Could a team of Alabama alums make the NFL playoffs? Let’s break down the All-Alabama offense and defense and determine if they could make the playoffs.
Do you remember that old debate from a few years ago about whether Alabama could beat the Cleveland Browns? That debate has since been squashed with common sense prevailing that even the best college football team would get dusted by the worst NFL team.
But I’m here to start a new debate: Can a team made up of Alabama alums make the NFL playoffs?
Nick Saban has built Alabama into an NFL factory with a handful of first round picks seemingly every year and double-digit draft picks each class. Since 2000, Alabama has had 31 first round picks, 118 total picks and 16 have been Pro Bowlers. Needless to say, there are a ton of Crimson Tide products to choose from who are still in the NFL and would represent an All-Alabama squad.
All-Alabama offense starting lineup
- QB: AJ McCarron
- RB: Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram
- WR: Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley
- TE: O.J. Howard
- LT: Cam Robinson
- LG: James Carpenter
- C: Ryan Kelly
- RG: D.J. Fluker
- RT: Andre Smith
If only this team could wait one more year, Tua Tagovailoa would own the quarterback spot from McCarron and give this team a significant boost toward making a mythical playoff run. Alas, in the words of Dick Vermeil when he had to rally the Rams after the injury of Trent Green forced Kurt Warner into the lineup, this team will rally around AJ McCarron and play good football.
McCarron is a career backup who has only attempted 136 passes in his five-year career, and only 17 since 2015. This just means he’s really fresh to lead a team of Alabama products. McCarron has only three career starts so he’s the biggest weakness on this offense. In college, he was surrounded by elite talents all over the field to mask his limitations. The same holds true in this exercise. McCarron won’t have to be Patrick Mahomes in this offense. He just has to be a poor man’s Kirk Cousins and try not to be a human turnover machine like a Blake Bortles.
Offensively, this unit will be a ball-control offense with a two-headed monster of former Heisman winners. Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram remain the only Heisman winners for Alabama, though Tua could change that in five months.
Henry is coming off a career-best season with 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns while Ingram has proven capable of being a lead back who can work well in a tandem role during his time with the Saints. This offense will lean on Henry on first and second downs to set up third and manageable situations for McCarron. Ingram can provide a nice change of pace to the battering ram that is the 240-pound Henry. Together this would represent one of the better duos in the NFL.
Speaking of duos, you can’t name a better wide receiver duo in the NFL than the duo of Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. And if we go to a three-wide set and bring Calvin Ridley on the field, good luck to opposing secondaries tasked with stopping this holy trinity of pass-catchers. Factor in emerging tight end, O.J. Howard controlling the middle of the field, running down the seam and spreading out the defense, even McCarron has too many weapons to fail.
The skill position player group is as good as any offense in the league.
Some of Alabama’s best offensive linemen haven’t translated their success to the pro game like Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and Cyrus Kouandjio, but this five-man unit is still respectable. I like Cam Robinson and think he’ll have a long career and challenge for some Pro Bowls. Ryan Kelly is already one of the top centers in the game and a strong on-field leader. Andre Smith is past his prime and the guards aren’t fantastic in pass protection but can be road graders in the run game.
The right side of the line certainly opens itself up to allow a lot of sacks and pressures. That means a lot of quick passes and reliance on the run game will be imperative.
Overall, this offense should be solid most weeks, above-average a handful of games and a few games where the quarterback and offensive line are overmatched.
All-Alabama defense starting lineup
- DL: Marcell Dareus
- DL: Jonathan Allen
- DL: Da’Ron Payne
- DL: Ryan Anderson
- LB: Dont’a Hightower
- LB: C.J. Mosley
- LB: Reggie Ragland
- LB: Mark Barron
- DB: Minkah Fitzpatrick
- DB: Landon Collins
- DB: Eddie Jackson
- DB: Kareem Jackson
During Alabama’s run of dominance (terror) over the last decade, the defense has been the calling card for the Crimson Tide. It was only last year when the offense that practically shattered every single-season record outshined the defense. That said, the defensive standouts from Alabama are prevalent in the NFL.
The All-Alabama defense is a versatile group capable of playing in an odd or even front.
The defensive line is led by veteran Marcell Dareus who may be the best defender to come out of the Saban era. He’ll play alongside a trio of Redskins, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Ryan Anderson. The unit should be strong against the run, but in a pass-happy league, the absence of a bona fide pass rusher is concerning.
Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley are tackling machines and Reggie Ragland is coming off his best season. The issue is they are all inside linebackers so one of them is going to have to line up on the edge and provide a pass rush. The problem is none of them have been asked to rush the passer during their careers. Mark Barron was a safety at Alabama before converting to linebacker in recent years in the NFL so he brings plenty of speed and ability to play in space to the position. But he won’t help the issue of applying pressure to the quarterback.
The secondary will be the strength of this unit with Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins and All-Pro free safety Eddie Jackson. That might be the best safety duo in the NFL. They really complement each other so well with Jackosn’s ability to play to make plays on the ball in the back half while Collins can lend support in the run game. Minkah Fitzpatrick is young and still coming into his own but he can play in the slot and near the line of scrimmage and make plays on the ball. Kareem Jackson bring the veteran presence and savvy to lock up the team’s best receiver on the other side. With a lack of pass rush, the secondary will have to lock up their men and close any windows for opposing quarterbacks to fit the ball.
The secondary can mask some of the deficiencies, but the lack of a pass rush is the most concerning aspect of this entire team. But then again, no NFL team is without areas of weakness or areas the opponent can exploit. The Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Bears, and all the other Super Bowl contenders are all vulnerable in some areas. It’s up to the coaches to exploit those so with Nick Saban on the sideline coaching his All-Alabama team, I expect him to work his magic.
So can an All-Alabama team make the NFL playoffs?
Forgetting about divisions, schedules and the lack of a full 53-man roster because this is a hypothetical and fun exercise for a second, I think this starting lineup is good enough to win nine games.
I think they can compete based on the strength of the run game and pass-catchers. This team will score points in spite of their quarterback. The lack of a pass rusher that can impose fear in opposing tackles and offenses is the biggest knock on this team. The defense is full of good players in the front seven, but I don’t know if there is any single player right now that scares teams. That said, Jackson and Collins and the ascending Fitzpatrick could form a new Alabama version of the Legion of Boom.