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Built By Bama: A Weekly Analysis of Former Alabama Players in the NFL (Week 11)

Former Alabama players gave us plenty to be thankful for in Week 11’s NFL action

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year again - College football has entered the final week of the regular season. For most teams (See: Auburn), that means that this is the final game before an entire month of pointless bowl games. Fortunately, Alabama usually gets an extra week of action to beat up on our special friends from that division in the east. This year, Florida gets the honor of being that team.

College football may be coming to an end, but fear not! The NFL is just beginning to heat up. The playoffs are finally starting to shape out on their own and as is tradition, the Cleveland Browns have become the first team ineligible for post-season play. This very special Turkey Day features three huge match-ups throughout the entire day. So while you’re awkwardly trying to dodge your racist uncle’s uncomfortable stories, at least you can use football as an excuse to avoid the people in your family who’s antics remind you why you only see them once a year. In the mean time, kick off your shoes and indulge in some sweet, sweet performances by former Alabama players in week 11’s NFL action.

Week 9’s Top Performances

Can you say Pro Bowl? Fortunately this is a pro-Alabama site and not an Auburn one, otherwise that question may not have been rhetorical. Five weeks ago, Landon Collins didn’t have a single interception on his 2016 resume. Since then, he’s had at least one interception a game and is now leading the league with 5 interceptions. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Landon Collins as the worst rated safety in coverage (out of 188) in the entire league. Take a wild guess where they’ve graded Collins in coverage this year. If you guessed anything besides number one, you’d be wrong. So what exactly happened to Landon Collins in 12 months to completely transform him into one of the best safeties in the NFL? I have a theory as to why that is.

Before the season last year, the Giants had three season-ending injuries at the free safety position. This put the former Giants head coach in an uncomfortable position of playing rookie Landon Collins at free safety instead of his natural strong safety position. Since Collins had to play an entire year at an unfamiliar position, he was able to hone his coverage skills without the pressure most rookies face. Entering this season, the Giants have moved Collins back to strong safety and has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. This week against the Bears, Collins didn’t allow a single reception in coverage and accounted for 6 tackles, a broken up pass, and a game ending interception.

While the Cleveland Browns may be the only team officially eliminated from playoff contention, the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers (featuring Alabama’s Quinton Dial) are in a one-legged race with the 2-8 Chicago Bears to be the second team eliminated. Having to face the AFC East leading New England Patriots certainly didn’t help their cause. The Patriots travelled to the bay area and gave the Niners a firsthand look at why they’re a legit contender for the Super Bowl this year. The Patriots defeated the 49ers 30-17. While the entire defense played a key role in this week’s victory, former Tide linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s performance helped keep the momentum in the Patriots’ favor early on.

Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers started their second possession on their own 25-yard line after a touchback and drove the ball all the way down to the New England 6-yard line throughout a quarter-killing 8 minute drive. The Niners were faced with a 3rd and goal and an opportunity to get the crowd back into the game until Dont’a Hightower released on the blitz. Had Hightower not gotten to the quarterback, Kaepernick had a receiver breaking free in the middle of the field for an almost guaranteed touchdown. Instead, the Former Alabama great shrugged off a laughable block by running back Carlos Hyde and accounted for one of five sacks on Kaepernick that night as well as forcing a fumble. Although Kaepernick was able to recover his own fumble, the sack prevented a touchdown and held the 49ers to a field goal. Hightower was responsible for two other drive ending tackles throughout the game.

Last year, the Oakland Raiders finished the regular season 7-9 and were left out of the playoffs. To the surprise of practically everybody, the Raiders are now 8-2 and sitting atop of the AFC West above the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. Raiders owner Mark Davis did everything right with the team over the offseason by revamping the offensive line and completely rebuilding the secondary after Charles Woodson's retirement. Last season, the Raiders finished the year ranked 11 in sacks allowed. This year, the Raiders have given up the fewest sacks out of any team and even the most physical defensive lines are struggling to put pressure on QB Derek Carr. This has given Carr all the time in the world to find his favorite target Amari Cooper. While Mark Davis has appeared to be a miracle worker for the Raiders, I doubt even Anne Sullivan could teach Davis how to cut his hair like a normal person. That deaf, dumb, and blind owner sure drafts a mean football team though.

NFL: International Series-Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cooper is 100 yards away from his second consecutive 1,000 yard receiving year and 10 receptions away from matching last year's total with six more games to go. Three of those six games are against Carolina, San Diego, and Indianapolis who rank 27, 28, and 32, respectively, in passing yards allowed this year. Amari Cooper is almost guaranteed to go over 1,000 yards this year barring something terrible happening. Amari Cooper's week 11 stats were nothing flashy, but clutch doesn't appear on the box score. With 4 catches on the day, Cooper was held to a relatively modest performance. It wasn't until his final catch with just over two minutes to play that the former Tide wide out found his way into my top performers list.

What’s Next For Rolando?

I was born in August of 1991. I was alive when Alabama won their 1992 National Championship. I saw Mark Ingram give Alabama its first ever Heisman Trophy. I’ve seen four more National Championship winning teams and another Heisman Trophy winner. I’ve seen Bryant-Denny Stadium come alive at night in some of the biggest games. To say I’ve been fortunate as a fan is a complete and total understatement. However, the one thing I wish I could have seen but wasn’t born in time would be the greatest Alabama linebacker, Derrick Thomas (RIP), during his college days. Now a days, it feels like every linebacker that dons a crimson and white jersey ends up in the NFL for many successful years. However, we all know it wasn’t always this way.

The late ‘90s and early 2000 Crimson Tide teams were encompassed by mediocrity on defense which stemmed from less than stellar head coaches (the three Mikes). Every so often, Alabama would have a player go in the late second or third round of the NFL draft and that was the pinnacle at the time. It wasn’t until 2007 when I saw Rolando McClain step onto the field that I knew we had something special. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely saw something in Demeco Ryans as well, but Rolando was just the man. Rolando McClain ended up getting drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft to the Oakland Raiders. He was the first Alabama player on defense to be drafted in the first round since Fernando Bryant in 1999. Everything that had gone so wrong in his life seemed to be looking up for the Decatur native.

Unfortunately, Rolando McClain’s storybook ending was not to be. He was drafted to the Raiders to fix a defense that was predominantly at the bottom of the pack statistically. During his three-year tenure in Oakland, McClain finished each season either second or third in tackles on the team, however was replaced by 4th round pick Miles Burris midway through the 2012 season. Rolando McClain ended up posting a series of comments on social media saying how he was “mentally done” with the Oakland Raiders and couldn’t wait to leave. He lasted one more year as a Raider before being waived on April 5, 2013 due to a variety of off-the-field issues. Five days later, McClain signed with the Baltimore Ravens. However, he never took a snap as a Raven as Rolando McClain announced his retirement one month after his signing.

The former Alabama great’s retirement lasted a full year before making his return as a part of America’s Team. The Dallas Cowboys acquired McClain in a trade with the Ravens after losing linebacker Sean Lee for the 2014 season. In a new city, Rolando McClain looked like the player he was expected to be out of college. His presence and leadership helped rejuvenate a struggling Cowboys defense, however his redemption wasn’t without a few bumps in the road. Injuries plagued the linebacker’s career and a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy sidelined McClain for the first four games of the 2015 season. In the remaining 11 games he played, McClain played well enough to sign another one-year $5 million contract.

Rolando McClain has yet to see the field since signing the extension as he was suspended on June 30 for 10 games for yet another substance abuse violation. Thanksgiving Day against the Redskins would have marked the first time Rolando McClain was eligible for action this season until more news broke this past Sunday. The linebacker allegedly missed a drug test this past weekend and the NFL has suspended McClain for a full calendar year. Although he’s appealing the ruling, it appears Rolando McClain’s career as a Dallas Cowboy is all but over. Owner Jerry Jones has said that he is sticking with Rolando and will remain a Cowboy once he’s eligible to return. Unfortunately, words are not a contract and these situations rarely seem to hold true. Rolando McClain has always been one of my favorite Alabama players so this news is heartbreaking. I only hope that he can land on his feet at another program.

Cyrus Kouandjio, a Real AMERICAN Hero

It didn’t feel right ending this article on a down note especially with it being the Holidays so I was more than thankful when this story broke earlier this week. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches, Cyrus Kouandjio is the largest member of the Buffalo Bills roster. This past Thursday, Cyrus stood just a little bit taller. The former Alabama offensive tackle has been living in America for 19 years; however he wasn’t always so fortunate to live in this country. At the age of 4, along with his older brother Arie, his family fled war-torn Cameroon for an opportunity at a brighter future in America. After a long road to get here, this past Thursday will remain a day that Cyrus will never forget. Cyrus Kouandjio was officially sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Although he was never officially a citizen until this past week, Cyrus Kouandjio has shown more pride and love for this country than most that have lived here their entire lives. With so much tension going on in America these past few months, seeing a story like this really puts it into perspective. Kouandjio remembers stories his father told him about hiding in the woods with his baby sister on his back to escape violence in Cameroon. The sacrifices his family made to give both Cyrus and Arie the lives they have now is nothing short of miraculous. Kouandjio takes none of that for granted.

The media has been in a frenzy ever since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the national anthem this season to protest the injustice of African Americans. The plight was so important to Kaepernick that he even neglected to vote in this year’s election. Meanwhile, Cyrus Kouandjio wasn’t even granted the opportunity to do so. Kouandjio has stated that he may disagree with Colin Kaepernick’s protest, but agrees that it is his right to speak out as an American citizen. When asked if he would ever kneel during the anthem, Kouandjio responded “I can't kneel during the anthem. I don't blame Colin Kaepernick for doing what he did. But for me, I have too much respect for a flag and anthem that represent freedom and liberty."

Both Kouandjio brothers are now citizens of the United States. His brother Arie gained his citizenship on September 13th of this year. The Oath of Allegiance was administered by Judge Michael J. Roemer who swore in 34 new citizens from 24 different countries. Roemer introduced Cyrus Kouandjio to lead in the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday. The overjoyed Kouandjio finished with some of the sweetest words known to man, “Go Bills and Roll Tide.”