With the new year ringing in, we got a quartet of announcements from Alabama’s top junior players about their intentions to move on to the NFL. All of these were expected, and all should be 1st or 2nd round picks.
First, QB Bryce Young was a no-brainer. The Heisman trophy QB has been considered a top-5 prospect with a very real chance of going #1 overall for almost 2 years now.
“Everyone that I’ve been able to play with and be around are the reason that I’ve been able to do what I have while I’ve been here. I’d also like to thank all my coaches, everyone who works here, everyone on the staff in all facets. Coming here was the best decision of my life. I’m forever grateful for the University of Alabama and all that and everyone that’s with them. With that being said, I’ll be declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft. Thank you, guys.”
Then there’s edge rusher Will Anderson. As a two-time unanimous All-American and back-to-back best defensive player in the country, Anderson, like Young, has been considered a top-5 player with a shot at being #1 overall. He’s lost some luster late in the season as people have started fawning over Georgia’s 6-career-sacks Jalen Carter, but is still most likely a top 3 pick, depending on what QB-hungry teams try to trade up.
Those two were a foregone conclusion. The next two were guys that most expected to declare, but some thought they might be players who could stay.
Jahmyr Gibbs, the RB transfer from Georgia Tech, exploded for Alabama this season. He’s a smaller guy, but is a huge threat to take the ball for big gains on any given run and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He’s the type of 3-down back that’s a passing game threat that NFL will sometimes decide is worth drafting higher than the Twitter wisdom of never draft RBs.
Some projections have him slipping into the back end of the first round, but I think he’s more likely to be somewhere in the back half of the second round.
Finally, we have Brian Branch. The hybrid corner/safety/nickel DB was relatively under the radar for much of last year and this year (though we at RBR had him at the top of the radar), until the last few games of this season when announcers finally started taking notice and he absolutely dominated Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl.
Branch has filled up the stat sheet this season for the Crimson Tide. He is responsible for 90 tackles, which ranks third on Alabama’s defense, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven pass breakups and a team-high two interceptions. Not only is he second on the team in tackles for loss, trailing only edge rusher Will Anderson, but he is second in the SEC in the stats category, as well. Branch is also 10th in the SEC in tackles and tied for eighth in interceptions.
I think he’s pretty likely to be a mid-to-late first round selection, but could also wind up being a 2nd rounder if the right teams aren’t looking specifically for a nickel corner.
Congrats to all four of these players, as they helped push Alabama forward with many stellar performances through another 11-win season. May they be drafted high, make lots of money, get second contracts, and ultimately continue to represent Alabama as faces of NFL teams.
We will also hear tomorrow if the mercurial Eli Ricks will decide to leave for the NFL or not.