ESPN college football and NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl was at the Alabama-Tennessee game Saturday in Knoxville and came away with a favorable impression of the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide and a number of their pro prospects.
TideNation caught up with Weidl to ask him for his evaluation of Alabama as a program and the players within it who could eventually perform on Sundays in the NFL.
TideNation: If you're taking one thing away from Alabama-Tennessee, what is it?
Weidl: What stood out to me most is that Alabama sets the benchmark for programs. When you look at the way they operate, the way they play on the field, the way they do things, to me, the thing I took away from the game is this is the most complete team in college football. This team doesn't have many holes. It's the least-flawed team in college football.
TN: Is there a player who stood out to you the most? I know you have been high on Chance Warmack.
Weidl: He was the real deal. I had lofty expectations coming in and he lived up to them, probably exceeded them. Dee Milliner lived up to the hype I've seen. He's a smart, instinctive player. He's got that short-area quickness. The one question I have is, what's he going to run? He didn't have many situations to show his long speed. Eddie Lacy had a really good game. He looked quicker than expected, he caught the ball well. And obviously, Amari Cooper is a young, budding star. He has body control, hands, and the one thing I really like is he has some savvy for a young guy, in terms of setting up defenders -- subtle things scouts look for.
TN: As a former quarterback yourself, how do you evaluate AJ McCarron?
Weidl: I think he's coming along. I don't think he's there. I think he's more talented than Greg McElroy in terms of physical ability. They do a great job of helping him out in that scheme. Doug Nussmeier does a good job throwing on first and second down when teams are crowding the box. But AJ is coming along to where the term "game manager" isn't him anymore. You can't label him that. He can go out and, if he needs to, put the team on his back. And hats off to Alabama for recruiting on the perimeter. They've got some guys that can really go and that are very young. It's going to be tough for teams to compete with. McCarron and that perimeter gives Alabama so much more balance this year.
TN: With McCarron now in the Heimsan race, people will wonder whether he's a guy with a pro future this year. Is he a really good college quarterback, or is he a guy who can make the pro transition and be an early-round pick?
Weidl: I like AJ from a cerebral standpoint. I think he has it all between the ears and the leadership qualities you look for. Now, I don't think he has the strongest arm, but take into consideration that arm strength is the most overrated trait when evaluating quarterbacks. From a pro potential, I think he can get there, though he's a little bit away. He can improve on accuracy. He needs to get stronger in the core. I do see a future, but in terms of a high-round pick, I'm not willing to go out there and say that yet. I have to watch a lot more film. I didn't see a guy physically that you say, "Oh, he's a first round pick," like you do with some of the more obvious guys.
TN: Is Alabama's line the best you've seen?
Weidl: It was. They have a lot of mass. They're big boys with a great leader in Barrett Jones at center. When you look at them across the board you have Jones and Anthony Steen, then you have Cyrus Kouandjio, Warmack and D.J. Fluker -- those are massive individuals. They have a lot of inline power. I think Warmack is a better prospect than David DeCastro was last year at Stanford. I like Fluker, but he's a little bit of a limited athlete, heavy-footed. Kouandjio will be a pretty good prospect coming out. He's got a great frame. I think they're mentally tough. I think the leadership Jones provides is big. He's good enough, he's got enough anchor, but he's a guy that relies on intelligence, quickness and angles.
Weidl: That's the thing man, it's tough. It's like pick your poison with these guys. To me, I take my chances. Unless you have a defensive line like LSU, you have to take some chances. You have to take some risks, whether it's putting the defensive line in twists or slants, bringing some run game blitzes on early downs. Bring pressure and force McCarron to continue beating you with his arm. I think sitting back and playing traditionally, you're going to get gashed in the run game. Taking risks is what you're going to have to do and hope you can force turnovers against that offense. On the offensive side of the ball, I don't know if there's a guy you can attack. They don't have a dominant Marcell Dareus on the defensive line. They rotate and that sticks out. I guess taking shots is what you do. To me, you have to create plays both offensive and defensively to have a shot against these guys. If you try to play conservative and match up with these guys it won't work. They're better at every position across the board than any team in the country.