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.
Coming off a disappointing season with Philadelphia in 2015, Murray was successful with 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns last season with the Titans. Henry showed potential as well with the 110 carries he had in 2016 – 490 yards and five touchdowns. Some of his highlight games included two touchdowns against Kansas City and rushing for 65 yards against Houston at the end of the season.
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.
As the Jacksonville Jaguars’ second round selection (36th overall), he carried the ball 182 times for 740 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught the ball 36 times for 279 yards. But Yeldon did see a drop in rushing production with 465 yards and one touchdown on just 130 carries. Yeldon will need to have a big season in 2017. It’s important to know that time and age is on his side. We'll see if a regime change in Jacksonville turns his NFL career around.
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.
Through 2011 and 2012, he was averaging less than four yards per carry. Those numbers were picking up in terms of average, but he was not getting a lot of carries in 2013. He nearly had 1,000 in 13 total games in his first Pro Bowl season. This last season, he had 1,043 yards and six touchdowns while averaging more than five yards per carry. It will be interesting if his numbers continue to grow if given more carries next season.
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.
Lacy was successful in his first two seasons with more than 1,100 yards in each. Then his numbers fell to 758 in 2015. He missed time due to injuries to his ankle and groin. He was also dealing with ankle injuries and weight gain in 2016 that limited his chances. He signed a new one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks for next season. But he’s reportedly weighing more than 260 pounds. This can be a huge concern considering his ankle injuries from the last two seasons.
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.
In the times he’s played healthy, Smith has helped the Bengals reduce the number of sacks allowed while helping open holes for the running backs. Smith would leave for a new contract with the Minnesota Vikings entering last season. The effects of his departure were certainly noticed as the Bengals went from 12-4 in 2015 to 6-9-1 in 2016. Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times last season compared to just 20 in 2015.
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.
He was a full-time starter the first few seasons, but collected three interceptions between 2012 and 2013. He would be a non-factor in 2014 in the first seven games of the season, which led to him being traded to the St. Louis Rams. While he’s been a full-time starter, he hasn’t produced the quality turnover numbers a seventh-overall selection would be expected to have. On a positive note, he did have 90 tackles in 2016 with the Los Angeles Rams.
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.
Mosley would then become a Pro Bowl player as a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 with 99 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. He would follow that up with 77 tackles and two fumble recoveries in 2015. While Mosley only had 56 tackles in 14 games last season, Mosley still earned his second Pro Bowl invitation after collecting four interceptions.
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.
Williams was a late round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2013; part of that had to do with breaking the bench press record with 51 repetitions. However, knee injuries and a fight with papillary Type 2 cancer took time away from the football field. It might seem harsh to put Williams on this list, but he was an unfortunate flop in the NFL.
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.
Clinton-Dix hasn’t missed a game since joining the Packers, although he wasn’t a starting cornerback right away in the 2014 season. Still, he defended nine passes as a rookie. In 2015, Clinton-Dix had 83 tackles and two interceptions. He had a better season last year with a career-high five interceptions en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
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.
But the former National Champion college quarterback would be a seventh round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. McElroy wasn’t seen in a regular season football game until 2012 when he played in two games with just 214 yards, one touchdown and one interception. McElroy would be cut from the team in 2013 after an ankle injury and failed to make the Cincinnati roster that same season. He retired in 2014.
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.
Since being drafted fourth overall in 2015 by the Oakland Raiders, Cooper has been a big part of Oakland’s resurgence in the AFC West. As a rookie, Cooper finished with 73 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. His yardage numbers went up to 1,153 this past season. With a young quarterback in Derek Carr also in the Raider offense, Cooper could be part of something special in the Bay Area – at least until the team moves to Las Vegas.
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.
He would play two games in 2011 before suffering a Lisfranc injury. He played the entire 2012 season and even caught a touchdown pass. But then he suffered more foot injuries to his left ankle fracture and a dislocation in 2013. He suffered another Lisfranc injury on his right foot in 2014. After that, he chose to retire.
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.
Hightower might not have a 100-tackle season. Nor does he have the kind of numbers that great linebackers like Brian Urlacher and Junior Seau have. But Hightower has been consistently dependable for New England. He’s started 64 games and currently has 251 career tackles to go along with 17 sacks. He also has two Super Bowl rings to his name.
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.
That kind of big earns a spot on an NFL roster almost any day of the week. The Baltimore Ravens picked him up in the second round. He had one start in 13 games as a rookie and became the full-time nose tackle in 2011 – finishing with just 22 tackles. But as the Ravens made the shift to a 3-4 defense, Cody was not able to adjust and his playing time would decrease before he was released after the 2014 season.
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.
Collins has flourished early has a safety with the Giants. As a rookie in 2015, Collins started all 16 games, mostly from the free safety slot, with 80 tackles and one interception. He has since followed that up with 100 solo tackles with five interceptions, one was returned for a touchdown. Collins will be entering his third year in the NFL after not only earning his first Pro Bowl invitation, but also as a first-time NFL All-Pro selection.
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.
However, McClain was unable to translate his success into professional football with just one interception in three seasons in Oakland. He would be forced to retire. But luck would have it that he had another chance with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 and 2015. In the two seasons with Dallas, McClain did have 117 tackles and three interceptions. Despite the Dallas revival, he is still considered a bust for his time with the 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.
After injuries affected him the first two seasons, he became a valuable lineman at the left guard position in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. In both years, Seattle went to the Super Bowl with a rushing offense ranked near the top. Credit should be given to an offensive line that included Carpenter, who has not missed a start the last two seasons with the New York Jets. In the meantime, the Seahawks offensive rushing numbers have fallen – although Carpenter’s departure isn’t the only reason for that.
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.
Milliner showed some potential as a rookie with three interceptions and 15 passes defended in 2013. But a number of leg and wrist injuries kept him to playing just eight games in 2014 and 2015. Milliner was cut by the Jets and was last seen being invited for an individual workout with the Carolina Panthers. This unfortunately led to nothing for the former ninth-overall draft selection.
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.
Jones’ 2015 season numbers looked like a stat line from the NFL Madden career mode – 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns on 136 receptions. Jones followed that up this past season with another 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. Jones has certainly been the top producer in a high-powered Falcons offense that hopes to build off their Super Bowl appearance last season.
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.