By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Feb. 3, 2012
If anyone has ever played EA Sports’ “NCAA Football” video game in “freshman” mode, he or she has a good understanding of college football in the Nick Saban era.
Alabama is making things look almost too easy. The Crimson Tide walked away with its second consecutive NARCAS Recruiting National Championship. Unlike last year, when Georgia and Auburn were hot on Alabama’s tail, no other SEC team threatened the Crimson Tide. That fact should breed concern among fans of other SEC schools who are growing desperate for someone to derail the crimson juggernaut.
Alabama signed the nation’s top defensive line class, top linebacker class and top wide receiver class. The Crimson Tide added two top-flight running backs to an already deep unit, got NARCAS’ top-ranked player overall and top safety Landon Collins, and signed a kicker most observers describe as game-ready. Alabama also added quarterback Alec Morris and picked up two offensive line prospects, but it was the Tide’s defensive signings that attracted the most attention.
The Crimson Tide signed 9 players ranked a perfect 10.0 on the NARCAS rating scale, one more than a year ago. Alabama’s class carried an overall ranking of 9.86, one of the highest ever recorded in NARCAS’ 15-year span of tracking recruiting.
Here’s a look at each player who signed, and their ranking.
Name POS Ht Wt 40time Rating Hometown/school
1. Landon Collins S 6-1 210 4.4 10.0 Geismar, La./Dutchtown
There is little doubt that Collins was the best safety available nationally this year. Some believe he was the best prospect available overall. Collins certainly did nothing to dissuade such an opinion with his play in postseason all-star games. He’s a hard hitter, an aggressive coverage safety and a football-smart field general who will compete for time immediately upon his arrival in Tuscaloosa. He is expected to qualify.
2. Eddie Williams WR 6-4 210 4.5 10.0 Panama City Beach, Fla./Arnold
Williams was targeted for safety until Collins gave his pledge in early January. Now, Williams is expected to start out on offense, where he will be one of the few receivers with height on the Tide roster. Williams is a lithe athlete with good hands, but will need some seasoning at the receiver position. With three seniors gone from the Tide wideout corps and another two players perhaps not returning, the path to playing time is clear for all Alabama’s freshmen. Williams is expected to qualify.
3. Tyler Hayes LB 6-2 220 4.5 10.0 Thomasville/Thomasville
Hayes committed early to Alabama and like many early commitments, was quite overlooked by the media down the stretch. Those that paid attention saw an athletic linebacker who hits hard, is rarely out of position and learns quickly. With Alabama’s strongside linebacker position open heading into the spring, Hayes has a good chance to earn playing time once he joins the team in the fall. He is expected to qualify.
4. Travell Dixon CB 6-2 200 4.4 10.0 Miami, Fla./Eastern Arizona CC
Dixon is a rare combination of height, size and speed at the cornerback position. The early defection of Dre Kirkpatrick made it imperative that Alabama find a starter to go with Dee Milliner, and Dixon fits the bill. His size gives him the ability to support the run. The classic case of a decent prep prospect who blossomed while in junior college, Dixon should be on the field early in Alabama’s 2012 season. He is already enrolled in classes.
5. Cyrus Jones WR 5-10 180 4.4 10.0 Baltimore, Md./Gilman
Jones has top-echelon speed and could play defense if necessary. He’s also an accomplished kick returner. Like most of Alabama’s other signees who played in postseason all-star contests, Jones excelled against tougher competition and stands an excellent chance of playing as a freshman. He is expected to qualify.
6. Geno Smith CB 5-11 170 4.4 10.0 Atlanta, Ga./St. Pius X
Smith endeared himself to Alabama fans not only with his commitment, but his subsequent Twitter postings of support for Tide recruiting efforts. As a player, Smith lacks not for confidence, and has the kind of speed necessary to keep up with SEC receivers. With the Crimson Tide getting two JUCO cornerbacks in this class, Smith’s path to playing time might be somewhat blocked, but he still has a good chance of playing as a freshman. He is expected to qualify.
7. Brandon Greene OL 6-7 300 5.0 10.0 Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove
Few prospects raised his stock as much as Greene did down the stretch. Greene was long considered a solid tackle prospect, but as his high school season ended and the all-star game circuit got into swing, it became apparent just how good he could be in college. Greene has good footwork and moves fluidly, but can also hammer on a defensive end while run blocking should the situation call for it. He’ll almost certainly redshirt in 2012, but figures to compete for playing time early in his career. He is expected to qualify.
8. Dalvin Tomlinson DL 6-3 275 5.0 10.0 McDonough, Ga./Henry County
Tomlinson waited until National Signing Day to announce his choice, and Alabama fans certainly rejoiced when he made it. Tomlinson has Marcel Dareus written all over him, an active, strong lineman with a good work ethic. Although not talked about much in the final weeks, getting Tomlinson Wednesday was a coup for Saban. He is expected to qualify.
9. Darren Lake DL 6-3 330 4.9 10.0 York/Sumter County
Few people knew who Lake was until Alabama offered him a scholarship based on a summer camp performance. Being from tiny York, Ala., didn’t help. On film, Lake is monstrous. He has a rare combination of massive size and a good first step. He could be the ideal noseguard in Alabama’s 3-4 over/under scheme. Qualifying may be close.
10. Amari Cooper WR 6-1 180 4.4 9.9 Miami, Fla./Northwestern
Cooper was yet another player whose stock went shooting up after all-star game performances. His work in the UnderArmour All-Star Game elevated his profile considerably. Cooper doesn’t have outstanding size, but he has the frame to add some weight and has good football speed. He also runs precision routes and has excellent hands. He is already enrolled at Alabama and will go through spring practice, giving up a jump on his competition heading into the fall. Cooper could be the hidden star of the class.
11. Reggie Ragland LB 6-4 240 4.6 9.9 Madison/Bob Jones
Ragland is a versatile linebacker who can play either inside or outside. He has good coverage skills but can also rush the passer. Ragland might be able to find a home in 2012 at strongside linebacker for the Tide as a result of his flexibility. He’s another player whose all-star game performances started a lot of conversations. He is expected to qualify.
12. Chris Black WR 5-11 170 4.4 9.9 Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast
Like Cyrus Jones, Black could play multiple positions and figures to be a terror on special teams. He has explosive speed and is a maestro with the football in his hands. He’ll need some time to sharpen his route-running skills, but he’ll have the advantage of a spring practice to do it. Black is already enrolled at Alabama.
13. Ryan Anderson DE 6-2 245 4.6 9.9 Daphne/Daphne
Anderson’s stock exploded from the midpoint of the high school season on. He is the perfect defensive end in a four-down look, but he might play Jack linebacker for Alabama. Wherever he lands, he’ll be a threat to earn early playing time. Anderson has already enrolled in classes and will be a part of the team for spring practice.
14. Kenyan Drake RB 6-1 190 4.4 9.9 Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove
With all the flap over T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake was overlooked down the stretch. He reminds some people of former Alabama great Bobby Humphrey, others of former LSU receiver Josh Reed. Indeed, he can play either position, and his ability to flex between the two opens up some possibilities in Alabama’s offense. Drake would have been the crown jewel of several SEC signing classes. He is expected to qualify.
15. Korren Kirven DL 6-4 270 4.9 9.9 Lynchburg, Va./Brookville
Kirven was a Signing Day surprise of sorts, as Alabama was able to wrest him away from Virginia Tech. Kirven is younger than most prospects in this class, meaning he’s likely still growing into his body. He projects as an ideal tackle/end in a 3-4 set and already has a nice stable of pass-rush moves at his disposal. He is expected to qualify.
16. Denzel Devall LB 6-2 240 4.6 9.9 Bastrop, La./Bastrop
In addition to getting the best overall player in Louisiana, Saban also landed Louisiana’s best linebacker. Devall looks straight out of central casting in terms of being an inside linebacker in the Tide’s 3-4 set. He is fireplug-strong and hits like a brick. He is expected to qualify.
17. T.J. Yeldon RB 6-2 215 4.5 9.8 Daphne/Daphne
Yeldon is an intriguing running back prospect, and not just because Alabama stole him off Auburn’s commitment list in December. He is one of the few backs in this class with the frame to accept more weight while still being able to keep his speed and cutting ability. Yeldon will need some polishing before becoming Alabama’s featured back, most notably his tendency to bounce plays outside rather than turn them up. This became an issue when Yeldon got to all-star games after the season and began playing against better competition. Few prospects have his potential, though. He is enrolled in classes and will go through spring practice with the team.
18. Kurt Frietag TE 6-3 240 4.7 9.8 Buford, Ga./Buford
Frietag was a relatively late commitment to Alabama, but a most welcome one, as he projects to the H-back position, a position of extreme need in the Alabama offense. With Brad Smelley gone and only pure tight ends on the existing roster, Frietag has as good a chance as anyone on this list to land early playing time. He could also play defensive end if necessary, but Alabama has plenty of numbers there. He is expected to qualify.
19. Deion Belue CB 6-0 165 4.4 9.8 Tuscumbia/NE Mississippi CC
Belue was signed out of Deshler High School by Alabama two years ago, and returns to be a member of this class. He was one of the top press corners available from the JUCO ranks, but it’s his prowess on special teams and in the return game that really elevated his status. Belue figures to play early as a result, and is hungry to get to Tuscaloosa after the two-year delay. He is already on the roster and will go through spring practice.
20. Alphonse Taylor DL 6-5 340 5.3 9.8 Mobile/Davidson
There is some disagreement as to what Taylor’s best position is. He is approximately the size Terrence Cody was at his slimmest, but many services evaluated Taylor as an offensive tackle. Alabama seems most likely to use him in the middle of its defense, which was the pitch the Tide used to convince Taylor to flip his commitment late last fall. Either way, he is most likely to redshirt and acclimate himself to college, but one thing is certain: He has enrolled in classes and will get a jump start courtesy of spring practice.
21. Dakota Ball DL 6-2 290 5.0 9.7 Lindale, Ga./Pepperell
Ball had a solid senior campaign and is a true nosetackle. But it was at the UnderArmour game where most people discovered him. Ball outplayed the highly-touted Eddie Goldman that night and drew double teams from the outset. He was disruptive when going one -on-one against an opponent, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the recently-graduated Nick Gentry. He is expected to qualify.
22. Alec Morris QB 6-3 230 4.7 9.7 Allen, Texas/Allen
After Alabama missed on Gunner Kiel, the Tide turned its attention to Morris, a strong-armed pocket passer. Alabama later missed on Jameis Winston – and had a second chance at Kiel, opting to pass on him the second time around – leaving Morris as the lone quarterback in the class. Morris’ senior season was a successful one, and he proved to be more athletic than perhaps initially thought. Alabama hasn’t had a QB with his build since Freddie Kitchens, although Morris isn’t quite the tank that Kitchens was. He’ll almost certainly redshirt in 2012, but fans expecting another Greg McElroy aren’t familiar with Morris’ skill set. He is expected to qualify.
23. Dillon Lee LB 6-4 240 4.6 9.6 Buford, Ga./Buford
Lee was an early commitment to Alabama and figures to be able to play either inside or outside. He is more athletic than it would appear at first glance, and already has good size. He could grow into the Jack position down the road. Lee is enrolled at Alabama and will participate in spring practice.
24. Brandon Hill OL 6-7 350 5.5 9.6 Collierville, Tenn./St. George
Few prospects found themselves the subject of such divergent opinions as Hill, who is considered too big by some and a top-line prospect by others. He projects as a guard on the college level, but needs to work on his quickness and footspeed. It will likely be a year or two before he makes an impact. Qualifying information has been difficult to come by.
25. Caleb Gulledge DL 6-5 275 5.0 9.5 Prattville/Prattville
Like Hill, Gulledge is the subject of much debate over his eventual position. He played defense for much of his prep career before trying offensive line late in his career. He may be a bit slight for offensive line at Alabama, likely making him a strongside defensive end. Alabama has had good luck with Prattville linemen in recent past. He is expected to qualify.
26. Adam Griffith PK 5-9 165 *.* *.* Calhoun, Ga./Calhoun
While NARCAS does not rank kickers, Griffith was a consensus top-of-category pick by most analysts. Kickers are famously difficult to project at the college level, and Alabama has struggled under Saban to identify a great one. Griffith does not lack for leg strength, and was both accurate and cool under fire as a high school senior. He is expected to qualify.