Coaches, Scouts Comment on Top Bama Prospects
From a report by The Athletic college football writer Bruce Feldman, a group of anonymous NFL coaches and scouts lent their thoughts on some of the 2021 NFL Draft class's top prospect, including the most prominent names from the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama may be in a position to break the record for most first-round selection from one school in a single draft, each prospect isn't without questions over their draft stock.
Whether it's Mac Jones's athleticism, DeVonta Smith's weight or Dylan Moses's injury history, here are some thoughts on the next batch of Bama pros, courtesy of The Athletic.
Mac Jones saw his stock soar when the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the third overall selection, but has since cooled as more and more analysts believe Justin Fields will likely head to the Bay Area instead.
Still, Jones could very well go as early as top-10 or as late as the mid-20s at this point, just over a week from draft night.
"I think he is the best thrower of the football by a lot," one quarterback coach raved, saying he led the Mac Jones bandwagon. "Zach Wilson is freaky; but he’s not hitting people in stride on time. Mac is processing. He’s accurate. He’s layering it. He has pinpoint accuracy and throws with anticipation. Those people who say all he did was throw to guys who were wide open and threw from a clean pocket, turn on the A&M, Georgia or the Michigan and Auburn games from last year where he got the shit beat out of him. He’s getting hit and he’s getting moved."
While questions about Jones's arm strength are usually met with a counter on his tremendous accuracy, the unanimous concern for Jones is his mobility and athleticism, especially since the other top quarterbacks in the class are quite strong in this area.
"The question is, are Mac Jones’ physical tools worthy of being a top-5 pick or even first-round? I don’t know that his physical abilities warrant that, but if you tell me that I have to win now, I think his physicals are good enough," a second quarterback coach reportedly said.
Jones may not be one of the first three quarterbacks selected next Thursday, but he does have his front office supporters in the league. The second quarterback coach also praised Jones's intelligence, noting that Jones is the most prepared to come in to a program and learn the offense quickly and begin work on protection checks and other nuanced skills.
Jones will likely go in the first round, but it certainly sounds like the team that selects him will love to have him, rather than feel as if it settled for him as the fourth or fifth option.
DeVonta Smith officially weighs 166lbs according to Wednesday morning reports, and though Smith had an all-time season among wide receivers, scouts can't get past his frame, it seems.
"He’s gonna be a good player and be solid and will play every position. He studies; he loves it," a wide receiver coach told The Athletic. "I am concerned about him only being 170 pounds, though. It’s the world we live in, man. Big guys beat up little guys. When you take a shot from the side from these monsters, that’s when you get AC issues and collarbone issues. He’s tough as shit. He will bite your face off. He’s gonna try. He won’t back down, but is he gonna win the battle?"
"I love Smith, but he is so skinny — if you can get past the skinny, he’s a legit No. 1 receiver," another said.
While the concerns are present, none of the anonymous coaches are ignoring Smith's talent. One called him "the best route runner in the draft," while another raved about his ball control and elite ball skills and a third praised him mental strengths.
Smith won't fall out of the top-12 at least, according to prevailing opinions in the draft community. Supposedly, the New York Giants love Smith and would jump at the chance to select him.
Still, until Smith begins to dominate the NFL, questions about his size will continue to surround him.
Najee Harris is the most common name to see of the running back class in the first round of mock drafts this year. Not only is his athleticism and size remarkable, but his leaderships are a gift to a fault according to one scout.
"He is a true three-down back," the anonymous scout told The Athletic. "He has elite bend and elite hands. No running backs are great in protection, but he’s solid. He’s a smart kid but he overanalyzes things. He will train three times a day if you let him; he just needs to settle down."
Harris will always be regarded highly for his personality though, especially when the teams that are most likely to draft him, the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, covet not only his skills, but his locker room presence.
"He’s like Tyreek Hill in a lot of ways," a wide receiver coach said about Jaylen Waddle. "He’s so fast — he’s different fast. Henry Ruggs is really fast, but he was more of a straight-line guy. I think (Waddle) could play really any spot; he can play X, Z, slot, in the backfield.”
That's high praise for the guy many view as the second or third wide receiver in the draft class. There's a real chance Waddle could go ahead of DeVonta Smith because of his versatility and sheer playmaking ability.
Some of the coaches mentioned he wasn't as polished of a receiver as Smith, but that his explosiveness is unmatched with multiple comparisons to Tyreek Hill (largely believed the fastest player in the NFL) and to Devin Hester (who holds the record for punt return touchdowns in a career) in his return duties.
"I love his intangibles," a scout said of the NFL legacy cornerback. "He’s wired as good as any DB. He’s a good technician. He has better ball skills than Marlon Humphrey but isn’t as good in press or as good a tackler."
Being mentioned in the same breath as fellow Crimson Tide alumni Marlon Humphrey is a feat within itself. That said, saying Surtain isn't as good a tackler or at press coverage isn't a slight, seeing as Humphrey is arguably the best NFL cornerback in both aspects.
Surtain is in the argument to be the first defensive player selected in the draft for a reason. There is little flaw to his game, and while many independent scouts like Jaycee Horn a bit better, it's been clear from the beginning the NFL likes Surtain more.
The jury is really out on Christian Barmore. Some reports say the NFL loves him despite the weak defensive line class while others say his stock is mired in too much mystery. Daniel Jeremiah has said Barmore has one of the biggest boom-bust swings in the entire draft pool.
"He’s a little stiff. He’s not another Quinnen Williams, but he can be disruptive and he has some upside," a scout said. "He will get over-drafted because it’s such a bad year for interior linemen."
Whether Barmore goes in the first or second round, he will be in Cleveland for the draft to watch his stock unfold.
Dylan Moses missed his junior season to a torn ACL and played his senior season on a torn meniscus. Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, he was projected as a possible first rounder before he opted to return to Tuscaloosa. Now, the once famed linebacker that earned a Crimson Tide scholarship offer in middle school may not be drafted at all.
"He’s off the board for us medically," one scout told The Athletic. "You worry that he’s pretty tapped out physically. I think he put so much pressure on himself because he was crowned so early. He got hurt (early in his career at Alabama) and he doesn’t play as fast or as physical. It’s kinda sad. He’s a good young man and he’s got some good traits."
It's just one scout, but Moses's stock is very muddy right now, which is a red flag this close to the draft.