Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (C) is smothered by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) during the first half of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
National champion Alabama is losing at least five juniors to the NFL, including four who could go in the top half of the first round.
Coach Nick Saban said at a press conference Thursday that defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne, running back Bo Scarbrough and safety Ronnie Hamilton are turning pro, joining receiver Calvin Ridley, who announced his decision on social media earlier this week.
Fitzpatrick could be the first defensive player off the board, projected as No. 4 overall by NFLDraftScout.com. Payne is at No. 9 overall, with Ridley at 19. Harrison is currently rated No. 30 overall, but NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Dane Brugler said Harrison could move to the top half of the round in updated ratings.
Scarbrough, a powerful runner, is considered a middle-round prospect.
Fitzpatrick filled every role in the secondary in the past three years, including cornerback, strong safety, nickel back and dime linebacker. He's a two-time first-team All-American who won the Bednarik and Nagurski awards this season as the nation's top defender. He holds the school record for career interception returns for touchdowns with four.
"Minkah Fitzpatrick might just be the cleanest NFL prospect in college football. ... Fitzpatrick possesses the raw athleticism, instincts and toughness to continue playing multiple roles at the next level. The question is not whether Fitzpatrick can play cornerback or safety in the NFL but which position the team lucky enough to select him needs help at most."
Payne has been well-known to scouts and most football fans, but he used the bigger stage of the College Football Playoff to make himself more of household name when he intercepted a pass and caught a touchdown pass, with a nifty toe tap in bounds, in the semifinal win over Clemson. Payne was the defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl and the national title game.
"Payne's awesome power, no-nonsense style and track record of success make him a relatively rare plug-and-play candidate," wrote NFLDraftScout.com.
Harrison and senior linebacker Rashaan Evans tied for the team lead with 74 tackles.
"Harrison may not possess the elite change of direction and range teams would prefer in a modern day centerfielder," according to NFLDraftScout.com, "but in terms of size, physicality and awareness, there may not be a better, all-around safety in this class."
Alabama received some good news regarding its junior class, as running back Damien Harris (who has back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards) and defensive end Isaiah Buggs (51 tackles, four for loss) announced they would return to school.