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NFL Draft 2021: The Patriots-Alabama pipeline is alive and well

Related: Bill Belichick explains what Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins bring to the Patriots defense

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots are the most successful pro football organization of the 21st century. Having won six Super Bowls, the team established itself as a modern dynasty under head coach Bill Belichick.

The Alabama Crimson Tide are the most successful college football organization of the 21st century. Having won six National Championships, the team established itself as a modern dynasty under head coach Nick Saban.

When it comes to dominance and playing good football the Patriots and Alabama are quite alike. However, their connection goes beyond their status compared to the rest of the competition or their six championships each. They are also coached by former colleagues a the Cleveland Browns: Belichick served as head coach for the team between 1991 and 1995, with Saban as his coordinator for the first four of those five seasons.

Ever since then, the two have had a close relationship — one that comes into focus repeatedly but never more than during the pre-draft cycle. Saban’s team repeatedly produces top-tier draftable talent, after all, while the Patriots are among 32 teams regularly dipping into this well to bolster their roster.

Just this year, they have already done so twice despite making just three picks so far.

New England selected quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and one round later traded up to add defensive tackle Christian Barmore with the 38th selection. Both developed into highly-recruited prospects under Saban, and will now get a chance to continue their careers in a similar system.

“Being selected by Bill Belichick and especially having learned from a guy like Coach Saban, it’s a blessing being a part of both of them, playing for both of them. It’s really a dream come true,” said Barmore during a media conference call shortly after getting drafted by the Patriots.

The defender, who became the eighth Alabama product to get selected in this year’s draft, is just the latest member of the Saban player family to find his way to New England under Belichick. Including him and Jones, the Patriots have added 13 of Saban’s former players since the year 2000:

  • Alabama (8): DT Brandon Deaderick (2010), LB Dont’a Hightower (2012), LB Xzavier Dickson (2015), CB Cyrus Jones (2016), RB Damien Harris (2019), LB Anfernee Jennings (2020), QB Mac Jones (2021), DT Christian Barmore (2021)
  • LSU (3): DE Jarvis Green (2002), QB Rohan Davey (2002), DE Marqise Hill (2004)
  • Michigan State (2): G Greg Randall (2000), LB T.J. Turner (2002)

“Certainly Alabama always has a very high level of football. Those players are well-coached. They’re well-conditioned. They’re well-trained. And so are most of the other teams in the SEC that they play against or in other conferences they play against them in the playoffs. So that’s great competition to evaluate” said Belichick following the Barmore selection on Friday.

While Saban cannot impact the quality of opposition across the SEC, he has routinely shaped his team into one of the best and technically sound in the country. That is a testament to his recruiting skill, but also his ability to develop and recognize talent — an ability Belichick obviously respects and repeatedly uses as the basis of his own player evaluation in regards to the draft.

“Coach Saban’s always very helpful in his evaluations. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Nick professionally, but also personally, and so we have always had great conversations about his experiences with the players and he does a good job of projecting what they would be like on this level because he’s been on this level and knows the differences and knows the demands that are different from what they are at Alabama,” he said.

“Nick’s great. He’s a great resource and nobody knows more football than Nick does on any level. So whether it’s evaluating players or scheming or anything else, game planning, there’s nobody I enjoy talking to more than Nick.”

The relationship between Belichick and Saban has also led to a pipeline of talent between Tuscaloosa and Foxboro — one that is alive and well as this week’s moves so far have shown. Now, all that is left to do for the Patriots is to take what Jones and Barmore has learned under Saban to develop them into the franchise cornerstones they were drafted to become.