FAIRHOPE, Ala. (AP) While talented underclassmen routinely leave school early, players who return for their senior year also can be pretty good NFL draft prospects.
Alabama has several of them in this year’s Senior Bowl.
Guys like Reggie Ragland and Jarran Reed – both potential first-rounders – are getting another chance to display their skills before NFL scouts, coaches and front office executives a couple of weeks after winning the national title.
Then there’s quarterback Jake Coker, who led that title run in his lone season as a college starter, and versatile players Cyrus Jones and Kenyan Drake are also preparing for Saturday’s game in Mobile, Alabama.
Tide coach Nick Saban was on hand for Tuesday’s practice. But instead of yelling, he was hugging, chatting and posing for pictures with his players after the workout.
Four of those players had their best seasons at Alabama after opting to return for their senior year, though Drake broke his right arm late in the season. Reed especially figures to benefit from coming back.
”Jarran Reed was a third- or fourth-round pick last year,” Saban said. ”I don’t know what his draft status is exactly but I think it’s way, way higher than that … possibly a first-round guy.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Gus Bradley is coaching the South squad; and Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys is coaching the North team.
This season only Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and highly rated defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson opted to leave Alabama early for the draft, a relatively small exodus compared to some recent seasons.
Other prospects, including defensive end Jonathan Allen, tight end O.J. Howard and linebacker Tim Williams, have said they’re returning for their senior seasons.
They’re hoping to follow the path of the Alabama players currently in the Senior Bowl and parlay another year of college football into bigger NFL paychecks. A national title would be nice, too.
Ragland, who played inside linebacker for the Tide, is working on the outside this week – at his request.
”I just want to show that I can cover and rush the passer,” said Ragland, Alabama’s defensive playcaller as a senior. ”I want to show that I can do multiple things at the next level. I know I can play inside, but I want to be able to show that I can play outside too. If a guy goes down, I want to show I can go out there and play it too and not miss a beat.”
Reed could challenge Robinson as the first Tide play drafted, but he’s better than ”a third- or fourth-round guy.” He was a top run-stuffer on one of the nation’s top defenses, making 56 of his 57 tackles on running plays, and now is trying to boost his fortunes in the weeklong showcase.
”You can’t be nervous,” Reed said. ”You have to come out here and play your game, just listen to the coaches, be coachable and give effort. Everything’s not going to be perfect. It’s the best of the best out here. You’re going to win some, lose some.”
Unless you’re Coker, who didn’t lose in his 14 starts. He came off the bench for Alabama’s only loss against Mississippi and had his best game in the playoff semifinals against Michigan State and another strong outing in the championship game versus Clemson.
Now, the former Florida State backup is preparing for the game in his hometown with a chance to impress NFL teams.
”I’m just trying to show them that I’ve got the athleticism and the ability to make all the throws and I can run one of these offenses as smooth as the next,” Coker said. ”I’m really just going to try to show that.”
Jones and Drake are banking on their diverse skills helping them get selected. The 5-foot-10, 196-pound Jones was Alabama’s top cover cornerback and also returned four punts for touchdowns.
Drake was mostly overlooked behind Henry, but is a solid receiver and scored on a 95-yard kick return in the championship game.
”I think he has a great future, because he’s sort of a specialty back,” Saban said. ”He’s a great receiver. He’ll be a great third-down back. He can play receiver or play running back. He’s a very good special teams player. Everybody’s looking for guys like Kenyan Drake.”