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Vote for the RBR All-Saban Team: Outside Linebackers

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The Tide has had their share of elite edge rushers over the years, if maybe not as star-studded as some other positions.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 College Football Playoff Semifinal - Cotton Bowl- Michigan State v Alabama Photo by Patrick Green/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After the giant hullabaloo of last week known as the NFL Draft, we will resume our series of somewhat democratically selecting the RBR All-Saban teams. We’ve already completed the entire offense and the defensive line, and will be moving on to the outside linebackers today.

The rules are fairly simple here, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.

I didn’t really realize it until looking Alabama’s previous starters for the last 12 years for this piece, but outside linebacker is probably the least successful position overall for Nick Saban over the years (it would have been QB if not for Tua Tagovailoa this year). In fact, the only edge rusher to be drafted in the first round, Rashaan Evans, actually moved to inside linebacker as a hybrid player his junior year.

I will be including Evans in this outside linebacker grouping because the middle linebackers are already such a crowded field and he absolutely deserves a spot on the team somewhere.

The only four true candidates are Courtney Upshaw, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Rashaan Evans. There are a couple of other guys like Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings who were solid contributors, but I ultimately decided they were clearly a tier behind these four guys.

So, you’ll hear an argument for each player and then vote for which combination should be the first team pairing. The other two players will then be on the second team.

BamaBrave4 on Tim Williams:

If you are putting together an All-Saban team, you’ve got to have the best pure pass rusher of the era on the field. Tim Williams was (yet another) blue-chip recruit plucked out of Louisiana, and he represented a major change in Nick Saban’s defensive philosophies. Outside of the great Courtney Upshaw, Alabama’s Jack linebacker position was rarely known for elite pass-rushing abilities. It was much more an extension of the defensive line, as the number one priority was gap integrity and setting the edge of the defense. Against mobile quarterbacks, the Jack ‘backer was asked to “mush-rush” the passer, which often allowed true dual-threat QBs to carve up the secondary as the pass rush took its time to get home. In the mid-2010s, Saban decided to take a page from LSU and John Chavis’ aggressive playbook, looking to unleash strong, but quick, edge rushers to get after QBs and destroy plays before they could start.

Williams took a few years to get going, as he was buried on the depth chart his first two seasons in 2013-2014. But, he broke out his junior year in 2015. He logged 11.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks as part of a legendary Alabama defense that led the way to a second consecutive SEC Championship and the 2015 National Title. Despite overtures from NFL scouts, Williams returned to Alabama for his senior year in 2016. He posted another 16.0 TFL and 9.0 sacks that season, helping the Tide secure another SEC Championship and National Championship Game appearance in the process. He also forced a pair of fumbles, and recovered another one for a TD against Arkansas.

When it was all said and done, Williams left Alabama as a three-time SEC Champion and a National Champion. He is 7th all-time in school history with 21.0 sacks, second only to the great Jonathan Allen in the Saban era. He was drafted in the 3rd Round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens, and he currently resides in Green Bay as a member of the Packers.

CB969 on Rashaan Evans

Rashaan Evans was an Alabama fan favorite from the moment he signed his letter of intent to join the Crimson Tide. Mostly because Auburn was SO sure they were going to land their hometown 5-star that they prematurely placed him on their roster.

Rashaan Evans going to Auburn?

As a versatile athlete for Alabama, Evans found early playing time and excelled on special teams while learning the Will, weakside linebacker position.

Out of necessity, he was moved inside as a junior. In Bama’s two playoff games in 2016, Evans made 18 tackles. Those performances put him on the radar of NFL scouts.

By 2017, Shaun Dion Hamilton had progressed enough that Evans could move back to his natural position outside. The senior blossomed into a superstar tying for the team lead with 74 tackles and leading in tackles for loss at 13. He tallied six sacks and broke up three passes. He also had one caused fumble and one fumble recovery.

Where Evans really shined was pursuit and open field tackles. A sure tackler, 35 of his stops were of the solo variety, often cleaning up what teammates had missed. Alabama utilized his versatility by lining him up at various positions on the field. Read and react, back in coverage, coming off the edge, or stuffing the inside, #32 could do it all. And Evans does not miss many tackles.

In the National Championship against Georgia, Evans produced another dominant outing with eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Although Tua Tagovailoa’s 2nd & 26 touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith will be the play most remembered from this game, it was the Tide defense that made it all possible. Led by the senior linebacker, the defense harassed UGA QB Jake Fromm and held RBs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb at bay in the second half, thus allowing the Tide offense to climb back into the game and ultimately slamming the door on the Bulldogs’ title hopes.

Evans was selected as one of the Tide’s permanent team captains of the 2017 National Championship team. He was honored as a First Team All-American by the AFCA and First Team All-SEC by the AP. He was drafted in the first round by the Tennessee Titans in 2018. The young linebacker helped improved the Titans defense and was second in tackles by two (111) this past season. This improvement helped propel Tennessee to two playoff upsets and an unexpected birth into the AFC Championship Game.

Josh Chatham on Courtney Upshaw

All we really need to say about Upshaw is that there’s no way you have an All-Saban team without him. He first flashed his pass rushing chops during the 2009 national championship season, and started off strong in 2010 before suffering a high ankle sprain. Alabama’s infamous loss to Stephen Garcia and company came with both Upshaw and Marecl Dareus playing with heavily taped ankles, and the pass rush suffered greatly because of it. Upshaw worked his way back and finished the 2010 season with six sacks in the final four games.

Upshaw was the key edge rusher on the 2011 national championship team. His 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks easily led the team, and he won defensive MVP of the national title game by dominating LSU to the tune of seven tackles and a sack. Of course, his short acceptance speech will never be forgotten.

This one is easy, folks. Upshaw has to be a starter.

Brent Taylor on Ryan Anderson

Anderson came to Alabama as a highly regarded linebacker/defensive end hybrid out of Daphne, AL in the 2012 recruiting class. Depending on your recruiting website of choice, he was anywhere from a top-100 player to a top-20 five star player. He redshirted his first year, then spent his second year as a backup who typically got a little bit of playing time at the end of most games and was a blocker on special teams.

His redshirt sophomore year saw him get into the mix a little more often as a rotational reserve pass rusher, and he notched 8 tackles for loss on the season... Many even being in high-leverage games.

As a fourth-year junior, Anderson’s hard work and determination to stick with the team finally paid off as he became a full-time starter as an edge rusher on Alabama’s 2015 national championship team. His 12 tackles for loss and six sacks on the year were nice, but the shining moment was when he strip-sacked Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs when the Volunteers were working on putting together a game-winning drive.

I just so happened to be in Bryant-Denny Stadium at that moment, and it was one of my top-2 favorite moments of watching Alabama football in person.

Anderson returned for his senior year where he paired with Tim Williams to become the most formidable pass-rushing duo of the entire Saban era. He led the team with a ridiculous 19 tackles for loss and 9 sacks in 2016 on his way to becoming a second-round pick for the Washington Redskins. Four years later, the Tide still hasn’t managed to find a consistent edge-rushing replacement for Anderson’s disruptive production.

Poll

Which duo should be the first-team All-Saban outside linebackers?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams
    (37 votes)
  • 34%
    Rashaan Evans and Courney Upshaw
    (159 votes)
  • 11%
    Ryan Anderson and Rashaan Evans
    (53 votes)
  • 19%
    Courtney Upshaw and Tim Williams
    (92 votes)
  • 11%
    Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans
    (52 votes)
  • 15%
    Courtney Upshaw and Ryan Anderson
    (71 votes)
464 votes total Vote Now