Stats & Info: Donta Hightower

Crimson Tide rolls through first round

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
11:36
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Jerry Lai/US PresswireTrent Richardson was the first of four Alabama Crimson Tide players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The national champion Alabama Crimson Tide had three underclassmen selected in the first round -- Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dont'a Hightower.

Last year, Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram were taken in the first round after leaving Alabama early, and in 2010, Rolando McClain and Kareem Jackson were selected in Round 1 after forgoing their final season of eligibility in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama joins the Miami Hurricanes (2002-04) as the only schools to have multiple underclassmen taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in three consecutive years.

The Crimson Tide are the first team to have eight underclassmen taken in the first round in a three-year span. Those Miami teams had seven -- two in 2002, two in 2003 and three in 2004.

Alabama is on a four-year run that began with Andre Smith being a first-round pick as an underclassman in 2009. That started after the Crimson Tide didn't have a first-round pick from 2001-2008 and failed to have a single player selected in any of the seven rounds of the 2008 Draft.

With Hightower and Mark Barron chosen in the first seven picks, the Crimson Tide became the second team in the Common Draft Era to have two or more players selected in the first 10 picks in consecutive drafts.

The Ohio State Buckeyes had two top-10 picks each in the 1996 and 1997 drafts, highlighted by Orlando Pace going first overall in 1997. Dareus and Jones went in the first 10 picks from Alabama last season.

Other than Alabama, the only school to have multiple first-round selections in each of the last two drafts was the Baylor Bears. Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins went in the first round from the Bears last season. The four picks over the last two years brings Baylor’s total to 10 first-round picks all-time.

Baylor is also one of two schools this year and five all-time to have a quarterback and wide receiver selected in the first round of the same draft.

Draft chatter
• No players from Miami, Florida or Florida State were selected in the first round for the first time since 1980.

• Nineteen early entrants were selected in the first round, surpassing the 2010 draft’s 17 for the most in NFL history.

• Riley Reiff of the Iowa Hawkeyes was the first pick from a Big Ten school, going 23rd overall to the Detroit Lions. That ties 1968 for the common draft era record for the longest into a draft before a Big Ten pick, when the Baltimore Colts selected John Williams of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

• Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith were each selected in the first round from Notre Dame. The last time the Fighting Irish had multiple first round picks was 1994 (Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris).

• Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins were the first pair of Illinois Fighting Illini players selected in the first round since Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice went in the top three picks in 1996.

• The Boise State Broncos are the first team not from a major conference to have two first-round picks since the Jackson State Tigers in 2000.

Brad Edwards contributed to this post

Lettermen and concerns return for Tide

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
1:33
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Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is one of eight offensive starters returning in 2012.
Spring is a time for renewal. In college football, spring is also the time to look ahead to fall and the upcoming season. Saturday, Alabama holds its annual Golden Flake A-Day Game (ESPN3, 3 ET), which will give its fans a first look at the defending national champions.

Alabama captured its record-breaking ninth national championship of the major poll era in January. Once again, the Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But the Tide have been here before. Will history repeat?

In 2010, Alabama was preseason No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Coaches polls with 11 combined offensive and defensive starters returning from the team that had won the 2009 national title. The problem was the retention breakdown. Bama lost eight starters from a defense that allowed the second-fewest yards (244.1) and points (11.7) per game in the bowl subdivision. With QB Greg McElroy, the RB tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and WR Julio Jones, the belief was that the Tide would score points and win games through their offense while buying enough time for their defense to jell.

However, all did not go as planned. The defense allowed slightly more PPG than in 2009 (13.5 in 2010, 11.7 in 2009). The Tide allowed more plays of 20-plus yards (13) in 2010 than it did in 2009 (7). They also blew a 24-point lead in a loss to archrival and eventual national champion Auburn in the regular-season finale, the biggest collapse in Alabama’s storied history. That was one of three losses for the Tide that season.

Like in 2010, this Alabama team has a quarterback returning for his second season as a starter (A.J. McCarron), along with a strong running back (Eddie Lacy). Also like the 2010 team, the Tide will lose several starters on defense including four likely first-round picks (CB Dre Kirkpatrick, OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron).

So how good will Alabama be in 2012? History suggests the Tide will be one of the best teams in college football, but not good enough to win a second straight national championship. Just like 2010.

Digging in to the AFC North draft strategy

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:47
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Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we switch conferences to the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens
Need: Secondary

The departure of Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in the offseason makes finding an heir-apparent to aging safety Ed Reed a priority.

From 2008-2010, the Ravens ranked third among NFL defenses in lowest Total QBR allowed on passes that traveled at least 10 yards downfield. In 2011, the Ravens finished 23rd in the league.

While the Ravens finished second in the NFL with 72 passes defended last season, only 31 percent of those were on attempts thrown at least 10 yards downfield, 27th among NFL defenses.

Baltimore needs a safety to match up in coverage against the evolving NFL tight end. The Ravens allowed 2.4 yards after contact on passes to a tight end last season, ranking 30th in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Cincinnati Bengals
Needs: Offensive line, secondary

Drafting a solid guard will complement young quarterback Andy Dalton and new running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals lost starting guards Mike McGlynn and Nate Livings to free agency in the offseason. Livings was one of two players on offense to play every snap last year.

The Bengals struggled to get any push from interior linemen in the run game last year, averaging only 2.0 yards before initial contact on runs inside the tackles, second-worst in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: David DeCastro, G, Stanford and Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: David DeCastro, G, Stanford and Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Cleveland Browns
Needs: Wide receiver, running back, offensive line

With Robert Griffin III likely off the board already, the Browns can still bolster their quarterback position by drafting a playmaker at wideout.

Colt McCoy finished right at the NFL average with 5.0 attempts per off-target throw last year -- better than Cam Newton, Matt Schaub and Tom Brady -- but got very little help from receivers on catchable passes.

The Browns were largely ineffective on the ground last year, finishing 31st in the NFL with 3.7 yards per rush. A replacement for Peyton Hillis would help, as would better run blocking up the middle and to the right. The Browns averaged just 3.4 yards when running to the right, worst in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama and Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State and Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Pittsburgh Steelers
Needs: Linebacker, Defensive Line

With the departure of key defensive players including Chris Hoke, William Gay, Aaron Smith and James Farrior, it’s time for the Steelers to replenish what has been a top defensive unit in football since 2008.

Pittsburgh linebackers tallied 15 tackles for loss in 2011, less than one per game, second-worst among NFL defenses at the linebacker position.

Defensive starters Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and James Harrison will all be age 34 or older by mid-September.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

Oklahoma tops CFB Live Preseason Poll

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
4:01
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All week on College Football Live, we’ve been unveiling our Preseason Top 25. A 38-person panel consisting of our analysts, studio hosts, play-by-play announcers, bloggers, researchers and production team members submitted their votes and here’s our in-depth Top 5.

1. Oklahoma Sooners
With nine starters back on offense including quarterback Landry Jones and AP First-Team All-American receiver Ryan Broyles, simply put, the Sooners are loaded on that side of the ball. Last season, Jones led the Big 12 in passing yards (4,278) and touchdown passes (38). He also holds seven school records. Speaking of school records, Broyles owns 10 Oklahoma receiving marks, setting nine of them last season. With seven starters returning on defense including linebacker Travis Lewis, the Sooners are the early favorite to win not only the Big 12 title but the BCS championship, as well.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Even with the departure of quarterback Greg McElroy, 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, the Crimson Tide should contend for the national championship once again. Junior running back Trent Richardson returns, which is key since Bama will be breaking in a new quarterback in either third-year sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. Nine starters are back on defense including linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

3. Oregon Ducks
Seven offensive starters are back for the Ducks including quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman finalist running back LaMichael James. That backfield duo served as the key cog to the Oregon offensive machine that led the bowl subdivision in scoring, averaging 47 points per game last season. The defense loses six starters, among them First-Team All-Pac-10 linebacker Casey Matthews. However, the Ducks should have enough to contend for their third straight conference title in the new Pac-12.

4. LSU Tigers
With nine starters returning on offense and seven on defense, the Tigers look poised for another run at the SEC and national championships. Senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson returns for his third full season as the starter. He’ll need to be more productive than last year when he passed for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. To help Jefferson infuse life into an offense that finished 11th in the 12-team SEC, LSU hired former Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe as its new offensive coordinator. Even with the loss of Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Patrick Peterson, the LSU defense should still give opposing offenses nightmares.

5. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos' offense and defense each have seven starters returning and none bigger than quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist Kellen Moore. With the departure of offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin (Texas) and dynamic receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, the senior will be relied upon even more to keep the offense in sync. Senior running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,260 yards and 12 TDs last season, also returns. Boise State is making the jump from the WAC to the Mountain West this season.

The rest of the top 25:

6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. South Carolina
9. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State
11. Texas A&M
12. Arkansas
13. Nebraska
14. Wisconsin
15. TCU
16. Michigan State
17. Notre Dame
18. Florida
19. Virginia Tech
20. Texas
21. Mississippi State
22. Auburn
23. Missouri
24. West Virginia
25. Arizona State

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