TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's quest to repeat as national champions will have to go on without a handful of key underclassmen who have opted to forgo their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Star wideout Calvin Ridley already decided to turn pro official on Wednesday, posting a note to his social media accounts. Coach Nick Saban confirmed that defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne would enter the draft as well.
"From a business standpoint, this is a good decision for them," Saban said.
He added: "I can't say enough about the contribution these guys have made. It seems like yesterday we were in their houses recruiting them."
The good news for Saban and the coaching staff is that leading rusher Damien Harris opted to come back despite posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
The receiving corps will be hurt by the loss of Ridley, who is one of only two players in program history to post 200 career receptions. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has him as the No. 1 draft-eligible wideout.
No position will be affected more than defensive back, though, where Fitzpatrick and Harrison are the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked safeties available in the draft, respectively, according to Kiper.
Ranked No. 3 by Kiper in his draft-eligible position rankings, Payne had six tackles against Georgia in the title game and a key interception and a touchdown reception against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.