The University of Alabama football team doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. And Nick Saban will have to do that as the Crimson Tide had four more players declare for the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday:
Saban confirms NFL draft exits for DL Da'Ron Payne, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Ronnie Harrison, RB Bo Scarbrough and WR Calvin Ridley.
Ridley had already announced via social media.
— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) January 11, 2018
Defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, running back Bo Scabrough, and defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison joined wide receiver Calvin Ridley in announcing that they intend to take their talents to the NFL in 2018.
Together, that group of Crimson Tide standouts represent the latest in a long line of high-end pro prospect signed and developed by Alabama in the Saban era. Ridley, Fitzpatrick, and Payne each carry first-round grades. And you could easily make a case for the Bears using a first-round selection any any of Alabama’s triumphant trio.
Fitzpatrick is a three-year starter who has pro potential as a safety or as a cornerback. He is a jack-of-all-trades who played 19 different spots in Alabama’s defensive alignment, according to Pro Football Focus’ research. Fitzpatrick is a willing and able run defender who has shown the ability to cover wide receivers and tight ends, as well as chase down running backs. It’s that’s kind of prowess (and production) that led him to be named the Thorpe Award (college football’s top defensive back) and Bednarik Award (college football’s top defensive player) in 2017.
For what it’s worth, Fitzpatrick was mocked to the Bears earlier in the season. Nothing has happened since to drop him from being a top-15 pick who could make sense for the right team picking in the top-10.
Harrison was overshadowed by Fitzpatrick’s steady excellence, but was a two-year starter who earned second-team All-SEC honors this season. Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams reports Harrison received a second-round grade from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee, but could move into the first round.
Payne is a monster defensive lineman who earned first-team All-SEC honors this season. He also picked up some cult hero status with an interception and a touchdown pass in Alabama’s championship-clinching win against Georgia on Monday. Payne finished his college career as the Defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff National Championship. If he can conjure up some additional pass rushing skills, he could be an elite force at the next level.
Ridley declared for the draft earlier in the week via a social media post, which allowed us to discuss his draft prospects and explore the possibility of being a fit for the Bears here.
The Bears appear to have struck gold by tapping into the Alabama pipeline when they drafted safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth round in 2017. Injuries and questions about Jackson’s ability (and willingness) to tackle dropped Jackson’s stock, but that didn’t stop him from having a remarkable rookie season. Jackson earned a starting job in training camp, started in all 16 games, and played a team-leading 1,055 defensive snaps. If the Bears defense was on the field, Jackson was probably in on the action as he appeared on 99.7 percent of the team’s total plays.