By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
May 25, 2014
Over the last five 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 2009 class, Nick Saban’s second full class at Alabama. By the numbers, the 2009 class fell within the limits of a “great” class and was even an improvement upon the 2008 class, regarded at the time as one of the best classes on paper ever at Alabama. The 2009 class saw 16 of 29 (55.2%) signees make a significant impact over their careers. A total of 10 players received a perfect 10.0 ranking on the NARCAS scale, and 9 of the top 10 players signed became solid contributors.
The 2010 class ended up being one of the more interesting case studies of recent years. There were several top-level contributors – LB C.J. Mosley probably chief among those – but also a handful of busts and a fairly shocking number of transfers out of the program. But the overall numbers trumped everything else: In all, 17 of 26 (65.4%) signees became significant impact players over their careers. Nine players received a perfect 10.0 NARCAS ranking out the gate.
Here’s a breakdown of the individual players represented in the 2010 class. Players are listed in the order in which they were ranked by TideFans/NARCAS on National Signing Day in 2010. Players in red were deemed to be key contributors for the purpose of scoring this article.
1. Phillip Sims, QB (10.0)
Right off the top, the 2010 class presented Alabama fans with an interesting case. Phillip Sims was regarded as one of the best available quarterbacks in the 2010 class and perhaps the best overall pro-style quarterback. After redshirting the 2010 season, Sims entered the spring of 2011 in competition with A.J. McCarron for the starting job. Sims split time with McCarron early in the 2011 season, but eventually lost the job and, after the season was over, opted to transfer. He first landed at the University of Virginia, where he was a decent quarterback but not noteworthy in any way. Academic troubles forced him to transfer to Winston-Salem State to finish his college career, and again, his performance was ho-hum. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when Sims was invited to rookie camp with the Arizona Cardinals and actually won a spot. Even though Sims transferred away from Alabama, he always maintained close ties to Alabama and to Nick Saban especially. Saban wrote letters of recommendation to NFL teams on Sims’ behalf, and although he’s still considered a long shot to break camp with the Cardinals, he should be commended for never truly giving up.
2. DeMarcus Milliner, CB (10.0)
Milliner was considered the top prep play in the state of Alabama in 2010, an intelligent, leadership-plus talent who could change the course of any game. The only question about Milliner was whether he’d play wide receiver or cornerback. After a rough true freshman campaign, Milliner settled down in 2011 and then put together a solid 2012 campaign. He declared early for the NFL Draft and was picked by the New York Jets with the ninth overall selection. He continues to start for the Jets and is considered one of the brightest young stars at his position in the league.
3. John Fulton, CB (10.0)
Fulton never approached Milliner’s level as a player, although Fulton eventually became a starter and was a multi-year contributor on special teams as well. He eventually parlayed his career at Alabama into a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, although he was later released. Fulton came to Alabama ahead of Milliner as a player, but Milliner quickly separated himself and Fulton spent his first couple of years buried down the depth chart. Injuries were not kind to Fulton, either. He was not a superstar for the Crimson Tide, but he eventually became a key part of Alabama’s defensive back rotation.
4. Alfy Hill, LB (10.0)
Hill is probably the “whatever-happened-to” guy in this class. He was a late prize for Alabama during the recruiting cycle, and even reported to campus to begin practices. But the NCAA Clearinghouse objected to some high school computer classes on his transcript, and voided his entry into Alabama. The decision created an uproar in his native Shallotte, N.C., and a media investigation into the classes seemed to point to Alabama and Hill being on the right side of the issue. But the NCAA held firm and Hill was forced to look elsewhere. Saban predicted Hill would do well academically in college, and he was correct; Hill eventually ended up at Winston-Salem State along with Phillip Sims, and like Sims, got a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals.
5. Arie Kouandjio, OL (10.0)
Before all the Signing Day hype over his brother Cyrus happened the following year, there was the hype and suspense over older brother Arie in 2010. Arie Kouandjio was considered one of the best tackle prospects in the country in 2010, but the specter of knee trouble and already begun to raise its head. By the time Kouandjio was a redshirt sophomore, left tackle was no longer a possibility and even playing right tackle was questionable. Kouandjio ended up moving to the interior and playing guard his last couple of seasons. He was on the verge of just being a decent college player until his final season, when Kouandjio went from oft-injured disappointment to one of the best linemen in the SEC. He was drafted in the fourth round by Washington.
6. C.J. Mosley, LB (10.0)
It didn’t take long for Mosley to make his presence felt. Despite being a backup in 2010, whenever Mosley played – usually at the end of games – his penchant for coverage skills and his athleticism became evident to everyone. After three years of starting, and winning national championships in his first two years as a starter, Mosley left for the NFL. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and has since become one of the best, most versatile inside linebackers in the NFL.
7. Brian Vogler, TE (10.0)
Vogler gave Alabama a 6’7” presence at the tight end position and had many fans dreaming of a Jason Witten-esque force in both the blocking and passing games. While Vogler never reached those heights, he was an important part of the offense for two years, starting at Alabama’s Y position. Vogler battled several injuries in his career and admitted in an interview that his work ethic early on in his career could have been better. He signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in early May and will try to win a job there.
8. Ronald Carswell, WR (10.0)
Unfortunately for Carswell, he ended up being his own worst enemy. Carswell joined the Alabama team but was suspended for violating team rules and eventually ended up at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. From there, he transferred to West Virginia, where he became part of the playing rotation, but again couldn’t steer clear of trouble. Carswell was suspended from the West Virginia program in November 2013, and left school. He surfaced again at Tennessee-Martin, but the information trail runs dry there.
9. Jalston Fowler, RB (10.0)
Fowler’s path to Alabama was a rocky one. He maxed out his eligibility in high school and missed his senior season due to being too old. He also had been considered a marginal prospect at best – until tapes of his junior season, along with news of his continued physical growth, began to filter down to recruiting analysts. Even though most analysts were still pitching Fowler as a pure running back, TideFans/NARCAS gave him a 10.0 rating and said this upon his signing in 2010: “What those highlight tapes showed is a player capable of either being a big featured back, or even a fullback or H-back, two positions that are either open or in need of an upgrade.” Fowler also became more focused academically after arriving in Tuscaloosa, and finished off his Alabama career by getting drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans. It’s easy to see in retrospect why he became one of the most popular players from this class.
10. Adrian Hubbard, DE (9.9)
There might not have been a more clear example of failing to live up to potential as this. Hubbard reported to Alabama at 6’7” and around 220 pounds, skinny as a rail and not ready to play. Within a couple of years, though, he was pushing 260 pounds yet had retained his quick first step. Although Hubbard could have returned for the 2014 season, he opted to leave early as a redshirt junior. As most predicted, he put together a solid showing at the NFL Combine. But he went undrafted amid questions about his work ethic. The Green Bay Packers signed him to a free-agent contract and retained him throughout the season, although he didn’t play. Hubbard is going through camp again with the Packers.
11. Blake Sims, WR/DB (9.9)
The notation of “WR/DB” draws chuckles now after watching Sims set most of Alabama’s single-season quarterbacking marks in 2014. Sims played running back for a time, but it was his improvement and performance at the quarterback position that endeared him to fans. Sims went undrafted by the NFL but is now trying out at several positions for Washington.
12. Nick Perry, S (9.9)
Perry was another member of the Prattville pipeline, which has since mostly dried up for Alabama. Perry was regarded as a smart, instinctive safety coming out of high school, but a couple of injuries and a lack of elite top-end speed combined to make him more of a role player at Alabama. But Perry did get off to a strong start in 2015 and was Alabama’s starter at free safety for most of the year. He will go through rookie camp with the Baltimore Ravens after going undrafted.
13. Keiwone Malone, WR (9.9)
Alabama’s wide receiver class took two big hits off the top with the departures of Carswell and Malone. Malone, from Memphis originally, transferred back home after his freshman season at Alabama. Whether he was encouraged to do so or whether it was the result of homesickness was never publicly announced. Either way, Malone was eligible immediately to play – not the norm for the NCAA – and made the most of his new opportunity, catching almost 1,500 yards in passes during a four-year career for the Tigers. Malone went undrafted.
14. Chad Lindsay, OL (9.9)
For a brief time, Lindsay was one of the most reviled former Alabama players in recent history. When Ryan Kelly was injured against Ole Miss in the fall of 2014 and Alabama was left without an experienced backup, the concern among many was that Lindsay – who had transferred to Ohio State rather than stay and compete for playing time with Lindsay and Alabama’s right guards – would end up costing the Crimson Tide a title shot. In the end, Alabama still made it to the playoffs, but Lindsay’s decision to transfer to Ohio State (and then quickly depart the Buckeye program as well) was met with confusion, even to this day.
15. DeAndrew White, WR (9.8)
White looked early on like a player who could produce on a level that Amari Cooper eventually did for the Crimson Tide. But White couldn’t stay healthy, eventually tearing an ACL to go along with multiple ankle and foot injuries. He remained an important part of the Tide’s wideout rotation and was still one of the best receivers Alabama has ever had in terms of route running and adjustment to a thrown ball. But the injuries cut his top-end speed, and White went undrafted largely for that reason. He signed a free agent contract with San Francisco and is going through camp with the 49’ers.
16. DeQuan Menzie, CB (9.8)
Menzie was a JUCO signing, as Alabama pulled him away from Ole Miss and Mississippi State late in the process. After arriving at Alabama, Menzie tore his ACL but still worked his way onto the field in 2010. The effects of the injury lingered, however, and Menzie didn’t really hit his stride until the 2011 season, when he became a key part of Alabama’s defense, largely at the Star safety position. Menzie was drafted in the fifth round the following April by Kansas City, but he didn’t stick with the Chiefs and bounced around a couple of other camps before retiring for good in 2014. His hard-hitting ways made him a favorite during his time in Tuscaloosa.
17. Jarrick Williams, S (9.7)
Jarrick Williams became an early contributor, but spent much of the next three seasons (including a redshirt year) on the mend from a variety of minor injuries. By the time Williams’ senior year rolled around, he had bulked up to near-linebacker size and his speed had dropped off, causing his effectiveness at safety to wane. Williams never lost his penchant for big hits, however, and he was a key special teams player throughout his career. But Williams has yet to receive any interest from an NFL team and his playing career may be over.
18. Corey Grant, RB (9.7)
Grant’s most interesting accomplishment was that he was able to play five years combined for Alabama and Auburn yet not come away with a single national championship ring – despite the fact AU and Alabama combined for three of them in Grant’s five years. Grant transferred to Auburn before the beginning of the 2011 season, thereby missing Auburn’s championship in 2010 (while at Alabama) and Bama’s 2011 and 2012 title years (while at Auburn). At Alabama, Grant was buried on the depth chart behind bigger running backs, but Auburn turned him into a weapon as an outside runner. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent.
19. Deion Belue, CB (9.6)
Belue signed with Alabama twice. The first time, in 2010, his signing was negated by academic troubles. Belue would eventually go to junior college and return to Alabama as part of the 2012 recruiting class, after which he was a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide and later made it to the NFL.
20. Brandon Lewis, DL (9.5)
Lewis’ Alabama career was full of starts and stops. He had originally signed with the 2008 class, filling a need (strongside DE) in the process. Most observers expected Lewis to qualify and possibly become a freshman starter, but he surprisingly failed to navigate the qualification process and began his career in junior college instead. By the time his junior college career had finished, Alabama had stockpiled an enormous amount of talent on defense, yet the Crimson Tide took Lewis back anyway. Not able to break through the wall of talent now in front of him at defensive line, Lewis moved to tight end. But after the season was over, Lewis elected to leave the Alabama program, and football in general.
21. Brandon Ivory, DT (9.5)
Ivory was and is a limited player. He’s a pure 3-4 nosetackle, and with the proliferation of spread offenses, his playing time was often limited by the opponent’s chosen scheme. Still, Ivory had his moments at Alabama. His performance against Georgia Southern early in his career helped quash a surprising offensive performance and allow Alabama to pull away late in the game, while his work against LSU in multiple games is well-noted. Ivory rarely played as a senior in 2014, but it was enough to draw the attention of NFL scouts, and he signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans following the 2015 Draft.
22. Harrison Jones, TE (9.5)
Jones joined the team for the 2010 season after Alfy Hill had to relinquish his spot. Jones played sparingly for a couple of years before injuries ended his career prematurely.
23. Austin Shepherd, OL (9.4)
Many thought Alabama had signed Shepherd only to get a shot at his prep teammate, JuWuan James. James spurned Alabama for Tennessee, but both players ended up getting drafted, proving Alabama’s evaluation of Shepherd stood on its own after all. Shepherd was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the seventh round, and he’ll compete for time at right tackle and guard. Shepherd wasn’t the flashiest Alabama lineman, but he was rarely outworked, and his strength in the running game was something the Tide could always count on.
24. Wilson Love, DT/TE (9.3)
Love, like Harrison Jones, was the younger brother of a more famous Alabama lineman (Tyler Love, in this case). Unfortunately, like Harrison Jones, injuries brought about a premature end to Love’s career. In Love’s case, multiple concussions did the trick, the first of which came just as Love was beginning to make a push to join the playing rotation.
25. Cade Foster, PK (*.*)
Foster’s career had more downs than ups, unfortunately. While Foster’s leg strength and tackling ability made him a solid kickoff specialist, his career as a placekicker was forgettable. His numbers were affected a great deal by the fact that Alabama made him a long-kicking specialist for the years he spent sharing the job with Jeremy Shelley, but once he got the job to himself, things didn’t go much better. He’ll probably be most remembered for the debacle that was the 2013 Auburn loss, although he wasn’t even on the field for the final play.
26. Jay Williams, P (*.*)
Williams never got to kick in a live game for Alabama. The same year Alabama brought in Williams, the Tide had invited a walk-on punter by the name of Cody Mandell to come in from Louisiana and compete for the job. Mandell won the competition outright and Williams never got it back. He redshirted in 2010, then left the program.
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