Current Alabama head coach Nick Saban may have been a bit of a disaster as an NFL head coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006, but the former Bill Belichick acolyte has a great sense of how to build a defense, especially at the college level. Every year, you're going to find a great many Alabama defensive players drafted high and thought of very well. Saban can indeed coach 'em up at that level.
This year, it's quite possible that the Crimson Tide could have at least five players taken in the first round, and four of them are defenders. Beyond running back Trent Richardson, who everyone believes is a top-five pick, you will most likely see these Saban recruits come off the board on Thursday night -- safety Mark Barron, linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. We've linked the Shutdown 50 profiles for all of those defenders in their names, but who better to ask than the coach?
To that end, ESPN Dallas recently sat down with Saban and asked for scouting reports on his guys. Saban didn't touch on Kirkpatrick, but he discussed why the other three defenders will be great fits in most any NFL scheme.
Barron: "Mark's a — first of all — a really good person. He's got great character, very mature, very well-respected by his teammates. Doesn't say a lot — a little bit quiet — but a very, very effective leader. Got great size and speed, has good ball skills, has some cover ability. Has a lot of flexibility as a player, a lot of diversity as a player. Can play safety, can play in the short field, in the deep field. He could play fifth defensive back of sixth defensive back and he's a really good special teams guy. So this is a good all-around guy, and he's got the right stuff — believe me — to be a good player for a long time, God willing that he doesn't get hurt. But he's special."
Upshaw: "I think Courtney's really a good player. First of all, good guys in the front seven are good players because they're hard to block — and he's hard to block. He's a good outside 'backer. He's a good run player. I think he has enough pass-rush ability, not necessarily just a edge rusher that's gonna just beat you with speed every time, but he can turn speed to power and he's heavy-handed, and I think that's always a key to being a good pass rusher. So I think Courtney's going to have a very good career, too, especially if he gets with a 3-4 team and can play outside 'backer."
Hightower: "He could play inside or outside 'backer. He can play Mike or Will inside, strong side or weak side — he's play 'em both here. He can play outside. He's been a designated pass rusher on third down for us. He's also been a stand-up fourth rusher drop, X package when they put all the linebackers in there — he can play any one of those positions. He's a very smart guy. He's a signal caller that has really good leadership qualities and understands football extremely well and has a lot of diversity in terms of how you can use him. So…when you got guys that size, that speed and that athletic that do so many things, those guys don't come around very often."
Of course, the man who once compared sports agents to pimps (not that the recruiting system and the NCAA compensation system would ever draw comparisons to certain scenes in "Black Dynamite" -- oh, no!) couldn't avoid a shot at the pre-draft evaluation process.
"I think one of the worst things about the draft now is how everybody gets beat up," Saban said. "Trent Richardson is the finest guy that I have ever been associated as a coach, in terms of a person — forget about a football player. I'm just saying, your daughter's dating him and you love him. I mean, that's how he is, and some team called [me] the other day and said, 'Can you explain to us? They say Trent used to hang around the wrong people.' I say, 'Where in the heck did that come from?' I mean, I don't know how anybody drafts anybody. There's so much information out there, how do you get the right information?"
And there it is. Uncle Nick, we'd ask you to stick with the coaching and leave the ethical questions to those who aren't engaging in athletic colonialism, but we're afraid of what you might call us.