Four Alabama Players Taken in the First Round of NFL Draft
The Baltimore Ravens have made it clear this offseason that their No. 1 priority is fortifying the back end of the defense.
Shunning a trade offer for the No. 16 overall pick Thursday, the Ravens selected Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who entered the draft after a solid sophomore season.
Earlier this offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome dipped into the free agent market to sign free agent cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson.
By adding Humphrey to the mix, the Ravens now have four quality cornerbacks: Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Carr and Humphrey, who is expected to become an immediate contributor.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Humphrey is a strong tackler and took an interception back for a touchdown in Alabama’s second opener in 2016.
“It was an opportunity for us to continue to put some strength into our secondary,” Newsome said. “He has great size, really long arms and he can run. I feel like we got better in the secondary.”
That’s been the theme for the Ravens this offseason after the team stumbled to an 8-8 finish and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“We’ve gone after a portion of our team in the back end with our secondary with a vengeance,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve done a great as job as an organization in terms of getting that done. We have some really good players back there and there is going to be competition. We’re going to be darn tough to throw against.”
The Ravens entered the draft with plenty of needs – most notably wide receiver, pass rusher and cornerback.
Three receivers went in the first nine picks, so that left Newsome looking elsewhere to improve the team. He had his eye on Humphrey and finally turned in the card after having several conversations with other teams interested in the No. 16 pick.
“It was a little hectic. Several people were calling,” Newsome said.
The selection was announced by 14-year-old T.J. Owuanibe, who two years ago was diagnosed with brain cancer. He shared the stage with NFC Commissioner Roger Goodell by virtue of an arrangement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
An early run on offensive players worked in the Washington Redskins’ favor, allowing them to try to boost their lackluster defense by picking versatile Alabama lineman Jonathan Allen with the 17th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
Allen can play inside or outside along the line and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2016, but there were medical concerns about shoulder problems that affected his draft stock.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 286 pounds, Allen is a senior who could instantly upgrade a defensive line that was one of the biggest weaknesses on a Redskins team that went 8-7-1 and failed to make the playoffs last season, a year after winning the NFC East.
Washington’s defense ranked 28th in the league and was particularly poor on third downs and against the run. The team fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry right after the season and made some additions in free agency on that side of the ball, signing linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain and safety D.J. Swearinger.
Now the Redskins have brought in Allen in hopes of continuing the makeover.
He arrived with the first of 10 picks held by Washington, which fired general manager Scot McCloughan early last month, halfway through his four-year deal. No replacement GM has been announced by the team, leaving team president Bruce Allen and Scott Campbell among those with key input during the draft.
Eight of the top 12 picks in the first round Thursday night were on offense, sending some of the top defensive talent tumbling.
Allen was the fifth consecutive defensive player selected.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the 19th pick in the NFL draft, providing young quarterback Jameis Winston with another playmaker for an improved offense.
Winston threw for more than 4,000 yards each of the past two seasons, however the Bucs have struggled to score points.
General manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter are counting on the former No. 1 overall pick to get the ball in the end zone with more regularity after adding the 6-foot-6, 242-pound Howard, as well as veteran receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency this offseason.
While the Bucs went 9-7 in 2016, they made the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season. They haven’t postseason game since their Super Bowl run 15 years ago.
Licht is in his fourth year of rebuilding the team.
He spent his first two drafts overhauling the offense, including selecting Winston No. 1 overall in 2015, before turning his attention to the defense a year ago, when cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was taken at No. 11 and pass rusher Noah Spence followed in the second round.
Running back remains a priority in later rounds, considering two-time Pro Bowl selection Doug Martin missed most of last season because of injuries and a suspension that extends three games into next season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Martin was the NFL’s second-leading rusher two years ago. Without him, an inconsistent running game contributed to a slow start the Bucs were unable to overcome last season, when they won six of their last eight games to climb into playoff contention.
Howard helped Alabama win a national championship two years ago. The Crimson Tide made it back to the title game last season, but lost to Clemson.
In selecting the tight end Thursday night, the Bucs passed on an opportunity to select Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, Winston’s former college teammate.
John Lynch turned out to be an aggressive dealer in his first draft as San Francisco 49ers general manager.
The front-office novice moved down one spot in the NFL draft on Thursday night before taking Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas to upgrade a porous defense. He then used one of the three extra picks he got in that deal to move up from the second round to No. 31 overall to take Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
San Francisco also added the 67th overall pick from Chicago and the Bears’ third-rounder next year in the first deal. Chicago used the No. 2 pick to take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Lynch ended up with two of the top defensive players on many boards heading into the draft along with some extra loot to fill additional holes. Thomas is the third straight defensive lineman taken with San Francisco’s top pick, following Arik Armstead in 2015 and DeForest Buckner last year.
“I was kind of curious what was going on,” Thomas said. “I was excited to see what happens. I was the one blessed to get that phone call. It was a dream come true.”
Thomas has the versatility to play outside on the base defense where he is an elite run stopper and inside as a pass rusher in nickel situations. He had eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season at Stanford when he was named the top defensive lineman in the Pac-12.
Thomas has been compared to Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett and is expected to play a similar role in San Francisco under coordinator Robert Saleh, a former assistant for the Seahawks.
“We’re both very versatile,” Thomas said. “We’re quick. But I have to earn my stripes before I even get compared to him. I have to play my first down, earn my stripes from my teammates and earn their respect. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Lynch, as a Stanford graduate, is quite familiar with Thomas. He has spent time around the program in recent years and even took a class on decision-making with Thomas where they collaborated on a project.
“I was star struck the first day of class,” Thomas said. “I tried to cling on to him, learn from him. It was a really cool experience to be in class with him.”
Thomas said the two kept in touch since then and now he wants to make Lynch proud as his first draft pick ever as a general manager.
Now they will try to fix a defense that set franchise worsts for points, yards and yards rushing allowed in a single season in 2016. That contributed to a 2-14 record that matched the worst in team history and led to the firing of coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke.
Lynch and new coach Kyle Shanahan are setting out to rebuild the talent-bereft team and coveted the extra draft picks acquired in this deal to fill significant remaining holes at quarterback, the secondary and receiver.
Foster won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker last year but faced questions about the health of his shoulder. He said he is 90 percent healthy and expects to be ready for training camp.
Foster also was kicked out of the combine over a confrontation with a hospital worker and had a diluted drug test sample, turning him from a projected top 10 pick to one that almost didn’t make it in the first round.
The Niners now have two picks in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, along with one in the second, third and seventh round.
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