The NFL Draft will be held April 23-25. How it will be conducted is yet to be determined, though it won’t be a glitzy, made-for-television spectacle because of the coronavirus pandemic.
What is certain about the event is this: No one -- neither NFL commissioner Roger Goodell nor Cowboys owner Jerry Jones or anyone else -- will have more influence on it than Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
In many mock drafts, you’ll find six Alabama players going in the first round. If that happens, it will tie a record set by Miami in 2004 for most players from one school in Round 1. (A CBS Sports mock has eight Alabama players going in the first three rounds.) The biggest debate might be which Tide wide receiver, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs, will come off the board first. Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, the most intriguing player in the draft, probably will be the second quarterback taken.
Saban took over as Crimson Tide head coach in 2007, but his impact on the draft wasn’t felt until 2010, when players from his first recruiting class were eligible. Starting with the 2010 draft, Alabama has produced 28 first-round picks. Ohio State is second with 15; Florida is third, with 13.
Alabama’s dominance isn’t limited to top picks, either. Saban has produced 16 second-rounders in the same time frame, four more than LSU, Alabama's closest competition. That's 44 first- and second-round picks in the last decade, 18 more than the second-place Buckeyes.
Take a wide-angle view of the draft and nothing changes. Eighty-three Alabama players overall were drafted in the last decade, 21 more than LSU and Ohio State, tied for second at 62. At every level, it’s all Alabama, all the time.
It isn’t just quantity, or first-round pedigree, either. Once Saban’s players get into the league, they excel.
Atlanta’s Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers of this or any era. Running back Derrick Henry carried the Titans to within a game of the Super Bowl last season. After he was traded to Pittsburgh, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick changed the Steelers overnight, nearly salvaging their 2019 season. Baltimore's Marlon Humphrey is one of the league’s best corners and the anchor of Baltimore’s secondary.
Amari Cooper, who recently signed a deal making him the NFL's highest-paid receiver, has blossomed with the Cowboys. Baltimore running back Mark Ingram, Alabama's first Heisman Trophy winner, has topped 1,000 yards in three of the past four seasons. Bears safety Eddie Jackson was a first-team All-Pro in 2018.
And there's these Alabama players in the league too: wide receiver Calvin Ridley (Falcons), linebacker C.J. Mosley (Jets), safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (Cowboys), tight end O.J. Howard (Bucs), running back Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and defensive tackles Jonathan Allen (Redskins) and Quinnen Williams (Jets). All were chosen in the first round.
It’s easy to dislike Saban. His grouchy sideline demeanor, obstinate attitude during news conferences and generally imperious presence make him hard to take, particularly if you’re not a Bama fan. But what he's done in Tuscaloosa is jaw-dropping.
Alabama is a college football factory without compare. Saban has built a monster in an era where competition for recruits is more intense than ever.
You could look at the Crimson Tide’s draft dominance and chalk it up to spectacular recruiting, but that's only part of the story. Of Alabama's 44 first- and second-rounders since 2010, 23 were three- or four-star recruits, according to 247Sports’ ratings. Not only does Saban get quality talent, he coaches them up. That speaks volumes not only to his ability to coach, but also his capacity for hiring the right people to help him do it.
It shouldn’t be possible to operate with the kind of metronomic consistency that Saban does at Alabama, but he consistently defies the odds. Some of the personality traits that make him so odious to some are the same ones that have fueled an unprecedented run. He's won four national championships in the last decade and appeared in two more title games.
What’s most incredible about Saban’s time at Alabama is that he's always primed for more success. And there's no chance he will go back to the NFL, where he flopped with the Dolphins in 2005-06. Alabama’s deep-pocketed boosters will always find enough money to pay whatever Saban wants, and he’s likely the most popular figure in the state.
So the 2020 NFL Draft won’t be massive television event. It might be beamed to us from conference rooms around the country. Still, there will be one familiar sight: Nick Saban will own the night, as he always does.