We are all looking forward to this weekend’s colossal college football showdown between the LSU Tigers (#2) and the Alabama Crimson Tide (#4). I’ll be the first to admit I don’t follow college football enough to give an accurate preview of Saturday’s matchup. But I can certainly provide insight to a long, spirited debate between the fans of the two successful football programs. That is: what school has better NFL players, LSU or Alabama? And who would win in a game if schools’ NFL alumni suited up? Now THIS is an area of expertise I CAN comment on. So while we wait for the actual game between the teams’ current players, I thought it would be cool to break down the optimal starting lineups for each team’s best former players, and then pick the winner.
NOTE: Players must be active NFL players to qualify.
QB – Zach Mettenberger (TEN) – Has proven to be a capable backup but is by no means even a decent NFL starter. Winless in seven NFL starts.
RB – Jeremy Hill (CIN) – Looking to turn things around after a slow start in 2015. One of three rookie RBs in NFL history to average 5.0+ YPC on 200+ carries. Talented bruiser who is better when fed as a bellcow back, but does need space to operate.
RB – Alfred Blue (HOU) – Can we just put Leonard Fournette here? But seriously… Blue is JAG (just another guy), but he’s receiving a lot of playing time with Arian Foster out for the season.
WR – Odell Beckham (NYG) – A top-5 NFL WR in only his second season. Gets outstanding separation with elite athleticism, runs crisp routes, and has amazing hands.
WR – Brandon LaFell (NE) – I selected LaFell over Rueben Randle (NYG) for this spot because I believe the former is the better WR when fully healthy. LaFell doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but he covers all the bases and is a decent starter. Needs to clean up his drops.
SWR – Jarvis Landry (MIA) – Lining up almost exclusively inside, Landry is the best pure slot WR in the NFL. An underrated athlete (he did not test well at the combine but is very fluid with a quick twitch) has reliable hands and is breaking out in year 2.
TE – None Active
LT – Andrew Whitworth (CIN) – On the wrong side of 30, but still remains one of the best all-around linemen in the NFL.
LG – La’el Collins (DAL) – Gifted athlete who finishes blocks with a nasty mean streak. Career path arrow pointing straight up.
C – None Active
RG – Trai Turner (CAR) – Quietly having a very strong season for the undefeated Panthers. A lot of LSU fans don’t realize how good of a pro he’s becoming.
RT – Joe Barksdale (SD) – Annually under appreciated by NFL teams, Barksdale gets the job done as an above average pass protector.
DE – Barkevious Mingo (CLE) – A below average starter with an ideal skill set but has yet to put it all together.
DT – Michael Brockers (STL) – Very good at stopping the run, but provides little in terms of pass rush.
DT – Kyle Williams (BUF) – Has had a long, outstanding career, but is just starting to show signs of decline. Still an very good player, at minimum.
DE – Danielle Hunter (MIN) – Has received playing time as a rookie because of injuries but hasn’t done much with it. Possesses the athletic tools to be a stout run defender.
SLB – Kevin Minter (ARI) – A subpar two-down backer who doesn’t have many strengths.
MLB – Perry Riley (WAS) – Another below average starter who has struggled this season.
WLB – Kwon Alexander (TB) – Perhaps LSU’s best linebacker in the league already, Alexander has great natural instincts in pass coverage and had a mini “break out” game last week.
CB – Pat Peterson (ARI) – Has been an overrated cover corner for years (yet incredible athlete), but he is finally coming into his own. He’s playing lock-down football right now. Also provides a bonus as an elite kickoff and punt returner.
CB – Delvin “Chip” Breaux (NO) – Flashes of dominance at the position for the young corner are apparent every Sunday, but some errors need to be corrected. Note he did not getting playing time at LSU because of a serious neck injury, but remained with the team and rehabbed at their facilities.
NCB – Morris Claiborne (DAL) – Hasn’t had the career many had hoped, and while he has improved, he remains a liability.
SS – Tyrann Mathieu (ARI) – One of the game’s finest versatile playmakers. Awesome instincts and awareness to diagnose plays, flies to ball like at LSU.
FS – Eric Reid (SF) – Not a top-5 safety by any means, but has a nose for the ball and doesn’t get the credit he deserves on a tanking team.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
QB – A.J. McCarron (CIN) – Has yet to play a down in the NFL, but the Bengals feel he’s a quality backup to Andy Dalton.
RB – Eddie Lacy (GB) – Methodical acceleration and poor vision doesn’t stop Lacy from punishing defenders and closing out games the right way. Very difficult to tackle in open space, and is one of the best RBs in the NFL on screen passes.
RB – Mark Ingram (NO) – Misperceived and misused as a between-the-tackles grinder, Ingram thrives on zone-blocking plays with the ability to make one-cut downhill. Has made a dramatic improvement as a pass catcher last offseason.
WR – Julio Jones (ATL) – When healthy, I’d argue Jones is the best WR in the world. Sensational combination of speed, hands, and strength.
WR – Amari Cooper (OAK) – Swift, smooth route-runner with savvy veteran polish and stunning quickness out of his breaks. Cooper has lived up to the billing as a rookie, helping turn Oakland’s anemic offense around.
WR – Kevin Norwood (CAR) – A backup for the Panthers who has not seen much playing time as a rookie.
TE – None Active
LT – Andre Smith (CIN) – Career appears to be on a downward spiral, and the RT wouldn’t serve well protecting on the blindside, but he’s the best OT Alabama has to offer.
LG – Evan Mathis (DEN) – Even at age 34, Mathis is without a doubt one of the best run blockers in the NFL.
C – None Active
RG – Chance Warmack (TEN) – James Carpenter (NYJ) would compete for this spot too. Both are decent starters but provide nothing special, despite their former first round draft pick status.
RT – D.J. Fluker (SD) – Fluker is a quality run blocker but struggles mightily in pass protection. He’s been battling injuries all season and can be better.
DE – Wallace Gilberry (CIN) – A situational pass rusher who is not particularly good at any facet, but not terrible either.
DT – Marcel Dareus (BUF) – An elite run stuffer who is now one of the highest paid players in the NFL.
DT – Quinton Dial (SF) – A young rotational linemen. JAG.
DE – Courtney Upshaw (BAL) – Has always been a better edge setter in the running game but is virtually nonexistent as pass rusher.
SLB – Dont’a Hightower (NE) – A two-down thumper who also can blitz well from the LB spot.
MLB – Rolando McClain (DAL) – Has returned to Dallas to make the most of his career. The defense is better when he’s on the field.
WLB – C.J. Mosley (WLB) – Excellent on passing downs, with a bright future as one of Balitmore’s starting ILBs.
CB – Kareem Jackson (HOU) – Not the ideal #1 CB, but a very good #2.
CB – Dre Kirkpatrick (CIN) – The Bengals’ third or fourth CB hasn’t lived up to his prospective draft billing.
NCB – Landon Collins (NYG) – ‘Bama could play CB Dee Milliner here, but he hasn’t played a down in quite some time, so the Tide will have to move up a third safety to match up with slot WRs. Collins is a good hitter who struggles in coverage.
SS – Roman Harper (CAR) – A solid veteran, in-box safety who gets the job done against the run but is otherwise deficient.
FS – Rashad Johnson (ARI) – A pretty good, reliable starter for a good defense.
- Both schools field creepily similar NFL teams. Perhaps this can be expected to some extent based on comparable philosophies, which emphasize certain positions.
- However, it’s hard to ignore the coincidence that neither LSU nor Bama has an active NFL tight end OR center. Notice that’s the only vacant spot for both teams.
- Also, let’s not bypass the obvious similarity: both teams are pretty stacked with quality NFL starters… with the exception of the game’s most important position – the quarterback.
- The absence of a decent NFL-caliber QB should come as a surprise to zero LSU fans.
- Both offensive lines are very talented (outside of center) and would be a big strength if playing against other universities’ all-NFL team.
- It’s odd that neither of these schools have a produced a legitimate NFL pass rusher in quite some time. When you think of LSU and Bama and even the SEC in general, you think of fast defenses who can cover and pressure opposing quarterbacks. But both teams have very little to offer the NFL in the pass rush department, so much so that the BEST pass rusher of the two teams’, KeKe Mingo, is a below average NFL starter at best (albeit, he’s still young and was raw coming out). The other three listed starters for both teams – Gilberry, Upshaw, and Hunter – are all either unproven, playing out of position, or simply not good NFL players. Sadly, you can make the assertion all four starting DEs fit all three of those descriptions.
- The safeties for both teams are stellar. These guys can flat out tackle!
Noticeable advantages for ‘Bama:
1. At running back, I don’t think there’s a big gap between Lacy/Ingram and Jeremy Hill in terms of running ability. However, unlike LSU backs Hill and Blue, the ‘Bama backs are multi-dimensional. They are better blockers and more importantly, can both receive out of the backfield. Lacy and Ingram have made huge strides as pass catchers since entering the league, while Hill and Blue don’t offer that threat.
2. While LSU has a solid linebacking corp, ‘Bama EASILY takes the crown here. You can make the argument that the worst LB out of Alabama’s starters (Mosley, Hightower, and McClain) is better than the best of LSU’s starters (Alexander?). And I’m not even including talented veteran DeMeco Ryans (Alabama alum), who likely wouldn’t even crack ‘Bama’s starting lineup, but possibly could be LSU’s top dog.
Noticeable advantages for LSU:
1. The first thing that stands out to me is the cornerback position. Pat Peterson, who is now one of the league’s best corners and most athletic at the position, can shut down opposing #1 WRs. Delvin Breaux is also a very gifted athlete, and once he works out the kinks and intricacies of the game, he has Peterson-like upside. Mo Claiborne had a rough start to his career, but he’s been decent this season, and surely he’s a better cover corner than safety Landon Collins or Dee Milliner, ‘Bamas best two options to cover the slot. This doesn’t even include the fact that “the Honey Badger” can also play NCB if needed. Overall, the LSU corners are much more equipped to cover Julio Jones (with Pat Peterson), Amari Cooper (with Breaux) and Norwood than ‘Bama is for LSU WRs. Not only would Odell Beckham likely have his way with Kareem Jackson, but perhaps even more potent would be slot WR Jarvis Landry, who would eat Bama up alive based on the projected listed matchups. ‘Bama simply doesn’t have anyone who can cover “Juice.”
2. The Tigers’ defensive line is certainly a strength. While Alabama only has one quality NFL starter (Dareus), LSU has at least three. The problem, of course, is that both teams would lack a true pass rush. That said, LSU would have talent and depth on the interior. DTs Bennie Logan, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Ricky-Jean-Francois comprise a very solid, deep group of backups.
3. LSU wins the trenches in general because the offensive line is another distinct advantage. While ‘Bama does have all-pro OG Evan Mathis, LSU counters with by far the best pass protector on either teams, Andrew Whitworth. LSU also has a guard tandem (Collins, Turner) who are quickly emerging as very strong players in this league. Breaking down the OL by position, it could be said that LSU has a large advantage at the LT, RG, and RT positions while ‘Bama can only claim superior at LG.
Overall, both teams are pretty loaded at all positions except quarterback, tight end, center, defensive end. Despite these weaknesses at two essential spots (QB and DE), LSU and ‘Bama would likely beat almost every other university’s all-NFL team on sheer athletic ability and talent alone, particularly on defense.
Here, I think LSU would control the trenches for the most part with their thick DT rotation and potentially dominating O-line. Additionally, I believe the Tigers’ stout secondary would do a swell job of holding down the Alabama WRs, whereas the Alabama DBs would have a lot of trouble containing LSU’s pass catchers. Quite frankly, ‘Bama’s shaky secondary (consisting of weak CBs and two safeties whose main strength is run support) would be so hard-pressed to cover LSU’s primary trio of WRs that I believe this factor would be the main difference in this game. With McCarron (who is an accurate check down King), Alabama’s best success of moving the ball would be through screens and dump-offs to their versatile running backs, which could create a mismatch with LSU’s subpar linebackers.
While this alumni slug fest would likely be low-scoring and probably pretty ugly for an NFL game – resulting from a combination of erratic QB play and tough defenses – I’d have LSU taking this game:
Former Tigers, 20.
Former Crimson Tide, 10.
Hopefully Saturday’s outcome produces a similar result.
Categories: NFL Feature Stories