Each recruiting service ranks them somewhat differently and many felt Alabama was in sight of the highest ranked class ever which I believe was at USC a number of years ago. Alabama did not land a top Defensive lineman and that possibility evaporated. What Alabama did do was crush a strong push by Ohio State to unseat Alabama as the recruiting chamion on Signing day 2017.
This class by most measures is the highest ranked class Nick Saban has ever signed. This should actually terrify many folks in college football. Their record SEVEN five star players equals the same number from the 2015 class (which is mostly still in the program) but the rest of the class is made up of four star players. As good as Alabama has been in the 2017 and 2018 seasons Alabama will have more five star talent on the field than at any previous time in the program. It’s hard to envision how we will not have more title shots down the road.
Alabama started the day with big news when it was announced that a new entry point called spring semester two was going to allow additional players to get in school in time for spring practice. New quarterback signee Mac Jones announced that he had qualified to take advantage of this. This was huge news for Alabama because they only had two scholarshipped quarterbacks on the roster.
Possibly more than any other team in 2016 Alabama was hit hard by transfers. Defections have not been a big problem under Saban but this year three important players left the program, possibly costing Alabama a national title. I take nothing from Clemson who earened their ring but the game was close enough such that any one player making any one play could have been the difference.
Though it did not effect the 2016 season the quarterback position was completely decimated. Mac Jones being able to participate gives them three scholarship quarterbacks to run spring practice with. It’s a golden opportunity for true freshman Tagovailoa and Jones to play a big roll in spring. In years past true freshman wouldn’t get more than a snap or two. These guys are it for this spring. Mac Jones who is from Jacksonville, Florida is not the zone read type player that Hurts and Tua are but is more of a pocket passer similar to AJ McCarron. He does have mobility however. He recently played a high school all star game and scored a 47 yard touchdown on a zone read run, so he can scoot but will be mostly a pocket quarterback.
Both quarterbacks have a tall order to unseat Hurts for the starting roll in 2017 but Hurts will have to improve significantly if he wants to keep his job in the longer term. Tua in particular has some high level passing skill and if he continues to develope will push Hurts should he continue to struggle getting the ball down field.
It’s worth noting that Saban signed an inordinate number of receivers in this class. After watching Clemson take apart one of his best defenses with precision passing and fantastic receiving skills it’s possible he may have had his fill of ineffective offenses holding him back. I hope that is the case because there is really no excuse for Alabama to struggle as much as they did last season on offense.
In addition to Mac Jones it was learned that running back Brian Robinson from the tuscaloosa area will also be available. Though he is not rated as highly as the other back Najee Harris (#1 rated player in the country) many have suggested not to sleep on Robinson. With BJ Emmons, Bo Scarboro and possibly Harris all recovering from injuries Robinson might have get some valuable reps this spring.
Wide receiver DD Bowie from Morton Mississippi continues our raiding of the magnolia state in wake of the looming NCAA sanctions that Ole Miss has so definately earned and deserves. Bowie may redshirt thanks to two other classmates who will have the spring to get ahead of him.
Speaking of Ole Miss they have been a major player in recruiting circles since Freeze arrived but utterly whiffed this year finishing well below most of the SEC. The bleeding started last year when Alabama landed three recruits that would have in earlier times probably gone to Ole Miss. This year the damage is substantial and the NCAA hasn’t even pronounced their punishment yet. With scholarship restrictions in their future things are not looking good for the Rebels. Their loss is everyone elses gain but no other team is in as good as spot to take advantage as Alabama.
Alabama got a big get on signing day from four star receiver Henry Ruggs from Montgomery. Alabama and Florida State were his final choices and getting him was big. Ruggs is not a big receiver at only 6 feet but he’s an excellent slot type receiver and one of the fastest players in the country. Ruggs absolutely dominated the US Army all star game. Importantly he is also a dangerous return man which Alabama desperately needs. Ruggs is a player who can take the ball to the house on any play that he gets the ball in his hands. He actually had a committment video made with the help of AL.com. The video is worth a look, it was not arrogant bluster as one would expect but rather a tribute to his best friend who tragically died and how he wanted to dedicate his carrer to him.
On the offensive line Alabama brought in three additional players:
Five star tackle Jedrick Wills from Lexington, KY is 6′ 5″ and 316 pounds. He is the number one rated player in Kentucky and the fourth ranked OL nationally. Though he will not get the spring experience he is good enough to compete for an open spot this fall.
Four star tackle Kendall Randolph from Madison, AL is 6′ 5″ 285 lbs is the brother of former Tide basketball star Levi Randolph who is currently playing professionally in Europe. Kendall is likely to redshirt while he continues to fill out his frame but appears to have the raw tools to be a great one.
Three star Center Brandon Hunter from Cullman, AL is 6′ 4″ 290. At first glance Hunter is the runt of the group but Alabama has never had a highly ranked player play and excel at center. The ratings process for lineman tends to start with tackles and work their way in. So if you are a tackle you are going to be inherently ranked higher than you would if you were a fit for guard and even less so if you are a natural center, which are normally smarter, shorter and stronger type players. Some believe Hunter may be asked to grey shirt but as of now he is listed as a 2017 signee
Together with the spring signees Alex Leatherwood and Elliot Baker this is by far the highest rated OL class I have EVER seen. We don’t know how these guys will turn out but if they all meet their potential it’s hard to not see one of those seasons like 2012 in our future, where Alabama was simply able to line up and mash people offensively when they needed to. The beauty of such a thing is that there is no way to counter it.
One critical situation happened on January 24th when the staff learned their long time place kicker commit was going to stay home and play at Arizona. Furtunately they were able to poach Georgia Tech’s verbal commit Joseph Bulovas. Bulovas who is from Mandeville, Louisiana outkicked Alabama’s previously committed kicker in the US Army All-American game. Looking at his film he has a big leg but of course accuracy is what will matter in the end. He will battle former Ole Miss kicker Andy Pappanastos for the starting job in 2017. Even if he loses that battle he will likely be the starter beginning in 2018.
At linebacker Alabama inked three more players:
Vandarius Cowan the fourth rated LB in the country is 6′ 4″ 218 player that Alabama stole from Florida State, with Cown and Dylan Moses Alabama has the 4th and 1st rated linebackers in the country.
Markail Benton from Phoenix City, AL was thought to be headed to Auburn but he never flipped down the stretch. Benton is 6′ 2″ 227 ranked four star and is likely headed for outside linebacker duty.
Chris Allen is likely going to grow into a Jack linebacker, at 6′ 4″ 233 lbs he has room to grow into another monstor Jack. Allen is another in the long line of great players Alabama has been able to steal out of Louisiana.
At defensive back Alabama has two more players who will use the late spring entry date to be available for spring practice, Four star Safety Xavier McKinney from Roswell Georgia and and Four star rated Daniel Wright from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Wright is the brother if former Gator star Major Wright and is from the same high school as Tide All-American Eddie Jackson. Alabama has one entrenched starter Ronnie Harrison but the other spot is in flux. Minkah Fitzpatrick finished out the year but they may want to move him back to Star. Laurence Jones played there some but seems a touch slow in coverage. Veteran Player Deionte Thompson has yet to make an impact at the position.
Which brings us to the thinnest of all positions defensive line. Alabama got a big need with Phidarian Mathis, a 6′ 4″ 280 lb run stuffing defensive lineman from Monroe Louisiana. Alabama was in on Mathis before other schools and though he became a hot commodity he eventually stuck with the school who first made him a priority. Mathis is going to need a red shirt season but looks simlar to departing senior Dalvin Tomlinson.
Getting Mathis became even more important when it was announced that committment Akial Byers was not going to qualify. Alabama was in on one of the top players at the position in the nation Aubrey Solomon chose Michigan over Alabama and Georgia. Though he was not expected to sign with the Tide it would have been a big get for the Tide. So at noon on national signing day Alabama only had Mathis and junior college transfer Isiah Buggs in the fold at a position that was decimated by graduation in the last two years. Alabama waited nervously for in state star defensive end LaBryan Ray from Madison.
Thankfully Alabama didn’t have to wait too long as at 12:17 PM Ray committed to the Tide giving them a quality player at a position of absolute need. There was however one final story of the day. Jarez Parks from Sabastian Florida was a four star defensive end who had twice tried to commit to the Tide but was on the outside looking in but the loss of the Solomon to Michigan left a crack in the door. Parks had five committable offers on the table as a top 100 player could probably go many places but his heart was set on the Tide. He was scheduled to announce at his high school gym in the morning but became emotional and walked out canceling the cerimony. We don’t know if he was planning to commit somewhere and could not bring himself to let go of his dream school. It’s also possible he was going to announce for the Tide and was told there wasn’t room. A few hours later and to the amazement of the entire college football world he spurned all his current offers and agreed to take a grey shirt offer to Alabama. One member of the media responded on twitter:
“Alabama is out here GREYSHIRTING top 100 dudes and why is anybody else even trying today”
To be sure I’ve never seen a grey shirt rated that high but at 6′ 5″ 255 lbs and slated for defensive end Parks was destinted for a red shirt anyway. So if he truely wants to roll with the tide the end game isn’t much different. In fact to me he might be better off in some ways because he can focus entirely on physical training during this year. Grey Shirts however are not bound so at any point in the next year Parks could choose to go elsewhere. Bama fans are already taken with Parks showing so much heart for the Tide so they will be rooting for him to stick with his committment. It’s also very possible that a slot will open up by fall and he will be an official part of this class. The same thing happened in 2013 with Bradley Bozeman who is currently our starting Center. He accepted a grey shirt but days before fall practice began he was told to pack his bags and report to Tuscaloosa.