By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
March 5, 2014
Over the last four years, TideFans.com and NARCAS have taken a look back at old recruiting rankings, partially as a self-check, but also to see how players had progressed since arriving on campus.
The mark of a “great” class, five years after the fact, is generally considered appropriate when between 55 to 60 percent of the class becomes a front-line contributor at some point over the course of their career (“front-line contributor” defined as being a starter, or a second-teamer with a key role).
Last year’s re-evaluation took a look at the 2008 class, Nick Saban’s first full class at Alabama and considered, at the time, to be one of the best classes on paper ever at The University of Alabama. The 2008 class had 17 of 32 players (53.1%) make a significant impact. Given that the 2008 class is widely considered to be the class that set Alabama on its way to a dynasty, the fact the class had such a low impact percentage is practically shocking.
In the 2009 class, Alabama signed a total of 29 players, and 16 of those 29 (55.2%) made a significant impact over their careers. If DE Anthony Orr returns for his senior season, he has a chance to up the tally to 17 of 29. A total of 10 players in the class received a ranking of a perfect 10.0 on the NARCAS scale. Perhaps most impressive of all, 9 of the top 10 players in the class made a significant contribution, with only one true bust among that group – and that player, Rod Woodson, went on to have great success at another school.
Here’s a breakdown of the individual players represented in the 2009 class. Players are listed in the order in which they were ranked by TideFans/NARCAS on National Signing Day in 2009.
1. D.J. Fluker, OL (NARCAS ranking: 10.0)
Fluker redshirted in 2009 before becoming a dominant force on the Alabama offensive line. He left Tuscaloosa with a year’s eligibility remaining and was drafted in the first round by the San Diego Chargers, where he put together a solid rookie campaign in 2013. Fluker was not only beloved for his raw ability, but also for his leadership qualities. Alabama might not have come back to beat Georgia in the 2013 SEC Championship Game were it not for Fluker’s emotion and presence.
2. Trent Richardson, RB (10.0)
Richardson immediately took the backup running back job behind Mark Ingram in 2009 and watched from the bench as his teammate won the Heisman Trophy. Many thought Richardson would win one himself over the next couple of years, but it didn’t happen. Richardson’s powerful running style made him a lock for the NFL’s first round, and the Cleveland Browns took him with their top pick in the 2012 draft. But despite lofty predictions for Richardson in the NFL, he has yet to live up to his potential. He is now with the Indianapolis Colts, and his greatest contribution to the pro game so far was to become the poster boy for a rule change making the act of ducking the helmet by a running back a flag-able offense.
3. Nico Johnson, LB (10.0)
Johnson was seen as the ideal middle linebacker prospect out of high school, but he never was able to completely take a starting position for himself. The presence of C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest conspired to put Johnson in a platoon situation in the middle, taken off the field most of the time in passing situations. But it didn’t stop Johnson from being an important contributor to the team, nor did it stop him from being drafted. The Kansas City Chiefs took him in the fourth round, and Johnson played in 6 games, starting one, during the 2013 season.
4. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (10.0)
Kirkpatrick had the most “NFL-ready” body of any Nick Saban signee at cornerback out of high school, long and lean with excellent speed. It took him a year to break into the limelight in Tuscaloosa, but once he did, he was virtually impenetrable versus opposing quarterbacks. Not only did Kirkpatrick have the look of an NFL cornerback early on, he also had the attitude and swagger, sometimes to his detriment. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in 2012, but Kirkpatrick failed to crack the playing rotation and stayed mostly to special teams. He got more playing time as the 2013 season rolled along, finishing the season in strong fashion by intercepting Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens twice, once for a touchdown, in the regular-season finale.
5. Tana Patrick (10.0)
Patrick was a prospect at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and even tight end out of North Jackson High School. But his career never really took off in Tuscaloosa. A lack of lateral flexibility and early struggles in picking up the game plan conspired to relegate him to special teams duty, but Patrick rose to second-team level his last two seasons and saved his most memorable career play for the big stage. Patrick forced a goal-line fumble from LSU fullback J.C. Copeland early in the 2013 LSU game, a play that sucked the air out of the Tigers and set the tone for an Alabama win. Patrick was highly regarded by his teammates and probably would be a starter in 2014 had he not run out of eligibility.
6. Rod Woodson, S (10.0)
Woodson had a reputation as a fearless hitter, and early in his Alabama career he looked to be on the fast track to playing time in the secondary. Woodson saw time on special teams and in the secondary in his true freshman season, but his Alabama playing career came to an abrupt halt in the spring when he surprisingly transferred to North Alabama. Alabama never announced a specific reason for the move, and Woodson’s departure turned out to be a major issue later in the year, as Alabama ran out of healthy safeties down the stretch; Mark Barron’s injury against Auburn was the single biggest factor in the Tigers’ comeback win over Alabama that year. Woodson put together a fine career at UNA, being named first-team all-GSC as a senior.
7. James Carpenter, OL (10.0)
Carpenter was signed to replace Andre Smith at left tackle, and while most were hoping for Carpenter to be a solid replacement, few believed he could approximate Smith’s dominating level of play. While Carpenter wasn’t the athletic freak Smith was, he proved to be every bit as effective. He anchored the position for two years, then was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Carpenter moved to guard early in his Seattle career and has battled injuries at the pro level, but still played a key role in the Seahawks’ 2013-2014 playoff run and Super Bowl victory.
8. Kerry Murphy, DL (10.0)
It seems like Murphy had been a part of a half-dozen recruiting classes. Alabama recruited him while first he was at Hoover, then at Hargrave Military Academy. While that was going on, Murphy was bouncing between positions, playing mostly defensive line in high school and offensive tackle at Hargrave. Murphy nailed down a starting defensive tackle job towards the end of the 2010 season and was slated to start there in 2011 as well, but chronic knee issues ended his career prematurely. It’s a shame, too, considering the raw talent Murphy displayed earlier in his career.
9. A.J. McCarron, QB (10.0)
There’s really nothing that needs to be said here; McCarron leaves Alabama as arguably the best quarterback in school history. He’s certainly the most decorated QB in school history, being part of three national championship teams. He’s expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, and he put together a solid performance at the 2014 NFL Combine. If only all former prep star quarterbacks could be so successful.
10. Chance Warmack, OL (10.0)
Warmack was criminally underrated by most recruiting services; the 10.0 ranking from NARCAS was his highest. Warmack was a key contributor as a freshman, built his career as a three-year starter at left guard, then ended it by being drafted in the top 10 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. Warmack’s first season with the Tennessee Titans showed promise, and Alabama also suffered from his loss, never fully replacing his production.
11. Ed Stinson, DL (9.9)
Stinson came to Alabama as a Jack linebacker originally, and was even used once (unsuccessfully) as a receiver on a fake field goal attempt. By the time his senior season was over, Stinson had put on more than 60 pounds and developed into a defensive tackle. While never a flashy player, Stinson’s ability to stop the run and provide leadership for his teammates made him one of the most important pieces in the Crimson Tide defense his last two years on campus. It’s interesting that a guy signed for his pass-rushing ability would grow up to become a run-stuffing defensive tackle.
12. Kenny Bell, WR (9.9)
Bell was a Signing Day surprise, as most analysts had predicted him to land at LSU. Bell was signed as a pure speed receiver, and for most of his Alabama career, he delivered on that promise. But Bell also developed into a reliable slot receiver who could do more than break out on a deep fly pattern. Unfortunately for Bell, his slight frame made him somewhat injury-prone during his career, but he was still able to become a major mainstay in the Tide’s wideout rotation for the majority of his career.
13. Quinton Dial, DL (9.9)
Dial initially failed to qualify at Alabama and re-signed with the Tide two years later. He was expected to be a force at defensive tackle, but never bulked up like many observers expected him to and made his greatest impact as an end/tackle combo player. Dial’s most memorable play at Alabama was a hit on Georgia QB Aaron Murray following an interception in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, a hit that may have played some role in the development of the targeting rule. Somewhat surprisingly, Dial was drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFL Draft, despite never being a full-time starter at Alabama.
14. Chris Bonds, DE (9.9)
Bonds was on his way to becoming one of the most sought-after prospects in the 2009 class prior to suffering a major knee injury during his senior season. The injury affected his quickness, which hurt his chances of being a Jack linebacker in Alabama’s scheme, and he was never able to keep enough weight on to make a contribution as a down lineman. Bonds played sparingly as a redshirt junior in 2012, but gave up football before the start of his senior season.
15. Michael Bowman, WR (9.9)
Alabama has been consistently on the lookout for big wide receivers during Nick Saban’s tenure, and the Crimson Tide signed Bowman hoping he would be a complement to Julio Jones. But Bowman never could get out of the coaches’ doghouse. Whether for disciplinary or academic reasons, Bowman stayed buried down the depth chart, getting minimal playing time early in his career. He eventually moved to tight end and appeared to be in the mix for playing time at H-back heading into the 2012 season before being suspended again. He attempted to transfer to Alabama State but ran into academic trouble once more during the transfer process.
16. William Ming, DE (9.9)
Ming was signed after a hotly-contested battle with Tennessee, but his college career never got off the ground. Ming had a few health setbacks early on, but as the seasons went along, he was simply passed by more talented players. He passed up his senior season, leaving the team after the 2012 season concluded, and no longer pursued football.
17. Kevin Norwood, WR (9.9)
Norwood was one of several receivers Alabama targeted from the state of Mississippi in the 2009 class, but ultimately was the only one the Crimson Tide hooked. After redshirting in 2009 and playing only sparingly in 2010 – his most memorable moment was a drop of an A.J. McCarron pass on Alabama’s final drive in a losing effort against Auburn – Norwood joined the regular rotation in 2011. His coming-out party was undeniably the BCS Championship Game in January 2012, where Norwood abused LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in a performance that foretold of more big-game heroics to come. Norwood eventually became a team leader and leaves Alabama as one of the most popular players in school history.
18. Eddie Lacy, RB (9.8)
After Lacy signed with Alabama, some team members suggested he’d eventually be the best running back out of the trio of Lacy, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. As it turns out, those predictions might just be correct. Lacy battled injuries throughout his Alabama tenure – particularly one relating to turf toe that practically became a running joke after awhile. But his performance was no joke, and he ended his Alabama career in style by knocking out Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS Championship Game. From there, it was on to the Green Bay Packers as a second-round draft pick, where Lacy won Rookie of the Year honors for the 2013-2014 NFL season.
19. Brandon Moore, DL (9.8)
Moore signed with Alabama and played sparingly in 2009 before opting to transfer to a junior college. At the time, Alabama was considering playing Moore as an offensive linemen, which may have spurred on his desire to leave Tuscaloosa. After two years at East Mississippi Community College, Moore signed with Texas and worked under at-the-time-former Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis. Despite having a ho-hum junior season in Austin, he then declared for the NFL Draft a year early, bypassing his senior season, and went undrafted. The San Diego Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent, where he eventually made the team’s practice squad. He most recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and made a member of the Chiefs’ practice squad.
20. Darrington Sentimore, DE (9.7)
Sentimore’s collegiate career was not the most illustrious, but was certainly one of the most entertaining. He captured early playing time at Alabama as a rush end mainly because he played like he had rabies. The high-energy Sentimore created a terrific amount of trouble for offensive tackles, who often could neither contain him nor stand up to his quickness. But Sentimore was just as volatile off the field as he was on it, and eventually ran afoul of team rules often enough as to get processed out of the Alabama program. He wound up in JUCO, then transferred to Tennessee, where he was most notable for ranting about his Alabama days and providing the Crimson Tide with bulletin board material. Sentimore went undrafted after the 2013 season.
21. Jonathan Atchison, LB (9.7)
Alabama got Atchison’s signature after a protracted battle with Auburn. Unfortunately for Atchison, a major elbow injury, sustained early in his career, would prove to be his undoing. Atchison lost the better part of two complete seasons attempting to rehabilitate it, and the time spent away from the field slowed his development and allowed other players to bypass him. Atchison was expected to compete for a starting job in 2013, but the long-term effects of the injury seemed to be too much to overcome. He left the program prior to the 2013 season.
22. Anthony Steen, OL (9.7)
Steen was viewed as a country tough guy coming out of high school in Mississippi, and he lived up to every bit of that reputation over his Alabama career. Steen got too much criticism than was warranted after being forced into a critical situation during the 2010 Auburn loss, and it probably followed him all the way to the end of his Alabama career. The reality is that, particularly during his last two seasons, he was just as important to the performance of the Alabama offensive line as the more highly recruited players that played alongside him. Steen was invited to the NFL Combine in February and is expected to be drafted in the middle rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft.
23. Kendall Kelly, WR (9.7)
Kelly, for a time, was projected to be one of the top wide receiver recruits in the country. But injuries during his senior year in high school knocked the shine off his reputation somewhat. Then, he developed a slew of health problems relating to overheating and never made an impact on the field. Coaches tried him at safety and wide receiver, but his health never allowed him to pursue either position. He gave up football early in his Alabama career.
24. Mike Marrow, FB (9.7)
Marrow was signed from the state of Ohio, a prospect at both linebacker and fullback. But he quickly got homesick and transferred to Eastern Michigan after his true freshman season at the Capstone. A year later, Morrow transferred again, this time to Nebraska. He had 10 carries in 2012 and was set to be part of the battle for the starting fullback job in 2013, but appeared to leave the program prior to the start of the season.
25. Petey Smith, LB (9.7)
Smith, whose brother Eric was a fullback at Auburn, had the look of the plugger Alabama needed in the middle of its defense. Eric Smith had run into off-field trouble while at Auburn; unfortunately, the younger Smith would also come to disagree with his coaches. Smith, who cited arguments over position and playing time with Nick Saban, opted to transfer to Holmes Community College in Mississippi after his true freshman season. But Smith did not appear on the college’s roster that fall, and his whereabouts are now unknown.
26. Jermaine Preyear, RB (9.6)
Preyear stayed in Tuscaloosa for one season before transferring to Alabama State prior to the 2010 campaign. At Alabama, Preyear had run into minor injuries and was considering a move to fullback, but his ultimate separation from the Crimson Tide program was the subject of a Wall Street Journal story about the issue of oversigning. According to Nick Saban, Preyear had run afoul of team rules; Preyear denied Saban’s account and was backed up in his version of the story by Alabama State head coach Reggie Barlow, who claimed Preyear came to ASU with a clean slate. He eventually left the ASU program early as well.
27. Kellen Williams, OL (9.5)
Williams had been injured during his senior season in high school and briefly considered taking a grayshirt offer, but eventually decided to come in with the rest of the class in the fall of 2009. For the first three years, Williams was mostly a practice contributor and little else, but as a junior and senior, he became a more important facet of the Tide offense. In 2013, Williams began the year rotating with Arie Kouandjio at left guard before settling in as Alabama’s de facto sixth starter on the offensive line, able to play guard, tackle and center. But as the season wore on, Williams was passed by both Leon Brown and Grant Hill. He continued to play with the second unit, however, and his versatility was important to Alabama’s success.
28. Anthony Orr, DE (9.4)
Orr eventually grayshirted before coming into the program in the spring of 2010. After three years of seeing no action, Orr began playing in mop-up situations in 2013. It isn’t clear yet whether he will elect to come back for his fifth season with the team, but if he does, he has a good shot to join the playing rotation at weakside defensive end. Orr was viewed as a raw talent without much polish coming out of Sparkman High School, but to his credit stuck with the program and got snaps as a result of his dedication.
29. Darius McKeller, OL (9.2)
McKellar’s Alabama career ended before it really even got started. McKeller grayshirted in 2009, then rumors arose that he had been medically disqualified after the 2010 season, but his career proved not to be over at that point. He transferred to South Alabama and received clearance to play, first lining up at defensive tackle, then moving back to the offensive line and playing a backup’s role in 2012. He played in 8 games in 2013 and has one year of eligibility remaining.
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