allen could return and compete in a crowded OLB room in 2022.

Safety Daniel Wright and inside linebacker Jaylen Moody are both talented players that largely played backup roles this season. Wright lost his starting job to DeMarco Hellams last year after displaying a propensity to miss tackles and blow coverage assignments. He played mostly spot minutes this season and made some big plays, especially as a blitzer. Jaylen Moody has been a career reserve at inside linebacker, but is a very physical player and a fan favorite. His decision could possibly depend on the decisions of To’o To’o and Harris.

Months ago, I would’ve included senior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis on this list. However, the big man became one of the leaders of the Alabama defense and turned himself into a borderline elite player. Over the final stretch of the season, he was arguably the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the entire country, and totaled 53 tackles (12 TFL) and 9 sacks on the year. Unfortunately, Mathis also suffered an injury during the title game and did not return, but he will certainly hear his name called on draft night.

Regardless of the decisions these guys make, the 2022 Alabama Crimson Tide will be absolutely loaded. If any of the aforementioned names decide to return, the rich would just be getting richer.