Photo Credit: Dale Zanine \ USA TODAY Sports Images
I recently came across a picture, taken outside one of the libraries at Alabama University, of a sign that said: “Do Not Shout out ROLL TIDE in the Library.” It definitely got a bit more than a chuckle out of me. Too bad the librarians don’t realize that the university exists for the men who brutalize each other on the field and not for the studious, idealistic students who frequent the library. I imagine if I were to walk into the sad library of my alma mater, the University of Ottawa, and try to start a chant for their football team, people would just complain that I was interrupting their pizza party. I sincerely hope these signs in Alabama result in infinitely more people howling ROLL TIDE in their libraries. Oh university, what a keg fueled waste of money and time. But my own hatred of post-secondary education aside, my Saturdays are now slightly irritating because there is no NCAA football on and unfortunately I can only watch repeated material on NFL Network for so long.
Nonetheless, I am optimistic that I will live to see the next NCAA season because last season was unbelievable. I have been a Gators fan (sue me) since, pretty much birth, and though I was lucky enough to see great seasons out of them in 2006 and 2008 under the great Urban Meyer, I have found it a rare treat to watch the gridiron dominance that has been Alabama in the past five years. 2009, 2011 and 2012 were National Championship years for the Crimson Tide, and who knows what could have happened had that 57 yarder not been attempted on that fateful November 30th, against Auburn. But either way, the Kick Six was unbelievably exciting and dramatically changed the end of the 2013 season, needless to say.
After the two game losing streak at the end of last season, Nick Saban and everybody involved with the Crimson Tide organization must have smoke coming out of their ears, as to go from National Champions in 2012 to a team the lost its bowl game must have been a tough pill to swallow. This is despite their losses coming to Auburn and Oklahoma, who are both reputable opponents. No matter how you look at it though, Saban has coached some unbelievable teams and had many players go on to the NFL, a few of whom will be in this list. The following is my list of top 10 former Alabama players in the NFL today. This is obviously a subjective list and it’s precarious to compare stats from different positions (i.e. comparing rushing yards of a running back to sacks and tackles by a linebacker). So obviously add your own thoughts on list membership, the order of the list, my writing ability and my sexual orientation in the comments section. While I will include salary information (obtained from overthecap.com) for these players, it will not be the only criterion for placement on the list, as I will also look to Super Bowl wins along with awards, potential, longevity within the league, and Pro Bowl/All-Pro selections. ROLL TIDE!
Honorable mentions: D.J. Fluker, Marcel Dareus, Terrence Cody, and James Carpenter.
10 Le’Ron McClain: Average Salary on Current Contract: $2,750,000
Le’Ron McClain is an interesting add to this list as he is one of the few fullbacks to be used as a team’s primary rusher in recent memory. He has had a pretty solid career in the NFL and I believe he definitely belongs here. He played for Coach Mike Shula for four years at Alabama before being drafted by the Ravens in 2007. He played four seasons in Baltimore and was a reliable running back/fullback who proved himself able to rush and catch. His 2008 and 2009 seasons were very successful as he was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in both. In 2008 and 2009, he received tons of carries but in 2010, he started to lose playing time and carries to Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, and after complaining publicly about this, he was traded to the Chiefs. After a year with the Chiefs, he was signed to a three year deal with San Diego. His time in San Diego has not been as productive as his years in Baltimore, totaling under 60 carries and 10 total receptions over 2 years.
9 Courtney Upshaw: Average Salary on Current Contract: $1,234,175
Another four year player for the Crimson Tide, Upshaw played for Coach Saban from 2008 to 2011. He played each game in his freshman and sophomore years, and became a full time starter in junior and senior. He was also a two-time National Championship winner. Talk about luck, in the 2012 draft, he was picked up by Baltimore, just in time to be on their 2012/2013 Super Bowl winning team. He had a strong rookie year and was a welcome addition to the Ravens’ championship winning defense. His second year wasn’t terrific, as he started only 13 games and was only able to get 30 tackles, half of his 2012 total.
8 Eddie Lacy: Average Salary on Current Contract: $848,643
Eddie Lacy was at Alabama for the Crimson Tide’s three most recent National Championships, although he redshirted for the 2009 season. He was instrumental in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons and earned the poetic nickname “circle button” due to the Playstation controller’s circle button being the spin move in football video games, and Lacy having his own lethal spin move. He was taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft by the Packers and had an unbelievable rookie season, starting 15 games, rushing for over 1100 years, 11 touchdowns and winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and being named to the Pro Bowl.
Look for Lacy to be a solid force on Green Bay’s offense for some time, as they would be monumentally foolish to let him go anywhere. He’s known to be able to run through tackles, while also being agile and quick. He would be higher on this list, but he’s only been in the league for one season and it will be interesting to see if teams start to scheme against him, or if they continue to focus on Green Bay’s pass offense.
7 Mark Barron: Average Salary on Current Contract: $3,616,135
This safety played a full four years for Alabama, being a member of the 2009 and 2011 National Championship teams. In his senior year, he was recognized as a 1st team All-American. He was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft, making him the earliest drafted Alabama defensive back ever. Upon being drafted by the Buccaneers, he immediately became the starting strong safety and proved to be a solid compliment to free safety Ronde Barber. His rookie season saw him start every game and record 89 tackles. He was selected to the Associated Press All-Rookie team, but the Bucs’ pass defense was abysmal overall that year. In his 2nd season, he looked decent again, racking up 87 tackles and a couple of sacks. Again, however, the Bucs’ defense did not look sharp overall last year.
6 Dont’a Hightower: Average Salary on Current Contract: $1,931,001
Another four year player for Alabama, Hightower played for the 2009 and 2011 National Championship teams as Mark Barron did. He started most of his rookie year, all of his junior and senior years, but during his sophomore year at Alabama, he sustained a knee injury which cut his season short at four games. He was drafted 25th overall by the Patriots in 2012 and played 14 games in that season, totaling 60 tackles on the season. His 2013 season was also successful, as he was the Patriots leading tackler with 97 on the season. No Pro Bowl selections yet, but Hightower is on a consistently good team, which he led in tackles last year, so as an optimist, I think Patriots fans can expect more reliable play and continued improvement from Hightower.
5 Julio Jones: Average Salary on Current Contract: $4,045,938
Julio Jones played wide out for Alabama from 2008-2010, and was a part time return specialist as well. He was a member of the Crimson Tide squad who won the 2009 National Championship. Selected 5th overall in 2011, Julio Jones had a very solid first two years with the Atlanta Falcons. In his rookie season, he started 13 games, racking up 959 total receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. This is a more than respectable rookie season. In his second year in the league, he managed to rack up 1,198 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, starting 14 games. This performance earned him a Pro Bowl selection in 2012. In 2013, he played the first five games of the season, averaging over 100 yards per game, but injured his foot in week 5 and did not play the rest of the season. The sky is the limit for this dominant wide-out and if he comes back healthy, he'll undoubtedly move up this list.
4 Jarret Johnson: Average Salary on Current Contract: $4,750,000
Jarret Johnson is one of the best defenders in the history of the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was a machine in terms of racking up tackles for loss along with sacks. Upon his departure from College, he was second in both. He was drafted in 2003 by Baltimore, and had a slow start to his career, not becoming a regular starter until 2005. Since then, however, he has become recognized as a very reliable outside linebacker. He hasn’t been selected to a Pro Bowl, and he missed the Ravens’ Super Bowl year, having been traded in 2011. That said, however, he was very reliable with them for all eight of his seasons and has been a welcome and consistent defender for the Chargers for the last two seasons.
3 Roman Harper: Average Salary on Current Contract: $3,166,667
Harper played for Alabama from 2003 to 2006, racking up over 300 tackles and being a dominant force on the team for his sophomore, junior and senior years. He was drafted in the 2nd round by the New Orleans Saints, and played for them from 2006 to 2013, having been released back in February. His best years came in 2009 and 2010, where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in both years and won the Super Bowl in 2010. His future in the league is questionable right now, as his play declined in the past 2 years, leading to his recent released.
2 Evan Mathis: Average Salary on Current Contract: $5,100,000
Mathis played for the Crimson Tide from 2001-2004 and was moved around the offensive line all four years. He started out as a center, played three years as a tackle, and moved to guard for his senior year. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers, but was lackluster overall. He played in Carolina for three years but was cut in early 2008, only to be picked up by the Dolphins, where he played less than one season. It was not until he was picked up by Cincinnati that he started to come into his element. In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, he did not allow a single sack, while demonstrating himself as a more than capable run blocker as well. After three years with the Bengals, he went to Philadelphia where he has achieved arguably his greatest success. His 2011 season was very solid, prompting the Eagles to sign him to a five year deal. 2012 was a huge season for Mathis, and in 2013 he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time his career. This guy has only gotten better as he has grown in maturity. Add to his discipline his overall skill, strength and his quickness for a guard, we can hopefully look forward to a couple more solid years watching this guy.
1 DeMeco Ryans: Average Salary on Current Contract: $7,800,000
Playing for Mike Shula from 2002-2005, DeMeco Ryans started out on special teams but improved every year, earning a starting spot and eventually becoming the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. In 2006, he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Texans and quickly made an impact on the league. He was the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the year and in 2007 and 2009, he was selected to the Pro Bowl. His first four seasons in the NFL, he managed to eclipse 100 tackles, but his performance dipped in 2010 and 2011, after which he was replaced by Brian Cushing at middle linebacker. After being acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles, his numbers have gotten back to their lofty standards.