Get ready to pat Nick Saban on the back once again.
Sure, it’s a regular occurrence of late, with coaches and players and fans, even sportswriters and sportscasters, hoisting Alabama’s head coach onto their shoulders and carrying him around the field, so to speak.
Now it’s the NFL.
The league as much as said, “We love you, Nick’’ during its three days of the NFL Draft. Those in the NFL offered up a big “Thank you, Nick” as well.
NFL folks said those things, in effect, a dozen times over the three days and five more times in the hours after the NFL draft had been completed.
Every time a NFL team took another Alabama player — 12 in all in this year’s draft, a school and SEC record for players selected from one school in a single draft (Ohio State owns the draft record with 14 in 2004) — it as much as offered a tip of the cap to Saban and his staff.
Still think recruiting doesn’t matter?
With each Alabama player selected — the process (see what I did there?) started with defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick’s selection by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 11 overall pick — opposing college coaches, especially in the West Division of the SEC, probably grabbed their recruiting info and started looking for more players for the future. Apparently, Saban and his staff have grabbed the ones for now.
There are a lot of ways to look at Alabama’s success in the NFL Draft and they all point to one thing: Saban knows how to evaluate talent. And then sign that talent.
•With 12 players selected in the draft and five others signing undrafted free agent contracts, Alabama loses 17 NFL-ready players from last season’s roster. Count ‘em, 17. And yet the Crimson Tide will again be picked among the top five teams in the country when preseason polls are released this summer. And there will likely be at least one that has Alabama ranked No. 1. How many programs could lose 17 quality players from its roster and still be considered a contender for a national championship the following season? Exactly.
•Every player listed on Alabama’s starting defensive line-up for its season-opening game of the 2016 season against Southern Cal was selected in the past two NFL Drafts. To help out, the list includes Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison.
•Wanna talk first round picks? Four Alabama players have been selected in the first round the past two drafts. This year, Fitzpatrick went to Miami with the 11th pick. He was followed by Payne at No. 13 by Washington, Rashaan Evans, who wasn’t even a starter when the Tide opened its season in 2016, was the No. 22 pick by Tennessee last weekend and wide receiver Calvin Ridley was the No. 26 pick by Atlanta, where he will join former Crimson Tide standout Julio Jones. In the 2017 draft, Humphrey was selected with the No. 16 pick by Baltimore (and general manager and former Alabama great Ozzie Newsome), with Allen selected at No. 17 by Washington. Tight end O.J. Howard was tabbed with the No. 19 pick by Tampa Bay while Foster was the No. 31 pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
That’s not to say other schools aren’t producing quality players for the NFL; they are. Ohio State has produced players as have many other top colleges. But the current rate by which Alabama is producing NFL talent is staggering. Auburn of course, is having good success as well, and other state schools such as UAB, Troy and South Alabama are sending the occasion player to the pro ranks.
But right now, Saban has earned another No. 1 ranking for Alabama. Everybody else is playing for second.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at