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Jumbo Package: Still Celebrating

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In a homage to Nick Saban, we attempt to follow the 24 hour rule and begin to look forward... somewhat

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Howard, Dodd among prospects boosting NFL stock in title game -

At "just" 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, Pettway isn't as imposing as most of his teammates. His compact frame and core strength, however, make him surprisingly difficult to move at the point of attack.

Further, he possesses the lateral agility, sudden swim move and closing burst to make him an effective complementary rusher. He also showed terrific timing to knock the ball down at the line of scrimmage, partially blocking a Clemson field goal attempt in the first half and knocking down one of Watson's passes in the fourth quarter.

First, I want to give a little bit of recognition to D.J. Pettway. After being infamously kicked out of Alabama in the "Skittles Four" incident, Pettway worked to do everything right and was given a second chance in the program. He rewarded Alabama last season by being a regular contributor along the defensive line and was one of the better pass rushers on the team in passing situations.

This year, with the emergence of Tim Williams and the versatility of the rest of the interior line, Pettway's impact was minimized to the point of being almost forgotten. That is, until the most important game of the season. While O.J. Howard is deservedly getting all the headlines for being the elusive unicorn of the Alabama offense, Pettway was arguably the most effective defensive lineman for the Tide in a game where the typical stalwarts struggled to provide much of a spark.

Pettway provided consistent pressure, tipped a ball or two at the line of scrimmage, and most importantly, got a finger on Clemson's field goal attempt going into halftime. As a personal superstition, I place a lot of emphasis on getting a score going into halftime. Someone out there may compile the stats for me, but I feel like teams that score at the end of the half go on to win the next half more often than not. When Pettway tipped that field goal, it was a huge relief for the superstitious part of me. Hopefully, NFL scouts will take notice of what Pettway has done in limited playing time, and some team will take a chance on him near the end of the draft.

Alabama's 5 best returning players in 2016

4. LB Ryan Anderson: The Daphne, Ala., product has been impressive as a junior, finishing the season as one of three Crimson Tide players with double-digit tackles for loss. Plus, he was second on the team in sacks, behind fellow linebacker Tim Williams, who would have made this list, but seems to be on the fence about whether he wants to return to Alabama.

One of the five heralded linebackers in the recruiting class of 2012, I had assumed Ryan Anderson was a senior along with Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland, and Denzel Devall for much of the season. About a month ago, I happened to see on the roster that Anderson had actually been granted a medical redshirt, and will return next year. That was one of the best personal discoveries I've had in the past few months

Anderson is a prototypical jack linebacker for the Alabama defense, and has quietly become a force to deal with off the edge this season, like Xzavier Dickson the year before. While Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans routinely embarrass offensive tackles with speed rushes, Anderson attacks the edges with a nasty bull rush and a wide arsenal of deceptively quick moves.

He will be a stabilizing veteran presence in a depleted front seven in 2016, and has the chance to put things together and truly become an every down outside linebacker and a force on the edge.

Alabama Crimson Tide's Nick Saban focused on future, not retirement

Saban said linebacker Reggie Ragland had a second-round grade last year and the coach estimated that Ragland made a $12-$14 million decision to stay. Tight end O.J. Howard, who was named the offensive MVP of Monday's game, said Saban will help him and his family make the right decision.

"He's always done that for me since I've been here at the university," Howard said. "You don't have to think about it too much during the season, you just want to play football. If you get focused on trying to leave early, the only things, you mess up on stuff. But at the end of the day, I'll sit down with coach tomorrow, like he said, and we'll make the right decision."

O.J. Howard has a huge decision. Most of us would like to see him return and give it a shot at showing the consistent production needed to become a 1st round pick, but at the same time, he has a generational combination of body type and athleticism and has now shown enough to warrant an NFL team using a high pick on him for pure potential.

I personally think Howard would be well-suited to go ahead and declare, and I think his combine numbers will entice a team to take him as high as the second round.

Alabama players voted not to open letters from NFL Draft Advisory Board | ProFootballTalk

That’s an unrealistic assessment, given the current state of player compensation in the NFL. Before the rookie wage scale was implemented in 2011, a player could make a lot of money by spending another year in college and working his way from a second- or third-round pick into round one. Indeed, a player prior to 2011 could make a lot of money simply from going from the bottom of round one to the top of it.

The current rookie wage scale places less of a premium on playing another year for free in the hopes of making more later. It’s actually better, if the player is destined to become a good-to-great NFL player, to start putting in years now toward the potentially far more lucrative second NFL contract. Moreover, it’s always better to be a high second-round pick than a low first-round pick, because teams control the rights to first-round picks for five years. Second-round picks are eligible for free agency after four.

So let’s say Howard gets a second-round grade, decides to return to Alabama, and makes himself into a low first-round pick. If he plays well, he’ll be eligible for free agency in 2022. If he gets a second-round grade, decides to enter the draft, and plays well, he’ll be eligible for free agency in 2020, a full two years earlier.

That’s why Saban’s rule of thumb doesn’t work for the players. But it definitely works for Saban, who benefits from the players choosing to continue to work for him at no cost to Alabama. And the ensuing Jedi Mind Trick also works well for Alabama, which can continue to justify paying millions that otherwise would go to the players to the coach who has convinced them to keep working for free.

As usual, though, someone is complaining about Nick Saban being evil. The first few paragraphs raise a legitimate point: There is not as big of a difference between a mid first round pick and a second round pick as there used to be. The wage scale in 2011 made for a more even regression of pay down the line, as opposed to huge jumps between rounds, and I agree that if Howard gets predicted to be a second rounder, he should probably go.

Then I kept reading and saw that the article devolved into a "let's insult Nick Saban and call him evil and manipulative." It's a narrative that's really getting stale.

Another cool note from the article is that Alabama players who sent their name in to the NFL Draft advisory voted within the team not to open anyone's letters until after the championship game so as to avoid distraction. I love this team.

Class Snapshot: Alabama

Sleeper: Tyler Simmons, WR, Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern. When you watch Simmons on film, he will remind you of Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott. He’s a thickly-built, all-purpose type of player at the high school level (he’s impressive taking pitches from scrimmage and in the yards after catch category). Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin loves that type of player that allows him to leverage matchup advantages. Simmons is the type of guy that can do this. He also comes from an excellent talent-producing high school program in a tough high school region in Georgia, so he’s a bit battle-tested.

In the midst of the whole "College Football Playoffs" snafu, the Tide picked up a commitment from a low-end 4 star receiver, Tyler Simmons. He's a former running back that's fairly new to playing receiver. As such, he's one of those hybrid types in lieu of a Percy Harvin Lite, with a little less speed.

Simmons is quietly one of the most athletic players in the Tide's list of 2016 commitments, behind only linemen Chris Owens, Jonah Williams, and Raekwon Davis. He'll likely be in the early competitions  to replace Kenyan Drake and Cyrus Jones in the return specialist roles, while trying to carve out a role for himself on offense.

The fun part is that another receiver, T.J. Simmons, is already committed to Alabama in this class, and the Tide will have two T. Simmons' playing the same position. I feel bad for Verne already.

5-star Georgia athlete Mecole Hardman Jr. shares why Alabama is his top school |
Hardman said he thought Alabama originally recruited him as a receiver, but thinks they want him as a defensive back now with Pruitt in the picture. He'll play either position to help the team, he said.

"Me and Coach Pruitt, we're real tight," Hardman said. "Since he was at Georgia, we built a great relationship. We talk all the time. That's going to keep up even if I don't go to Alabama."

The 5-foot-10, 169-pound Hardman said he would officially visit either Tennessee or Alabama on the weekend of Jan. 15, followed by a trip to TCU the next weekend. He's playing in the USA/Canada game on Jan. 29, so if he takes a third visit this month, it would be a midweek trip.

Hardman plans a decision on National Signing Day after taking his visits and talking it over with family. He said he's made two unofficial visits to Tuscaloosa. Michigan and Miami received official visits last fall.

Mecole Hardman recently listed Alabama as his current leader with only a month left until signing day. Its great to know that the hire of Jeremy Pruitt is already having an impact in the recruiting world, and securing the pledge of a 5-star WR/DB would be monumental for a class that's currently lacking in star power at the skill positions.

Alabama still after top five safety Jamel Cook, longtime Florida State commitment - Alabama - Scout

An official visit to Tuscaloosa would enable the opportunity to catch up with the program's coaching changes, though it won't be his fist time in town.

"The last time I was up there was in the summer, but I was with my team," he said. "I didn't really get to see Nick Saban or none of the coaching staff. Plus, they have a new DB coach now, and a new DC (defensive coordinator)."

Saying he's still "solid" with the Seminoles, he has an idea what Alabama may have to sell him on before a final decision is made.

"They've got to tell me I'm going to play as a true freshman," Cook said.

Lastly, here's a little bit of humor to get you through the day. The little brother of Dalvin Cook and longtime FSU commit, safety Jamel Cook is still considering Alabama. While immensely talented with a coveted 6'4" height, it looks like his attitude might leave a bit to be desired. By all accounts, Nick Saban does not promise playing time without it being earned. If Cook requires something like that to flip his commitment, then he can stay in Tallahassee.