Alabama's annual exodus of players to the NFL began Thursday as four starters from the Crimson Tide's championship team -- quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive lineman Christian Barmore and defensive back Patrick Surtain -- announced they would be leaving school early to turn pro.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay predicts all four players will be selected in the first round. His latest mock draft also features senior running back Najee Harris and senior receiver DeVonta Smith, giving Alabama a total of six potential first-round selections, which would tie a record set by Miami in 2004.
No player made a bigger improvement in his draft stock over the past year than Jones, who is ranked fourth among quarterbacks by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. after not appearing in the top 10 to begin the season.
Jones, a redshirt junior, didn't make his first career start until late last season, when Tua Tagovailoa was injured. He then beat out five-star freshman Bryce Young for the starting job in the summer and went on to throw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns this season, with just four interceptions. Jones completed 77.4% of his passes.
"I played every role you can imagine from scout team to starter to national champion," Jones said. "... I'm really looking forward to this next opportunity."
NFL general managers and coaches will look closely at the health of Waddle. The speedy and dynamic receiver and punt return specialist suffered a combination fracture and high ankle sprain in October.
Waddle returned to practice the week of the College Football Playoff National Championship and appeared in the game against Ohio State. He caught three passes for 34 yards but had a noticeable limp.
The Crimson Tide did get some positive news Thursday, as defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis announced on social media that he would be returning for his redshirt senior season. Mathis played in every game this season and finished with 31 tackles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.