Whether most college fans – including those up in South Bend, Indiana – want to admit it or not, the University of Alabama football team is on the same level as the New York Yankees, Duke Blue Devils, and or Los Angeles Lakers: a sports team that virtually everyone hates, mostly because they envy their rich history of previous and current successes. The Crimson Tide have the second-most football National Championships of any college football program in the nation (outside of the Ivy League).
But whether those student athletes played for the great Paul “Bear” Bryant, Gene Stallings, or current head coach Nick Saban, not all of them enjoyed the same success in the National Football League as they did in college. In fact, you could say that many of them might have peaked in college, with everything going downhill after they left Tuscaloosa.
To that end, here’s a list of 20 of the Crimson Tide’s best football players, who became “busts” in the NFL. Of course, Alabama has had plenty of successes as well, so we wanted to ensure we included six guys who were just as big stars at the pro level as well.
You could have searched far and wide in the weeks and months leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, and you wouldn’t have found anyone who doubted the future stardom of running back Trent Richardson. Seen as an explosive, balanced, and powerful running back, people compared Richardson’s running style to that of the great Adrian Peterson.
But after flirting with one thousand yards rushing in his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, they were somehow comfortable with trading him away to the Indianapolis Colts after just over year. Over the remaining three years in the NFL, Richardson never eclipsed 520 yards rushing.
The top offensive lineman coming out of high school, Smith started all but one of his games since arriving at the University of Alabama. During his career, he was named a consensus All-American and voted the Outland Trophy winner. That led the Cincinnati Bengals to make him the 6th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
While Smith did have something of an up-and-down time in Cincinnati, with pluses and minuses throughout seven seasons, the Bengals were okay with moving on from him after 2015, and he’s changed teams four times since then.
A two-time first-team All-SEC selection and unanimous All-American in 2009, Rolando McClain became the first linebacker to win the Dick Butkus award (given to the best linebacker in the nation) since NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
But after the Oakland Raiders selected him with the 8th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, McClain didn’t look anything like the same player he was at Alabama. He had just half a sack his rookie season, and after two more forgettable years, the Raiders parted ways with him. After brief stints in Baltimore and Dallas, McClain retired from the NFL in 2016.
Listed at 345lbs (which many people will tell you is a very flattering number compared to what it was in reality), Terrance “Mount” Cody was half man and half steamroller. He was nicknamed “Mount Cody” because of his ridiculous girth and the fact that he was generally immovable by opposing offensive lines.
But after the Baltimore Ravens took him with a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, he arrived at training camp in terrible shape, failing the team’s conditioning test as a rookie. Cody’s overall lack of conditioning, and subsequent inability to stay on the field reliably, made him a liability. By 2015, Cody was out of the NFL.
A five-star recruit who was considered by many services to be the top linebacker in the nation coming out of high school, Mark Barron was a two-time All-American who helped the Crimson Tide win two National Championships during his three years in Tuscaloosa. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Barron with the 7th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, analysts gushed over the selection.
But the Buccaneers badly miscast Barron as a Cover 2 safety, taking him away from what he did best: destroy ball carriers near the line of scrimmage. It was only after the Buccaneers dumped Barron in a trade to the (then St. Louis) Rams, with the Rams then turning him into a hybrid safety/linebacker type, that his career was saved from being a total washout.
As a freshman defensive end who saw plenty of playing time under Nick Saban, Courtney Upshaw was the guy who nailed University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the 2010 National Championship game, helping Saban earn his first title with the Crimson Tide.
The Baltimore Ravens, in another one of their straight-from-the-Tuscaloosa-pipeline picks, took Upshaw with a first round pick in 2012. But after registering a grand total of five sacks in his four seasons with the defensive-minded Ravens, they had no problem letting him walk in free agency after the 2015 season. By the end of the 2017 season, he was out of the NFL.
In a sad twist of irony, on top of being lauded for his toughness and dominating strength, NFL scouts loved the durability that Chance Warmack presented, starting 39 games his last three years in Tuscaloosa. In 2013, he became the second interior offensive lineman in almost two decades to be taken with a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft (he went 10th to the Tennessee Titans, after Jonathan Cooper in the same draft).
But between nearly looking like a different, much slower-footed player at the pro level, and after suffering a season-ending hand injury later in his tenure in Tennessee, Warmack was no longer a member of the Titans by the end of 2016.
Considered by many as the top cornerback prospect in the nation in the 2010 recruiting class, Dee Milliner went from being a Freshman All-American to a unanimous All-American during his three years at Alabama. The New York Jets took him with the 9th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and after trying to start him right away opposite of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, they realized how badly overmatched he was going to be at the professional level.
After an injury-shorted 2015 season, the Jets declined to pick up his 5th-year option, and waived him in 2016. He never played a regular season game for any other team after that.
A menacing brawler of an interior defensive lineman, A’Shawn Robinson was as intimidating as afar as he was to have to block all game long. His combination of brute power and shocking athleticism made him one of those guys you’d want with you in a bar brawl.
But during Robinson’s first couple of seasons with the Detroit Lions, who took him with a 2nd round pick in 2016, he looked like a guy who had all the physical tools you want, but couldn’t put them together on the field. He’s looked better as of late, but considering the promise he held coming out of college, he’s still an underachieving prospect.
Reuben Foster was Nick Saban’s equivalent of a Patriot missile: locks on to his target, arrives in a hurry, and destroys his target without mercy. Though he carried some medical concerns heading into the draft, most people believed he was destined to be a star in the NFL.
But Foster’s medical concerns and off-the-field question marks led him to fall on draft day in 2016, when San Francisco snatched him with the 31st overall pick. But after a litany of injuries and multiple off-the-field incidents, the 49ers released Foster less than two seasons after drafting him.
A second-team All-American in 1994, running back Sherman Williams left the University of Alabama after rushing for the third-most attempts and fifth-most yards in program history. Fans of the Crimson Tide were all well acquainted with his signature “Sherman Shake” touchdown dance.
The Dallas Cowboys made Williams their top choice in the 1995 NFL Draft (in a rather head-scratching selection). But in five seasons as Emmitt Smith’s backup in Dallas, he never ran for more than 470 yards or two touchdowns in a single year.
An absolute “thumper” of a linebacker, Reggie Ragland was a throwback to days of hulking inside linebackers like Dick Butkus. At 6’1 and 247lbs, he punished any poor soul whom he got his hands on, becoming the third Alabama player to earn unanimous All-American notice, joining Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas.
But questions about whether he was too big (and thus too slow) pushed him to the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, Ragland tore his ACL and missed all of his rookie season. Before he ever played an NFL game, the Bills traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs.
An enigmatic Tasmanian Devil of an edge rusher, Tim Williams would scream off the edge of the Alabama defense and relentlessly find ways to harass whichever poor quarterback was unfortunate to be on the other team.
Many thought the Baltimore Ravens got a steal when they drafted Williams in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but in two seasons with the Ravens, Williams has yet to record a single NFL sack, and has a grand total of only 15 tackles.
A unanimous All-American and the National Defensive Player of the Year in 1989, Keith McCants finished with the sixth-most single season tackles for any player in University of Alabama history before leaving Tuscaloosa as a junior. Numerous publications called him anything from “the biggest star around” to someone for whom NFL-types were “drooling.”
But then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Floyd Peters thought they should try and convert the standout linebacker to defensive end, where he initially struggled. That led Tampa Bay, who took him with the 4th overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, to play four more NFL seasons across two teams before finishing his playing career in 1995.
A playmaking cornerback who helped the Crimson Tide win the 1992 National Championship, Antonio Langham won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and was named an All-American in 1993. Despite causing some problems by signing with an agent prior to his last season in Tuscaloosa, he was still the ninth overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft.
While he did become one of only two player sin NFL history to play for the original Cleveland Browns, then the Baltimore Ravens, then the resurrected Cleveland Browns, his 14 career interceptions (in seven seasons) fell short of expectations.
A high-school All-American who would go on to be a three-time All-SEC selection (including first-team in 1998), Fernando Bryant was drafted late in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But after five totally unmemorable seasons with the Jaguars, Bryant bounced around three more NFL teams over the next five seasons (including a training-camp only stint with the New England Patriots), before super agent Drew Rosenhaus publicly stated that his client (Bryant) was retiring after the 2008 season.
Dre Kirkpatrick became one of the rare defensive backs to earn a starting position from the day he arrived at Alabama, thanks to his combination of his height (6’2), positional versatility (something highly valued by Nick Saban), and ability to diagnose and quickly chase down ball carriers. After the Cincinnati Bengals took Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, it looked like that size would end up being a double-edged sword for him.
When he did get his hands on offensive guys, he was often a force. But he draws the ire of many Bengals fans because of all the big plays he gives up, as it seems he’s not quite fleet enough to keep up with faster receivers.
A playmaking defensive back who converted from wide receiver, Cyrus Jones came into the NFL with the potential to be a feisty (if not undersized) defensive back who could thrive in a Cover 2 scheme, but also step in and become a team’s starting return specialist.
But even after the New England Patriots selected him in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he spent the next four seasons ping-ponging between stints on the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, nobody has quite figured out how to truly unlock the physical gifts possessed by Jones.