Though not a household name in many circles, Alabama jack linebacker Denzel Devall spent most of his career doing what was expected of him...and doing so at a high level. Though not the pass rushing terror of his predecessor Courtney Upshaw, over four years at the Capstone, Devall evolved from a one-dimensional end rusher to a solid outside linebacker who could not only apply pressure to the pocket, but serve as a solid edge against run-based offenses.
Though Devall is not likely to be an early round draft pick due to the anonymity he has garnered, he did his job as part of one of the best Crimson Tide defenses in history and does have some upside for any NFL team that elects to give the Tide senior a shot.
Devall was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of Bastrop High School (Bastrop, LA) and one of the top-rated players in the state of Louisiana in the class of 2012. A solid, physical, thudding linebacker/ defensive end hybrid, Devall was the kind of multi-purpose defensive athlete coveted by the Nick Saban regime, as he could be employed in the role that serves as one of the lynchpins of the Saban 3-4: specifically, the jack linebacker.
Devall was well-recruited by a number of schools, including traditional powers LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Arkansas and TCU. And rightly so, as he was rated the 111th player overall nationally by 24/7 Sports, and 122 by Rivals. Rivals also listed him as the number two player overall from the talent-rich state of Louisiana and the number five linebacker nationally. HE was a 2011 Louisiana Sports Writers Association All-State selection in 2011, and as a senior, he accrued 73 tackles, two sacks, three passes broken-up, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Devall was projected both as a linebacker and defensive end, as the 6'2, 250 pound defender had the physical measurables to play either position within different defensive styles.
The Early Years
By signing with Alabama, Devall all but ensured himself an eventual spot on what is traditionally one of the top defensive units in college football. While many players, such as teammate Reggie Ragland, take time to work their way into the starting rotation, Devall made an immediate splash upon arriving in Tuscaloosa.
As a freshman in 2012, Devall saw early action, playing in all 14 games for the eventual National Champion Crimson Tide. Devall was part of one of the finest defenses the Tide has ever fielded, and given the talent around him, it is an impressive feat in and of itself that the young linebacker was able to regularly crack the line-up at the jack linebacker position.
Early in his career, Devall was cast as a third-down pass rushing specialist who could combine his speed and athleticism to outmaneuver heavy-bodied offensive linemen around the end. While the Tide's pass rush in those days wasn't the dominant force seen in the most recent campaign, Devall contributed by creating havoc in the opposing backfield, garnering two sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries (along with 18 tackles) as a freshman. The young linebacker's performance earned him high honors, as he was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-America team in 2012.
Devall continued to grow into his role as a sophomore in 2013, beginning the emergence from a situational third-down player to an every-down, reliable defender. Devall earned three starts in '13 and played in all 13 games. His stats reflected this emergence, as he nearly doubled his tackle total from the previous year (30 tackles), in addition to making three sacks, three quarterback hurries, five tackles for loss, one pass broken-up and two forced fumbles. Devall enjoyed what was at the time the best game of his young career against Arkansas, where he recorded four tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in the Tide's win over the Razorbacks.
Devall, the Upperclassman
While his stat line never really caught the eye of the casual observers of the Crimson Tide, Devall became exactly what the Tide needed to showcase the defensive line talent Saban and Kirby Smart had accumulated in Tuscaloosa: a solid, reliable, heady edge rusher who knew his role and could set the edge when asked to do so.
Many figured Devall's junior year would see his emergence as an elite SEC defender, and he was off to a great start in 2014. His third campaign in crimson was abbreviated due to a persistent ankle injury suffered against Ole Miss, as the linebacker started seven games, played in eight, and missed six total contests. Despite that, Devall was able to post respectable stats given the limited action, with 11 tackles, one tfl and two quarterback hurries.
In his senior campaign, Devall was a key cog in the gears of the Crimson Tide defense that was among the best units historically ever fielded by an Alabama football team. Devall started 14 games at outside linebacker, accruing 24 tackles, five tfls, one sack, six quarterback hurries and two passes broken-up. Devall was named the Defensive Player of the Week by the Tide coaching staff after his performance against Louisiana-Monroe, in which he recorded two tackles, one sack, two quarterback hurries and two passes broken-up. Devall helped the Tide defense amass six sacks on the day. Devall had what was likely the best game of his career against Alabama's arch rival Tennessee, as he recorded a career-high seven tackles and a tackle for a loss.
Devall ended his Alabama career with yet another national championship, bringing the number of rings on the linebacker's fingers to two. Devall has the distinction of being one of a handful of Tide players to win national championships in both the BCS and College Football Playoffs systems.
Because of the role he played within the Alabama defense, as well as the fact that his performance has often been overshadowed by defenders who get more press (A'Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland for example), Devall is not a top-of-mind prospect for many NFL scouts. While battle-tested, Devall doesn't have the elite speed and coverage skill most scouts are looking for in a linebacker, and he is a little small to be a dedicated pass-rushing defensive end.
With those potential short-comings at the pro level, Devall is currently rated as a seventh round/ free agent option in many NFL Draft circles, as he is a heady, physical defender who could serve as a role player for the right defense at the next level. He is listed as the 32nd (of 249) outside linebacker prospect by nfldraftscout.com, and walterfootball.com has him ranked as the 24th best OLB in the upcoming draft.
Given the history of recent Tide linebackers in the NFL, there's no reason to think that some team (especially one that runs a 3-4 defense) may not want to take a chance on a former four-star recruit who made good in Nick Saban's vaunted system. While Devall may not be the second coming of C.J. Mosley, he is an intelligent, disciplined, gritty linebacker who can play his role well within the confines of a given system.