NEW YORK – Last year, four members of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team were drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. And it was Deja Vu in New York City Thursday night, as NFL teams once again picked four Alabama players in round one of the 2012 Draft. Heisman Trophy runner-up Trent Richardson (3), Mark Barron (7), Dre Kirkpatrick (17) and Dont’a Hightower (25) were all picked in the Top 25 of the first round.
Courtney Upshaw however, was the sole member of the big five from Bama that was not drafted Thursday.
The word spread across Twitter Friday morning that Upshaw may have fallen due to “character issues.” But there was also speculation that many NFL teams were not quite sure where to play the tweener on defense. Cleveland traded up to No.3 minutes before the draft kicked-off for the specific purpose of taking Richardson.
It was expected the powerful and elusive back would become a big weapon for the Browns, helping Colt McCoy on offense. However, Cleveland made a somewhat surprising move later in the night by grabbing the 28-year-old Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, with its second first-round pick at 22.
Many draft experts had Dallas taking Barron in the first, but owner Jerry Jones moved up to the sixth spot and nabbed star cornerback Morris Claiborne out of LSU. But three picks later, the Buccaneers picked up the Crimson Tide safety at No.7. Cincinnati filled a need in its secondary with Kirkpatrick at No.17, which some at ESPN felt was a bit early, as the Bengals had other holes to fill first. New England, in an unorthodox manner for its franchise, moved up to 25 and drafted menacing linebacker Dont’a Hightower -the last first-round pick from the Tide. Many pundits have touted Hightower as the best linebacker in the 2012 draft. He will provide the Patriots with a double-threat as pass rusher and run-stopper.
Head Coach Nick Saban and The University of Alabama have proven to not only be the best football program in the Nation, but also the best at preparing its athletes for the NFL. Many coaches do not believe it to be their responsibility to ready players for the pros. But Saban’s coaching style, discipline and scheme give his athletes the jump on the rest of the NCAA, in becoming pro prospects. Eight Alabama players have now been drafted in the first round alone, over the past two years. Meanwhile, Saban and company have yet another top recruiting class in Tuscaloosa right now, adding to an already dominant defending National Championship team. And in 15 minutes, the second round of the 2012 Draft begins – will Upshaw make his mark? Roll Tide.
-Todd C. Smith