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Alabama Football 2020 NFL Draft predictions: Defense

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The Tide’s defense is in much more flux than the offense, but the talent is absolutely there to make a mark in next year’s draft.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, I gave all my predictions for Alabama’s offensive players in the 2020 draft. I had intended to follow it up with this piece the very next week, but real life gets in the way sometimes (namely arguing with a certain termite company, but that’s neither here nor there).

In any case, the Tide’s defense is not as star-laden as the offense, so there is a lot more uncertainty in a number of draft eligible players and a lot riding on how they perform this upcoming season.

While guys like Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy could have a significant slump (flagged) and still get drafted in the first round based on their proven body of work thus far, most of these defensive guys absolutely have to make waves in 2019 to be considered elite prospects.

So, here are my predictions. Again, feel free to bookmark and flame away a year from now when I’m totally wrong.

Defensive line

The conversation begins with senior Raekwon Davis. One year ago, Davis was a 6’7” monster coming off of an impressive sophomore campaign and a favorite to be a first round pick in the 2019 draft. He’s still a 6’7” monster, but his junior year didn’t go quite as planned. His sack production dropped to almost nothing, and he decided to return for his senior season. With his size, athleticism, and energy, Davis would be a lock for a first round pick if he can notch 10 sacks again. However, another season like last year and he’s probably viewed as a 4th-5th round developmental guy with athletic potential. I’m going to predict he gets 7-8 sacks and is a late 2nd round pick.

There’s also junior LaBryan Ray. The defensive end has played some spot duty the last couple of years and is slated to finally be the starter next year. He was a highly rated recruit with a lot of speed for someone his size. He could very well have a breakout season and shoot up the draft boards. However, I think he winds up returning for his senior season.

Senior Tevita Musika is also on the team. I don’t expect he’ll be drafted.

Linebackers

The Tide is led by upperclassmen here, so there’s a number to go through. At inside linebacker, Dylan Moses enters his junior season with a full year of starting experience under his belt. He’s one of the most athletic players in all of college football— and also one of the most hyped recruits of all time. He had a decent year as a starter in 2018, but looked over his head at times and failed to make a massive impact. If he can really buckle down and become a consistent force for the Tide in 2019, then he’ll probably be pushing to be a fringe first round pick... You just don’t see linebackers that can run a sub 4.5 forty often. I think he improves, but not enough to make it to the first round. He decides to turn pro, and gets selected at the top of the 3rd.

You also have 5th year senior Josh McMillon. He’s been a forgotten man for years, but earned the starting job beside Moses in the A-Day game. He won’t have the hype nor the speed/athleticism to become a national name, but if he locks down the starting job and plays with consistency, I see him being a late 5th or early 6th round pick.

On the outside, Anfernee Jennings is the starter for probably the 72nd year in a row. He’s not the fastest guy around, but is a solid run defender on the edge and can occasionally turn things on and wreak havoc on a QB for a few drives in a row. His lack of speed will be a major detractor for a linebacker, so I think he’ll be a 6th round pick.

Then there’s Terrell Lewis. The 4th year junior is both massive and explosive, and has put constant pressure on QB’s any time he’s ever been on the field. Unfortunately, that’s been rare. Multiple injuries have derailed his last two seasons before they started, and we’ve only seen him in the 2018 National Championship against Georgia, where he had a couple of high-profile sacks. With his sheer athletic profile, all Lewis has to do is be healthy in 2019 and have just a somewhat productive season as a pass rusher, and he’ll be a first round lock. If he plays as well as he’s flashed at times between injuries, he’ll be a top-ten prospect. If not, he can still return to school.

I’ll go bold here and predict Lewis gets selected top 20 next year.

Cornerback

Senior Shyheim Carter got to be a starter in 2018, and was generally an ignored and forgotten name in the media. Which is a very good thing for a cornerback. Some that watched him more closely noticed how well Carter played in the final stretch of the season after some more rocky moments early on. He’s not the biggest guy around nor the fastest, but he’s a solid athlete with good cover skills in the slot. I think he’s a 4th round pick.

Trevon Diggs returns for his senior year after a season ending injury last year. He has the name recognition by being the younger brother of NFL receiver Stephon Diggs, and his 6’2” frame will be highly sought after by the pros. If he show he’s recovered from his 2018 injury and returns to the form he was showing before it happened, he’ll be pushing the first round. If he struggles to recover, he could fall as far as the fifth. I’m going to be more optimistic and say he winds up a mid 2nd round selection.

Safety

Junior Xavier McKinney was a first year starter in 2018, and it showed. He had flashes of brilliance in both coverage and run support, and also plenty of mistakes. He’s got the size and the pedigree of being a multi-year starter at safety for Alabama (probably the Tide’s best position in the pros). He could very easily have a great season and turn pro, but I predict he ends up returning for his senior season.

Jared Mayden will be a senior and has a chance of being a starter for the first time in his career. He has both size and speed, to go along with the versatility of also being able to play both outside and slot corner. He’s a total unknown, so he could go anywhere from the 1st to the 7th, depending on what he does with the opportunity. I’ll predict that he’s a serviceable starter and winds up a 6th round pick.