Alabama Football: Key NFL Draft Decisions and projections

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Alabama Football
Alabama Football /

Tim Smith (returning)

Tim Smith has had a good senior year on the interior defensive line for Alabama Football, posting career-highs of 30 tackles and 2.0 sacks. The former 5-star recruit has yet to have a true breakout season, and he could return in 2024 to do so.

In recent years, Bama defensive linemen such as Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young, and Phidarian Mathis have benefited greatly from returning for their final year of eligibility, and Smith is a prime candidate to have a similar impact next season.

Chris Braswell (departing)

Braswell has been the personification of patience, waiting his turn behind Will Anderson Jr. on the edge for several years. In one of the most loaded position groups in college football over that time period, Braswell also sat behind standouts like Christopher Allen, Drew Sanders, and Dallas Turner. Since coming to Tuscaloosa alongside Anderson Jr. and Sanders in 2020, Braswell has bided his time, gaining weight and perfecting his craft.

All of this patience culminated in a huge 2023 season. Chris Braswell burst onto the scene in his first year as a full-time starter with 41 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, and three forced fumbles. He also blocked a field goal and returned an interception for a touchdown, and has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all year.

If he returns in 2024, Chris Braswell would give Bama a dominant and proven pass rusher to put on the edge. However, I expect Braswell to turn pro along with Dallas Turner. If he does, there will be some new faces on the edge for Alabama Football. Veterans Quandarrius Robinson and Keanu Koht would have plenty of opportunities, as would former blue chip recruits Keon Keeley and Yhonzae Pierre.

Deontae Lawson (returning)

Lawson has been a revelation at inside linebacker for the Crimson Tide, posting 61 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks despite battling injuries all season and missing multiple games.

He has probably shown enough to appeal to the NFL, but Lawson could come back to put a full season of production on film. He would certainly be a huge piece for Alabama Football to retain in 2024. Lawson’s athleticism and on-field performance speak for themselves, but his leadership in captaining the Bama defense is just as valuable. Should he return, Lawson and Jihaad Campbell would enter the season as arguably the best linebacker tandem in the sport.