Alabama Football had a record seven players declare early for the NFL draft this season. The names on the early departure list are big and include DL Quinnen Williams, RB Josh Jacobs, OL Jonah Williams, DB Saivion Smith, DB Deionte Thomspon, LB Mack Wilson and TE Irv Smith Jr.
Clemson, on the other hand, had a gang of heavies including DT Christian Wilkins, LB Kendall Joseph and and DE Clelin Ferrell forego their shot at the next level in 2018 to take another one at winning a national championship. That gamble paid off for the Tigers in the title game and for the players who will no doubt see their draft stock increase.
After the dust settled on Alabama’s defeat everyone had the same question. Why can’t the mighty Crimson Tide retain talent in Tuscaloosa like that? Why do we lose more juniors and red shirt sophomores to the league than any other team? The answer is simple. It’s a feature of the machine that is Alabama football – not a bug.
The machine is designed to manufacture NFL players. The cost of operating it is early departures. It is fueled by recruiting and it is working as intended.
Alabama Football just brought in what may end up being the most highly rated recruiting class of all time based on the same design that saw a record 7 early departures. Nick Saban has signed eight of the last nine number one recruiting classes and constructed 5 national championship seasons in the last 10 years with the same blueprint that gave us an SEC record 12 NFL draft picks in 2018. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
There are a lot of moving parts but they all revolve around recruiting. Every machine needs fuel and the one Nick Saban has built at Alabama runs on high octane prospects. Alabama doesn’t recruit like any other team – and no team can recruit like Alabama.
Any coach can talk about family, community and tradition at the kitchen table with a potential recruit. No other coach can sit across from a top prospect and say every single recruiting class I’ve ever signed at Alabama has won a national championship. No other coach can say I hold the SEC record for most players drafted in a single season. No other coach can say I have more first round draft picks (26) than losses (21).
The machine is the reason elite athletes with next level talent choose Tuscaloosa and the reason they leave early. It is working as intended.
The Tide does manage to hang on to a few big time athletes for a senior season on occasion. RB Damien Harris returning in 2018 is just one recent example – but the bottom line is that the machine Nick Saban has built isn’t designed to retain top talent.
It’s built to reload.