Saban: NFL draft distracted some Bama players

The coach who always preaches about having no excuses offered a couple big ones for why his team came up short last season.

Alabama’s Nick Saban theorized at SEC Football Media Days on Wednesday that some of his players might have been distracted by the NFL draft as they prepared for the College Football Playoffs last December. He also said that his team as a whole generally ran out of gas as Alabama’s year ended with a loss to Ohio State in the semifinals this past January.

“I felt like from our experience last year that our team chemistry from the SEC Championship to the playoff game was affected by something,” Saban said. “… We’re talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now. We had six guys in that situation this past year and 11 the year before. So we’re trying to get ready for a game and all the sudden a guy finds out he’s a first-round draft pick or a guy who thought he was a first-round pick finds out he’s not a first-round draft pick and we’re trying to get ready for a playoff game.”

Currently, college juniors can ask the NFL for a draft assessment on Dec. 15th each year and they receive that information before Christmas. Underclassmen have to declare their draft intentions by Jan. 15th.

Saban proposed that players not receive their draft status until after their college careers are over. He also thought the NFL should push back its draft declaration date “a week or 10 days” since the College Football Playoffs do not conclude until mid-January and the actual draft has been pushed back into May.

Of course, college baseball deals with this every year. The Major League Baseball draft takes place during the College World Series.

Saban also intimated that the high-tempo pace at which his team and others play in college football contributed to his team wearing out toward the end of the year.

“If we’re going to be a no huddle team like we were last year, I think we have to manage the season better with our team,” Saban said. “I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit. We played more plays by 170 on defense, which is like a couple, three more games. And our players showed it.”

Alabama players accompanying Saban to Media Days did not dispute his hypotheses.

“It was probably in the back of a lot of guys’ heads,” senior center Ryan Kelly said of the NFL draft. “I didn’t even know about that stuff until after the game; I was just set on playing the game. But any time you play at the level we do, some of that stuff is going to happen; that’s the way of the world. Some guys aren’t really there mentally. That’s something to avoid this year.”

Said senior running back Kenyan Drake: “I feel like we were as focused as we could be. Obviously, Saban sees more things than I do because he’s in that situation. But Ohio State was a formidable opponent and they did their job to beat us. You know, we should’ve come with a better effort.”

Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said the Crimson Tide’s defense was definitely “worn out” by the time it got to the national semifinals game.

“Yeah, we had a bunch of guys hurt and some guys who didn’t know if they could play,” Ragland said. “I think as a whole it trickled down and guys were tired. I know I was tired myself. We had guys hurt on the defensive side that normally help you, that hurt us a lot.”