Alabama’s 2015 class goes long on need areas

 

By Jess Nicholas

TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

Feb. 4, 2015

There was little mystery as to what Alabama’s needs were following the conclusion of the 2014 season. The Crimson Tide needed a talent infusion at inside linebacker, tight end and especially in the secondary, which was torched badly at the end of the year.

To that end, Alabama secured either the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class in the nation according to various recruiting services. TideFans.com ranks the class as No. 1 by the slimmest of margins over Southern Cal’s class, and it basically comes down to the fact that TideFans has historically counted grayshirt commitments among a team’s Signing Day haul – which allows Alabama to count LB Christian Bell. The logic behind this is that it’s better to be safe than sorry, as several players in the past across the country eventually came in with their signing classmates in the fall when a spot opened up.

Alabama signed 11 players who ranked a perfect 10.0 on TideFans.com’s NARCAS rating scale, up from last year’s total of eight. Alabama’s 25 signees averaged a rating of 9.86, thereby tying the 2012 class for the most highly rated of all time. And for those who feel Bell’s inclusion in the class is the wrong decision, consider that it didn’t help the final numbers in terms of all-time ranking average: Had Bell been left off the list, Alabama’s average would have risen to 9.87 and would have been the most highly-ranked class in the Internet Era.

Here’s a look at each player who signed, and their ranking.

Name POS Ht Wt 40time Rating Hometown/school

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick CB 6-1 195 4.4 10.0 Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep

Fitzpatrick claimed the top spot among Alabama signees in our rankings due to his length and speed. Tall cornerbacks with 4.4 times are hard to come by, but Fitzpatrick fits the bill. While fall-entry defensive backs rarely find playing time in a Nick Saban secondary, all bets are off for Fitzpatrick, particularly in light of the problems within the unit and the ensuing coaching shakeup after the season. Fitzpatrick didn’t have the hype of several big names, largely the function of committing early and falling out of the spotlight – a theme you’ll see recurring in this list of players. He is expected to qualify.

2. Calvin Ridley WR 6-1 190 4.4 10.0 Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch

Ridley has the same general body type as departing wideout Amari Cooper, and shares some of Cooper’s workmanlike personality traits as well. He appears to be a good bet to get early playing time at a position that will be otherwise manned by inexperienced players. Ridley was considered by some to be the best wideout prospect available in this class. He is expected to qualify.

3. Blake Barnett QB 6-4 220 4.8 10.0 Corona, Calif./Santiago

Barnett has such a wide skill set, some recruiting services didn’t know whether to rank him as a pro-style quarterback or as a dual threat. While his top-end speed probably will see him leaning more towards the former than the latter description, Barnett was one of Alabama’s most important recruits not just because of the position he played, but also because of his effect on other recruits. Barnett has already enrolled at Alabama and will go through spring practice with the team, but he faces a long road to playing time as a true freshman given the depth chart ahead of him.

4. Kendall Sheffield CB 5-11 185 4.4 10.0 Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall

If Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn’t the top-rated cornerback available, chances are most analysts were picking Kendall Sheffield for the honor. Sheffield isn’t as big as Fitzpatrick, but he’s quicker, with excellent hip rotation and good ball skills. Long thought to be at the top of Texas A&M’s wish list, Alabama plucked him out of the Longhorn State and there’s a good chance Sheffield will be in the playing-time mix as a true freshman. He is expected to qualify.

5. Deionte Thompson S 6-2 185 4.6 10.0 Orange, Texas/Stark

Another Texas product, Deionte Thompson stands a good chance to win playing time at safety given that he enrolled early and will go through spring practice with the team. Thompson marks a return to the taller, lankier safety prototype established by Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. With Alabama needing more size and athleticism at the position, Thompson’s entry couldn’t come at a better time. Alabama signed five defensive backs in this class but none may end up being more important to 2015’s success than Thompson.

6. Jonathan Taylor DL 6-4 340 5.2 10.0 Millen, Ga./Copiah-Lincoln CC

Undeniably the most controversial member of this class, Taylor was dismissed from Georgia after being charged with aggravated assault and other crimes following an alleged domestic incident. He enrolled in Alabama in January, however, and will go through spring practice while the legal proceedings against him continue. If Taylor remains with the program through that process, he’ll enter the fall as a potential nosetackle/end combo player who would give Alabama the flexibility to move Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson around to even greater effect than in 2014. Taylor has enough raw quickness to go with his massive size that he is more than just a package-play option in the middle of the defense.

7. Daron Payne DL 6-3 330 5.3 10.0 Irondale/Shades Valley

It could be argued that Payne is almost a clone of Taylor, given their similar heights and weights. Payne was the top in-state defensive lineman available in this class and one of the best available across the country. Alabama beat out Auburn for his signature, and Payne will be thrown into a mix that includes all the names mentioned in the paragraph above. Payne needs to become a bit more consistent, but the raw talent is definitely there. He is expected to qualify.

8. Lester Cotton OL 6-4 330 5.3 10.0 Tuscaloosa/Central

Cotton is probably the closest thing to a darkhorse pick for the eventual top player in this class. While most believe he’ll stay at guard, Cotton has the ability to play right tackle and offers Alabama some flexibility in its offensive line class. He’s regarded as a hard worker with a tough-guy attitude, two traits highly prized in offensive line recruits. Cotton seems to relish run-blocking assignments and should be a staple at left guard for years to come. He is expected to qualify.

9. Damien Harris RB 5-11 210 4.5 10.0 Berea, Ky./Madison Southern Academy

Altee Tenpenny was supposed to be Alabama’s next star as a slash-step interior runner, but it didn’t materialize. It just might, however, with Damien Harris, who drew comparisons to Mark Ingram during the recruiting process and was far and away the best player out of the state of Kentucky this year and rated by some as the top running back available. Harris already has the size and speed necessary to make an impact, and given that Alabama’s running back group consists of the outsized Derrick Henry and pure speed backs like Tyren Jones and Kenyan Drake, there may be an opportunity for Harris to play early. He is expected to qualify.

10. Mekhi Brown LB 6-5 220 4.7 10.0 Columbus, Ga./Carver

Brown is the prototypical outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, long and quick with the ability to set the edge. Brown’s frame suggests that he can keep his length without over-bulking as some of Alabama’s recent outside linebackers have done. He should be an early competitor for playing time at Jack linebacker, and he’s expected to qualify.

11. Ronnie Harrison S 6-2 205 4.5 10.0 Tallahassee, Fla./University

While Alabama signed a Clinton-Dix clone in Thompson, it also added a Landon Collins play-a-like in Ronnie Harrison. Harrison brings a physical presence to the position and, like Thompson, enrolled in school early to be able to go through spring practice. It’s not a stretch to think that both players could be in the rotation by the start of fall camp.

12. Bo Scarbrough RB 6-1 235 4.5 9.9 Tuscaloosa/IMG Academy

In the year since Scarbrough failed to qualify, the only question became whether he’d stay at running back. Scarbrough is likely bigger than his listed 6’1”, 235 pounds, numbers that were taken from his senior year at IMG Academy. With the departure of Jalston Fowler at fullback and a dearth of options at H-back, Scarbrough’s 2015 contributions might come somewhere other than the tailback position. If he stays a running back, Scarbrough’s running style is akin to Derrick Henry with a little more lateral quickness. He enrolled in January and will go through spring drills.

13. Adonis Thomas LB 6-4 220 4.5 9.9 Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett

Coaching turnover at Florida allowed Alabama to get in with Thomas, and after making a commitment to Alabama late in the process, he stuck with it through Signing Day. Thomas is expected to start out at outside linebacker, but his frame gives him the ability to be a combo player in similar style to current Tider Dillon Lee. Thomas has good pass-rushing skills as well as ability in pass coverage. He is expected to qualify.

14. Hale Hentges TE 6-5 230 4.8 9.9 Jefferson City, Mo./Helias

Although not the most highly-ranked prospect in this class, Hentges has the potential to be the most important, at least to the 2014 team. Alabama lost Brian Vogler to graduation at the position, and then Malcolm Faciane, who started the Auburn game, elected not to return for his senior season. That leaves Alabama will slot tight end O.J. Howard and a pair of converted linemen as the top competitors for playing time. Hentges has good blocking mechanics yet also catches the ball well, which gives hope that Alabama might finally have a true dual-threat at the position. He is expected to qualify.

15. Richie Petitbon OL 6-4 315 5.4 9.9 Washington, D.C./Gonzaga

Petitbon is a versatile lineman who projects at guard, but could play any of the five positions on the line. He has NFL bloodlines and, while not expected to play early, figures to be a key part of the rotation after work in the conditioning program. Petitbon was another in a long list of prospects in this class who fell below the radar line after an early commitment, but he was regarded as one of the best offensive line prospects in the country. He is expected to qualify.

16. Daylon Charlot WR 6-0 180 4.4 9.8 Patterson, La./Patterson

Charlot became Alabama’s de facto “Signing Day Surprise” when he returned to Alabama after a brief dalliance with LSU. Charlot lacks the polish of Calvin Ridley, but he makes up for it with extreme top-end speed and is regarded as one of the best punt- and kick-return prospects in this class. Given that Alabama has a dearth of experienced return men on the roster for 2015, Charlot could be a candidate to challenge Cyrus Jones for those duties. He is expected to qualify.

17. Dallas Warmack OL 6-2 310 5.6 9.8 Atlanta, Ga./Mays

Many observers underestimated Dallas Warmack’s older brother, but they won’t make that mistake again. The younger Warmack is a pure guard prospect who is looking to follow the highly successful Chance Warmack at Alabama. Warmack’s top-end speed is a concern, but his strength, build and base footwork all point to a productive career. He enrolled early and will go through spring practice with the team.

18. Anfernee Jennings DE 6-3 255 4.7 9.8 Dadeville/Dadeville

Alabama held off a late charge from Auburn and others to keep Jennings’ signature secured. Jennings reminds several observers of former Tide DE Wallace Gilberry, both in build and quickness. Gilberry often played on the strongside, although many believe Jennings’ ultimate position will be on the weakside. He is instinctive, tough and strong, and can be disruptive, especially against finesse tackles. He is expected to qualify.

19. Joshua McMillon LB 6-3 240 4.7 9.8 Memphis, Tenn./Whitehaven

McMillon was an early commitment who all but disappeared from the public eye after his commitment, but he’s also one of the most underrated players in this class and could be one of its earliest contributors. Due to the lack of players at middle linebacker, Alabama might have to get McMillon ready for duty in the fall. McMillon has excellent size and a build to add even more weight, but it’s his quickness and decision-making skills that have coaches excited. He’s expected to qualify.

20. Christian Bell LB 6-4 225 4.7 9.7 Hoover/Hoover

While Bell intends to grayshirt and enter in January 2016 (and thus, did not sign a Letter Of Intent on Wednesday), he still bears mentioning here. Bell is expected to begin his career at outside linebacker. He’s regarded as a good all-around linebacker prospect with a frame to grow. Bell could end up at defensive end before his career is done. If Alabama finds room for him, qualifying could be an issue, but he is expected to make it.

21. DeSherrius Flowers RB 6-1 215 4.6 9.7 Prichard/Vigor

Flowers enrolled in January and will go through spring practice, but the position he’ll play is still undecided. Flowers’ frame hints at that of former Tide FB Jalston Fowler, although he is not yet filled out for the role, and can’t be by the time the season starts. He could still play the position, although optimally, he’ll get a redshirt season in 2015 to add bulk. If Flowers’ future is at tailback, though, a strong spring showing could change his immediate future.

22. Matt Womack OL 6-6 330 5.2 9.6 Senatobia, Miss./Magnolia Heights

Womack is a prototypical right tackle prospect, although some believe he can also play the left side. He’s one of the biggest line prospects Alabama has signed in recent years and shows good range and drive. Womack came on later in the year than most to end up ranked about the top tackle prospects available, but ideally he’ll get a redshirt year to polish his skills and go through conditioning work. He is expected to qualify.

23. Brandon Kennedy OL 6-2 300 5.1 9.6 Wetumpka/Wetumpka

Kennedy has skills at both guard and center, and has enrolled early to take advantage of spring practice with the team. While he is unlikely to get early playing time given Alabama’s interior depth, Kennedy parlayed an excellent senior season into multiple offers and has both good potential for further development and the ability to play multiple spots on the line.

24. Shawn Burgess-Becker S 5-11 205 4.5 9.6 Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch

Hailing from the same high school as Calvin Ridley, Burgess-Becker is a bit smaller than the ideal SEC safety but he doesn’t play like it. Burgess-Becker’s athleticism and physical play made it clear he wasn’t just Ridley’s teammate, but a legitimate prospect in his own right. Perhaps most importantly, he showed clear ball skills as a safety, something that Alabama doesn’t have a lot of for 2015 at safety now that Landon Collins is moving on. He is expected to qualify.

25. Keaton Anderson LB 6-1 215 4.6 9.6 Florence/Florence

Anderson is the early leader for the title of “Highlight Tape Star of 2015” for this class. Although undersized, Anderson showed good lateral quickness, excellent instincts and surprising speed. He’s a tweener who fits somewhere between Vinnie Sunseri and Cory Reamer among recent safety-linebackers for Alabama, and if his ultimate position proves to be inside linebacker, he’ll have to sit out the 2015 season and bulk up. He is expected to qualify.

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