TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- While the NFL draft is analyzed and discussed as the end of a college players' journey, Alabama coach Nick Saban sees it as a new beginning.
Saban feels "people put too much emphasis on where" a player is drafted instead of factoring in timing and circumstance.
While pundits and others project who will go in the first round, Saban said people should "look at the big picture of what you do with your career after you get drafted." And he has a recent example to support this way of thinking.
"Everybody was disappointed that Eddie Lacy didn't get drafted in the first round," Saban said. "But he got drafted in the second round and made rookie of the year. I think the big picture says wherever you get drafted is just where your opportunity is. Now, what are you going to with it and what are you going to make of it?"
A total of 15 Alabama players hope to hear their names called on one of the three days of the 2014 NFL draft. While all 15 likely won't get drafted, the Crimson Tide still has a chance to set a record for the most players selected in program history. The current record is 10 (1945). Alabama came close in 2012 (8) and 2013 (9). This year, Alabama had the most players invited to the NFL combine (12).
Four players headline the Tide's 2014 draft class as linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and quarterback AJ McCarron are the Tide's top prospects.
Mosley and Clinton-Dix are virtual locks to be taken in the first round while Kouandjio and McCarron's draft stock has been highly debated.
From the feedback Saban has gotten, he said a lot of people "really, really like" Mosley's game.
"He's an every down player," Saban said. "He can play on third down, first down. Those are the kind of inside backers people are looking for in this day and age of football with a lot of spread out stuff. So I think he'll do extremely well in the draft."
Many consider Clinton-Dix to be the top safety prospect in the entire class and he could be the first Alabama player off the board. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Clinton-Dix going as high as No. 10 overall to the Detroit Lions in his latest mock draft.
"This feels early to take a safety, but Clinton-Dix would give the Lions a premier young talent at the free-safety position, and his range in coverage and run support would be welcomed," McShay writes.
If Clinton-Dix is selected in the first ten picks, it would mark the second time in the last three years an Alabama safety went in the top 10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in 2012.
Alabama has had eight players selected in the top 10 since 2009. The Tide has had two players picked in the top 10 in each of the past three drafts.
When the offseason began, Kouandjio looked like a slam dunk first round pick. But the narrative changed once news broke of Kouandjio failing physical exams at the combine. Kouandjio has since disputed the reports, saying no team failed him. Saban also publicly backed Kouandjio and pointed to his two years of starting and not missing any practices following his knee injury in 2011.
Knee problems aside, analysts still have their reservations about Kouandjio.
"He's just not where he should be and he probably should have gone back to school. Strike that, he definitely should have gone back to school," McShay said on a recent teleconference. "There's still a chance he's a top 40 pick. I think if you wind up getting him early in the second round then it's a pretty good deal. If you're comfortable with his medical and you've got a good offensive line coach that you trust and you're not determined to start him Day 1, I think you've got a chance of getting a good deal in this draft with Kouandjio.
"We could be talking down the road three years about a good starting tackle in the National Football League."
Then there's McCarron. There are those who view McCarron's "game manager" tag as a positive and believe he has a chance to be successful. There's also the crowd who believes McCarron was a product of having talented players around him. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden believes McCarron has a future in the league.
"Alabama comes out of a huddle, they only throw the ball 26 plays a game, which is about 100th in college football," Gruden said during a recent teleconference. "He takes care of the ball. He has a big-picture understanding of the game. He's been well-schooled, disciplined, he's durable.
"I don't think he has tremendous athletic ability, his arm is not off the charts, but he can play quarterback and manage an NFL system."
Still, McCarron feels he's the best quarterback available.
"Why not? The rest of those guys feel like they're the best," McCarron said following his pro day. "It's a mind-set you have to carry in yourself. I feel like my play speaks for itself over the three years I started in the SEC. I definitely do."