Nick Saban might be considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time. His track record in the National Football League might not be as prestigious. Regardless, Saban has put together a number of quality teams that have established a college football dynasty. Ever season since 2007, the Alabama Crimson Tide have usually been ranked near the top of the nation.
Saban came to Alabama after suffering his first ever losing record as a head coach, a 6-10 record with the Miami Dolphins in the 2006-07 season. The Crimson Tide were needing a new coach after they terminated Mike Shula. For months, Saban denied the rumors that he was going back to college football before eventually announcing his return to college in 2007.
Since then, Alabama has been one of the most consistent power conference teams under Nick Saban. A lot of that has to do with quality players who are more than ready to make the transition in the NFL. But just like any college program, the Crimson Tide football team has their fair share of NFL busts.
College football stars don’t always translate into NFL success. Just ask Ryan Leaf. After being one of the best quarterbacks in Washington State University history, Leaf is synonymous with the term “bust.” While every college football has players who not only underachieved expectations after college, there are some who surprisingly come out of nowhere with a Hall of Fame career (e.g. Tom Brady, University of Michigan).
Saban has seen both types of NFL players come through Alabama in the past decade. The following looks at the best Crimson Tide players Saban sent to the NFL along with the 10 worst Alabama players Saban sent to the NFL. Keep in mind that best/worst on this list applies to how these former Tide players have fared in their NFL careers.
20 BEST – Derrick Henry, RB
Alabama has certainly been known for powerful running backs and Derrick Henry bullrushed his way into the NFL with a lot of expectations. Part of that was a senior season in 2015 where he ran 395 times for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. The video-game like numbers earned him a second round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans decided they needed a young running back to act as a backup option to the veteran DeMarco Murray.
19 WORST – T.J. Yeldon, RB
Yeldon showed a lot of potential during his three seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He finished his collegiate football career with 3,322 yards and 46 touchdowns while averaging nearly six yards per carry. He did have a somewhat successful rookie season in 2015.
18 BEST – Mark Ingram, RB
Between 2008 and 2010, the Alabama Crimson Tide had one of the highest scoring offenses in the country thanks to a strong running game led by running back Mark Ingram. As a sophomore in 2009, Ingram ran for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns to help Alabama win the BCS National Championship. Ingram finished his collegiate career with 3,261 yards and 42 touchdowns, which earned him being selected 28th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. There was a time when Ingram could have been on the other side of this list. But the 2016 season saw how valuable he can be.
17 WORST – Eddie Lacy, RB
There are times when a running back looks to have the early start of a successful NFL career before the bottom falls out and he progressively plays himself into football obscurity. As of this writing, it is looking like Eddie Lacy could fall into that category. Lacy had success in 2012 with 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns with the Crimson Tide; averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Green Bay Packers were in need of a powerful running back as they picked Lacy in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
16 BEST – Andre Smith, OL
There are concerns that today’s offensive linemen are not prepared to be consistent starters in the NFL after college. Andre Smith might have had some injuries problems through his career, but he came into the NFL considered one of the best run-blocking offensive tackles in the 2009 NFL Draft. He was a sixth overall pick that year by Cincinnati. Smith did suffer a fractured foot early in the season, but he came back to help support 100-yard rushing games at the end of the 2009 season.
15 WORST – Mark Barron, S
Mark Barron probably deserved to be named an All-American more than one time during his college football career at Alabama. He did have an amazing season in 2009 with 76 total tackles and seven interceptions to help the Crimson Tide win the BCS National Championship. But he finished his collegiate career as a four-year player with 235 career tackles and 12 interceptions. Those numbers would translate to a seventh overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay.
14 BEST – C.J. Mosley, LB
Like some of the players on this list, C.J. Mosley has shown a lot of potential early on during his NFL career. He showed how good he could be as a four-year starter for Alabama from 2010 to 2013. As a senior, Mosley finished with 106 total tackles, nine for a loss, and also had two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns. The collegiate numbers would elevate him to being selected 17th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
13 WORST – Jesse Williams, DT
The state of Alabama and neighboring states have produced some monstrous defensive tackles into both college football and the NFL – e.g. Nick Fairley of Auburn. However, one monster came to the South by way of Thursday Island, Australia, in the form of Jesse Williams. At six feet and four inches and weighing 323 pounds, Williams filled a lot of holes on the defensive line of Alabama in 2011 and 2012.
12 BEST – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S
While he might have one of the funniest names to say, his play on the football field is nothing to laugh at. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a great pair of seasons with the Crimson Tide – including five interceptions in the 2012 season. It was that year when Alabama won the BCS National Championship with an overall defense that allowed the fewest points in the country (10.9 points per game). Clinton-Dix benefitted from playing in Alabama; he was drafted 21st overall in the 2014 NFL Draft in Green Bay.
11 WORST – Greg McElroy, QB
It’s a proven fact that some of the best college football quarterbacks are doomed to fail in the NFL. Just reference the championship careers of Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young as perfect examples. It’s a little early to tell if Greg McElroy will join that list, but he certainly made a name for himself when playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide. In four years from 2007 to 2010, Greg McElroy became a starter for the 2009 National Champion team.
10 BEST – Amari Cooper, WR
It might be a little bit early to have a young wide receiver high on this list. But there’s no denying that Amari Cooper might be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL today. It all started during his time with the Crimson Tide. In three seasons from 2012 to 2014, Cooper totaled 3,463 yards and 31 touchdown receptions. His best season came as a junior where he caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.
9 WORST – Mike Johnson, OL
Injuries can be a big part of why a successful college player is unable to find similar levels of success in the NFL. In the case of Mike Johnson, he was unable to stay healthy enough to make contributions for the Atlanta Falcons, who drafted him in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. After being a consensus All-American lineman at Alabama, Johnson was planned to be a guard for the Falcons.
8 BEST – Dont'a Hightower, LB
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has certainly made his presence felt in the NFL as a part of the New England Patriots defense. The Patriots were likely happy to find Hightower falling to them at the 25th selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. This was because he was a big part of a Crimson Tide defense that was the best in the country. From 2008 to 2011, he collected 234 tackles, 21 for a loss and five sacks.
7 WORST – Terrence Cody, DL
Defensive lineman Terrance Cody played just two full seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide. But he also finished his collegiate career as a two-time All-American with 52 career total tackles, 10 and a half of which were for a loss. Cody stood out visually as a larger than life man on the defensive line. He came into the 2010 NFL Draft at six feet and four inches with an astonishing weight of 370 pounds.
6 BEST – Landon Collins, S
Landon Collins was an All-American cornerback during his three seasons with the Crimson Tide from 2012 to 2014. It was his sophomore and junior seasons that earned him a chance to play on Sundays. Collins would finish his Alabama career with 99 total tackles with thee interceptions. The New York Giants, who have had troubles in the secondary at the time of the 2015 NFL Draft, decided to pick up Collins in the second round.
5 WORST – Rolando McClain, LB
Linebacker Rolando McClain had the most expectations out of any Alabama defensive player in recent history. He flourished in Nick Saban’s 2009 championship season as the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year as a junior – 105 total tackles, 14.5 for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. McClain was a high draft choice as No. 8 in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.
4 BEST – James Carpenter, OL
It’s hard to measure the worth of an offensive lineman in the NFL. They certainly don’t have the statistics that highlight value like a quarterback, running back or anyone on defense have. In the case of James Carpenter, he is someone who is likely missed by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks drafted the Alabama offensive lineman 25th overall in 2011 after a successful junior season where he played all 14 games.
3 WORST – Dee Milliner, DB
The Alabama Crimson Tide continued to have dominant defenses since their 2009 National Championship win. One of the star players was defensive back Dee Milliner. In his three years with the Crimson Tide, Milliner had six interceptions and was also a kick return specialist for Alabama. He showed speed and agility through the NFL Combine that led to him being the ninth overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
2 BEST – Julio Jones, WR
Julio Jones had a lot of expectations coming into the NFL. He was the sixth overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft after a successful collegiate career in Alabama, recording 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns in three years. Jones became an effective weapon within the Falcons offense that also featured Roddy White. In their first season together, they combined for 2,255 yards and 16 touchdown receptions. With White’s departure after the 2015 season, Jones' role became even more important in Atlanta.
1 WORST – Trent Richardson, RB
There have been talented running backs to come through the Alabama Crimson Tide program, only to fail when transitioning into the NFL. But none are more of a disappointment than Trent Richardson. After a successful college career that included 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior in 2011, Richardson would be the third overall selection by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft. While he had 950 yards as a rookie with 11 touchdowns, he was still averaging less than four yards per carry.
Richardson would continue to struggle as his average fell to just three yards per carry in 2013 as he spent time with both the Browns and the Indianapolis Colts. His last season in the NFL where he saw time of the field was the 15 games he played in 2014, where he had just 519 yards with the Colts. Since then, he’s been signed and waived by the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons.
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