Alabama to Patriots draft picks history: How Bill Belichick, Nick Saban's friendship created an NFL pipeline

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Over the last 15 years, Alabama has become one of the most popular college football programs in the country. Nick Saban has turned the Crimson Tide into a dynasty, having won six national championships during that span and produced countless top-10 picks for the NFL.

Many teams have enjoyed taking Alabama players in the NFL Draft during that time, but few have done it as frequently as the Patriots.

The Patriots have made selecting players out of Alabama a priority in recent seasons. They have taken four players from the school in the last three drafts, and three have turned into either starters or rotational players.

Indeed, the Patriots have had success recently in their Alabama investments. However, their devotion to the school isn't as much about the helmet as it is the bond between Saban and Bill Belichick. The two coaches have a longstanding friendship that has played a part in facilitating discussions about potential Alabama draft picks.

Here's how Belichick and Saban became friends as well as the Patriots' history of drafting Saban-coached players over the years.

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Bill Belichick and Nick Saban's friendship

Belichick and Saban have a friendship that dates back to the 1980s when Saban coached with Belichick's father at Navy. They became friends at the time and have become close confidants over the years.

Belichick helped Saban break into the NFL ranks. Saban worked under him as defensive coordinator when the two were with the Browns. That helped springboard Saban to the head coaching job at Michigan State. From there, Saban went to LSU, became divisional rivals with Belichick for two years with the Dolphins and then eventually landed at Alabama.

During that time, the two have stayed in touch. While Saban provides Belichick information about key prospects from each of his college programs, their conversations aren't always about football alone.

Saban detailed his "great" relationship with Belichick at Alabama's Pro Day. 

“I mean, you always like to renew relationships," Saban told Jim McBride of The Boston Globe. "We talk on the phone. Every now and then we’ll do something together, like play golf or something, but this is really fun.

"Bill got here yesterday and got to watch practice. We got to spend time together this morning, catching up. Not only on football-related stuff and players, but also family and stuff like that. I think sometimes people that are our fans don’t look at us like we even have that part."

Belichick didn't say as much about his and Saban's friendship, but he was extremely complimentary of the Alabama coach's work preparing players for the NFL.

"Nick does a great job. When his players leave here, they're ready to go [at the NFL level]," Belichick told McBride.

"There's always good players here. They do a great job. These guys are going to play somewhere, whether we draft them or not," he said. "So, it's good to get to know them."

They do a great job. I like watching film with the players and seeing some of the things schematically that they're doing.

Based on those comments, it's easy to understand why Belichick likes players from Alabama. That's part of the reason why he has frequently selected them in recent drafts.

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How many Alabama players have the Patriots drafted under Bill Belichick?

The Patriots have drafted seven players out of Alabama during Bill Belichick's time with the team. All have been selected during the Nick Saban era at Alabama, which began in 2007.

The first player that Belichick's Patriots selected was defensive end Brandon Deaderick. He was a seventh-round pick during the 2010 NFL Draft. More recently, the team selected Mac Jones and Christian Barmore with the team's first two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Patriots have taken at least one player from Alabama in each of the last three drafts. They have selected four in total, and all have heard their names called with the 87th pick in the draft or earlier.

YearPlayerPositionRoundOverall pick
2021Mac JonesQB115
2021Christian BarmoreDL238
2020Anfernee JenningsLB387
2019Damien HarrisRB387
2016Cyrus JonesCB260
2015Xzavier DicksonLB7253
2012Dont'a HightowerLB125
2010Brandon DeaderickDE7247

Other Nick Saban-coached players the Patriots have drafted

The Patriots' connection to Nick Saban isn't limited to Alabama. They also selected some of his players during Belichick's early days with the team. this was when Saban was still at Michigan State and later LSU.

Overall, four Saban-coached players that didn't go to Alabama were drafted by the Patriots. They are as follows:

YearPlayerPositionRoundOverall pick
2004Marquise HillDE263
2002Rohan DaveyQB4117
2002Jarvis GreenDE4126
2000Greg RandallOT4127

Hill, Davey and Green all played for Saban at LSU while Randall played for him at Michigan.

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Alabama players the Patriots could target in 2022 NFL Draft

Per usual, there are plenty of Alabama prospects in play for New England during the 2022 NFL Draft. Here's a run-down of the handful of players the Patriots might consider selection.

WR Jameson Williams

The Patriots added DeVante Parker to their receiver room during the 2022 offseason, but they could still add another speed threat. Nelson Agholor had a mixed first year in New England and is in the final year of his contract with the team. If Williams makes it to the 21st pick, Belichick may pounce on him. After all, he could have been a top-10 pick if not for a torn ACL he suffered during the College Football Playoff.

LB Christian Harris

Do-it-all linebacker Dont'a Hightower is currently an unsigned free agent, and the Patriots also released Kyle Van Noy. As such, they need help at linebacker. Harris ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Combine and had 159 tackles and 10 sacks during his final two years at Alabama combined. Belichick would find a way to use him easily.

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WR John Metchie III

If the Patriots don't want to look at Williams in Round 1, they can way until Day 2 to target Metchie. He had 96 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns before tearing his ACL during his final season at Alabama. He's a steady playmaker and while he's not as dynamic as Williams, he can still certainly be an impactful starter at the NFL level.

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DT Phidarian Mathis

Mathis probably won't be a nine-sack player on the interior line at the NFL level, but he still gets good pop at the line of scrimmage and is a solid athlete. The Patriots had success with Christian Barmore. Perhaps they could search for more with Mathis.

CB Jalyn Armour-Davis

The Patriots let J.C. Jackson walk in free agency. They need a replacement for him. Armour-Davis was just a one-year starter for the Crimson Tide but he has the size (6-1) and raw tools needed to develop into a starter. He had three interceptions last year, too.

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CB Josh Jobe

Jobe is the opposite of Armour-Davis, in some ways. He is a three-year starter who once was considered an early-round prospect but has probably slipped into the early Day 3 range after a disappointing senior season. Still, Jobe has experience and is 6-1, so Belichick's defensive staff may be able to help him improve.

WR Slade Bolden

It seems like every football fan has joked about Bolden being a perfect fit for the Patriots. He's only 5-11, 193 pounds and runs just a 4.66 40-yard dash, so he will likely be limited to the slot at the NFL level. That said, the Patriots have developed many solid slot receivers during Belichick's years there, so perhaps they'll see some potential with him. He looks more like a backup, but his solid hands and value as a punt returner should put him on the Patriots' radar late on Day 3.

Author(s)
Jacob Camenker is a digital content producer for Sporting News. He began at Sporting News as a fantasy football intern and previously worked for NBC Sports Boston