“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride and never quit, you’ll be a winner,” said Paul “Bear” Bryant, the head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide from 1958 to 1982. “The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”
Bryant, who was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986, coached the Crimson Tide to six national titles and retired with an overall record of 323-85-17. Roughly 24 years after Bryant passed away in January 1983, Alabama hired Nick Saban to lead its football program. The 65-year-old Saban has won four national championships and gone 114-19 over the past decade in Tuscaloosa. In total, the Crimson Tide have captured 16 crowns since establishing its program in 1892. While the achievements of Bryant and Saban can’t be underestimated, Alabama wouldn’t have amassed so many “rewards” on the gridiron without the incredible array of talent it consistently fields.
Alabama has produced 343 NFL Draft picks since the event’s inception in 1936. Of those selections, eight players were eventually elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This April alone, Crimson Tide stars Marlon Humphrey, Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard and Reuben Foster were chosen in the draft’s first round. Although Alabama is brimming with professional talent, its storied program has also sent the league a handful of players who proved to be busts.
Accordingly, this list will rank the eight best, and seven worst, NFL players drafted this century out of the University of Alabama.
15 Best: EVAN MATHIS
Former Alabama offensive guard Evan Mathis ran the 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds and benched 225 pounds an impressive 35 times at the 2005 NFL Scouting Combine. Despite enjoying a solid collegiate career and showing in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Mathis lasted until he was taken 79th overall by the Carolina Panthers. Mathis initially struggled to adapt to the professional game. However, after stints with the Panthers, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, Mathis found his niche as a Philadelphia Eagle.
The imposing Alabaman was a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro over four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. The 35-year-old Mathis, who was on the Denver Broncos’ squad that won Super Bowl 50, retired in January after an injury riddled season in Arizona.
14 Worst: ANDRE SMITH
The Cincinnati Bengals selected offensive tackle Andre Smith with the sixth pick in the 2009 draft. A unanimous All-American in 2008, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Smith was a fragile, lazy and obese mess during his first two seasons as a Bengal. Smith, who signed a four-year deal worth $21 million as a rookie in August 2009, actually earned a paycheck and played solid football in 2011. Following a stint with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, Smith signed a one-year agreement to return to Cincy. Granted, it may be unfair to bash a 30-year-old man who is still actively competing in the NFL. Nevertheless, for a college powerhouse who was deemed one of the country’s six preeminent prospects, Smith has underachieved and failed to maximize his abilities.
13 Best: DEMECO RYANS
The Houston Texans chose linebacker DeMeco Ryans with the 33rd pick in the 2006 draft. The 6-foot-1, 247-pound Ryans dominated from the outset in Space City and he earned the 2006 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Ryans, a 2005 unanimous All-American who was named that season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, continued thriving as a Texan and he became a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro. In March 2012, Ryans was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Alas, Ryans sustained a torn Achilles tendon in November 2014 and never fully recovered from the injury.
The Alabama legend shelved his cleats at the age of 31 following the 2016 campaign. Ryans now serves as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive quality control coach.
12 Worst: TONY DIXON
Safety Tony Dixon was a three-year starter for the Alabama Crimson Tide who helped the program clinch the 1999 SEC crown. The Dallas Cowboys chose the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Dixon with the 56th pick in the 2001 draft. Dixon was plagued by injuries as a Cowboy and he struggled to stay on the gridiron for any significant period of time. After four frustrating seasons in Arlington, the Cowboys released Dixon. Dixon subsequently joined the despised Washington Redskins as a free agent in June 2005. However, the dimmed Alabama star was cut by the Redskins two months later. Desperate for depth in its secondary, the Cowboys again signed Dixon. Dallas decided to permanently split with Dixon following the 2005 campaign and he was altogether removed from the sport by the age of 25.
11 Best: MARCELL DAREUS
Colossal nose tackle Marcell Dareus manhandled the Texas Longhorns’ offensive line throughout Alabama’s 37-21 victory in the January 2010 Citi BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, California. The 6-foot-3, 330-pound Dareus was named the BCS’ Most Valuable Player for his overwhelming performance against Texas. Approximately four months after roping the Longhorns, Dareus was drafted by the Buffalo Bills third overall in 2011.
Dareus has flourished as a Bill and he is a two-time Pro Bowler and 2014 first-team All-Pro. Also a member of the 2011 All-Rookie Team, Dareus has recorded 291 tackles, 34 sacks, two forced fumbles and 13 pass deflections in 78 games as a professional. Even without Rex Ryan, the 27-year-old Dareus will undoubtedly remain a force on the gridiron.
10 Worst: TERRENCE CODY
Defensive tackle Terrence Cody, a unanimous All-American who was vital to Alabama’s 2010 BCS national championship run, was an utter disgrace at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-4, 345-pound Cody arrived to Indianapolis unfit and he infamously finished the 40-yard dash in a plodding 5.62 seconds. Despite the heinous showing, the Baltimore Ravens took Cody with the 57th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Cody showed glimmers of brilliance in Baltimore. Regrettably, although affable, the obese and lethargic Cody never managed to consistently produce results. Following five primarily lackluster seasons, the Ravens waived Cody in January 2015. Less than a month after getting axed, Cody was indicted on animal cruelty and drug charges in February 2015. The 28-year-old Cody is currently a free agent with a criminal record.
9 Best: LANDON COLLINS
The New York Giants chose Alabama strong safety Landon Collins with the 33rd pick in 2015. The 6-foot, 225-pound Collins immediately shined with Big Blue and secured a spot on the 2015 All-Rookie Team. Following a tremendous inaugural campaign in East Rutherford, Landon continued to stifle opposing offenses and he was named the 2016 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. Landon has compiled 237 tackles, four sacks, 22 pass deflections and six interceptions over 32 games as the centerpiece of the Giants’ secondary. The 2014 unanimous All-American inked a four-year deal worth $6 million to become a Giant approximately six weeks after the league’s draft. With only two years remaining on Cooper’s contract, expect the skillful 23-year-old and Giants General Manager Jerry Reese to soon negotiate a lucrative extension.
8 Worst: D.J. FLUKER
The San Diego Chargers selected offensive guard D.J. Fluker with the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Fluker, a first-team All-American who was on the Crimson Tide’s BCS national championship teams in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons, performed admirably as a rookie. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Fluker’s play was a tease and he badly regressed the next few years. Roughly four days after getting fired by San Diego, Fluker agreed to a one-year pact worth $3 million with the New York Giants. The 26-year-old Fluker is a tremendous athlete and he is capable of revitalizing his career in East Rutherford. Still, considering the Chargers made such an enormous investment in Fluker, the hefty Louisianan can only be categorized as a bust.
7 Best: C.J. MOSLEY
The Baltimore Ravens selected dynamic linebacker C.J. Mosley 17th overall in the 2014 draft. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Mosley has prospered in Charm City and is a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time second-team All-Pro. In 46 games as a Raven, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has compiled 342 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one defensive touchdown. Baltimore recognized Mosley’s superb play and elected to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract in March. Mosley, who won the 2013 Butkus Award and played a vital role in Alabama’s consecutive BCS national championships in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, is only 24 years old. Hence, barring an unforeseen injury, Mosley should soar as a Raven well into the 2020s.
6 Worst: ROLANDO MCCLAIN
Linebacker Rolando McClain was a 2009 unanimous All-American who earned that season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. After muscling Alabama to the 2009 national championship, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound McClain decided to forgo his senior year to enter the draft. Shortly thereafter, the Butkus Award winner was chosen by the Oakland Raiders with the eighth overall pick in April 2010. McClain was an unintimidating, yet troublesome, Raider and the organization waived him in April 2013. Less than five weeks after getting axed by the Raiders, McClain became a Baltimore Raven. However, McClain quit in Charm City and retired at the age of 23. McClain returned to the league in 2014 as a Dallas Cowboy and mainly impressed the suits in Arlington. Still, mainly because of issues with substance abuse, McClain is jobless at the age of 27.
5 Best: AMARI COOPER
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, a 2014 first-team All-SEC selection and the winner of that season’s Fred Biletnikoff Award, embarrassed collegiate secondaries. More important than individual accolades, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cooper helped the Crimson Tide collect two SEC crowns and the 2012 BCS national title. Cooper, a gifted prospect who finished the 40-yard dash in an electric 4.42 seconds, was drafted fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2015.
Since relocating from Tuscaloosa to The Town, Cooper’s become a two-time Pro Bowler with the Raiders. Cooper has caught 155 passes for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in 32 contests wearing the silver and black. The 22-year-old Cooper should remain one of the league’s premier receivers for the next decade.
4 Worst: DEE MILLINER
In a futile effort to replace Darrelle Revis, the New York Jets took cornerback Dee Milliner with the ninth pick in the 2013 draft. The 6-foot, 200-pound Milliner, who constantly battled various injuries, was benched as a rookie on three separate occasions by former Jets head coach Rex Ryan. As a sophomore Jet, the 2012 unanimous All-American and first-team All-SEC selection tore his Achilles tendon against the Denver Broncos in October 2014. Milliner was continually hampered by a slew of wounds over the next two seasons until Gang Green finally released its human chandelier in September 2016. Since crashing in the swamps of Jersey, Milliner hasn’t managed to find another employer. Hence, somewhat sadly, the 25-year-old Milliner remains a free agent.
3 Best: CHRIS SAMUELS
The Washington Redskins took Alabama offensive tackle Chris Samuels with the third overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Samuels, a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy winner in 1999, excelled in our nation's capital. Samuels started 141 games for the Redskins and was a 2001 All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection. The native Alabaman was named one of the 80 greatest Redskins for a decade’s worth of brilliance on the line in The District. Samuels suffered a serious neck injury against the Carolina Panthers in October 2009 and he retired approximately five months later at the age of 31. After retiring, the formidable tackle was employed by his alma mater as an assistant offensive line coach from 2012 to 2014.
2 Worst: TRENT RICHARDSON
Trent Richardson is one of the most notorious busts in NFL history. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson was drafted by the Cleveland Browns third overall in 2012. In a relatively shocking move, Cleveland traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in September 2013. Richardson was essentially motionless as a Colt and he was benched for Donald Brown late in the season. The 2011 SEC Offensive Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award winner was waived by the Colts in March 2015.
Richardson failed to secure a contract with the Oakland Raiders in 2015 and the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. In 46 uninspiring games as a Brown and Colt, Richardson carried the ball 614 times for only 2,032 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 26-year-old Richardson is presently a free agent.
1 Best: SHAUN ALEXANDER
Shaun Alexander carried the pigskin 701 times for 3,433 yards and 40 touchdowns over four seasons in Tuscaloosa. Following 41 games with the Crimson Tide, the 5-foot-11, 228-pound Alexander was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the 19th selection in 2000. Alexander was an elite runner with the Seahawks who was named a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, and the 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player. Alexander, a member of Seattle’s 35th anniversary team and the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, played one season as a Washington Redskin before retiring at the age of 30 in 2008.
A potential future hall of famer, Alexander tallied 9,453 yards and 100 touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, the two-time NFL rushing leader caught 215 passes for 1,520 yards and 12 scores.