By Jess Nicholas
Feb. 4, 2016
If Alabama’s 2015 National Championship proved anything to the Crimson Tide’s own coaches, if not the rest of college football, it’s that the basics still matter: a strong offensive line, a stifling defensive line and linebackers that can make plays all over the field.
For its 2016 recruiting haul, Alabama focused on those areas, particularly linebacker, where the Tide had been hit hard by graduation the last couple of years. Alabama also went hard after the two lines of scrimmage in this class, despite having a lot of returning depth on the offensive side of the ball.
At the end of the day, Alabama did enough to pull in either the No. 1 or No. 2 class on every major site. By TideFans/NARCAS metrics, Alabama finished first, just ahead of Florida State, who led ESPN’s rankings, but Alabama could later rise to an undisputed No. 1 depending on what happens with WR/DB Demetris Robertson. Robertson, one of the nation’s five best prospects, will wait the better part of a week before deciding between Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame.
Had Alabama closed better on the defensive line – namely, if Alabama had managed to pull Jeffery Simmons out of Mississippi – Robertson’s destination would be a moot point. If there was anywhere Alabama failed to quite live up to expectations, it was on the DL, where Bama took a JUCO transfer on Signing Day (Jamar King), who will probably be the only immediate contributor. At linebacker, though, Alabama shined, getting the nation’s top haul despite losing Mique Juarez to UCLA.
Alabama signed seven players who ranked a perfect 10.0 on TideFans.com/NARCAS’s 10-point scale, down from 11 a year ago. Alabama’s 25 signees averaged a rating of 9.79, a bit off last year’s 9.86, which tied for the highest-measured Alabama class in school history, along with the 2012 class. Alabama was able to maintain a high ranking nationally, relative to other top classes, in part due to the lack of concentration of the top available players at any one school.
Here’s a look at each player who signed, and their ranking.
Name POS Ht Wt 40time Rating Hometown/school
1. Jonah Williams OL 6-5 285 4.8 10.0 Folsom, Calif./Folsom
It’s not every year that an offensive lineman heads a team’s recruiting class, especially not one ranked as highly as Alabama’s was this year. But when you sign the top offensive lineman available in the country, it happens. Williams has the ability to play inside or outside, but his superior footwork probably has him ticketed for tackle. As good as he could be on the left side, some observers believe right tackle could be a natural fit for him. He’ll also get a look at guard early on. Best yet, Williams is not only qualified already, but he signed as an early enrollee and is already on the UA campus.
2. Ben Davis LB 6-4 240 4.8 10.0 Gordo/Gordo
A legacy whose father, Wayne Davis, was a staple of Alabama 80s teams, the younger Davis comes to campus already drawing comparisons to Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower. With middle linebacker an open spot heading into 2016, Davis could figure into the battle in fall camp. There isn’t a tool he doesn’t possess. He is expected to qualify.
3. Lyndell Wilson LB 6-3 235 4.8 10.0 Montgomery/Carver
Wilson and Brown seemed to emerge as a package deal down the stretch, not that anyone would have minded having to take one to get the other. But with Davis such a lock for Alabama early on, it was just a matter of time before Wilson joined Alabama’s fold. Wilson is not quite the physical specimen Davis is, but he’s not far off. It would not be a surprise to see them starting next to one another in a couple of years. Wilson is expected to qualify.
4. Terrell Hall LB 6-5 255 4.8 10.0 Washington D.C./St. John’s
Terrell Hall filled a big need for Alabama – a Jack linebacker type who can put his hand in the ground against running teams. Alabama’s two main returning players at the position, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, are both seniors. Hall could theoretically play middle linebacker, but he’s a few days in a college weight room away from moving full-time to an OLB/DE hybrid position. He is expected to qualify.
5. Charles Baldwin OL 6-5 318 5.2 10.0 Brooklyn, N.Y./ASA College
Alabama got not only the top prep offensive lineman available, but also the top JUCO offensive lineman available. And like Jonah Williams, Charles Baldwin is already on the Alabama campus. Baldwin will compete immediately for playing time at right guard, and for the starting right tackle position. Alabama has an impressive history under Nick Saban of sending both its offensive tackles each year to the NFL, and Baldwin certainly looks the part.
6. Nigel Knott CB 5-11 180 4.3 10.0 Madison, Miss./Germantown
Knott was one of the top cornerbacks available in the South, and was likely Ole Miss’ top CB target. Alabama received a commitment from him late in the process, then watched as Knott went full-blown Bama fan on social media. He’s a flashy, confident player with lightning-quick footwork and impressive straight-line speed – all perfect qualities in a lockdown cornerback. He is expected to qualify.
7. Jared Mayden DB 6-0 205 4.4 10.0 Sachse, Texas/Sachse
Mayden emerged late in the recruiting process as a legitimate Tide target, and he could end up being the best overall defensive back Alabama signed in this recruiting sequence. Mayden can play corner, but he also has the thickness necessary to put his nose in on running plays. He should end up being an option at both corner and safety early on in his Alabama career. He is expected to qualify.
8. Shyheim Carter CB 5-11 180 4.4 9.9 Kentwood, La./Kentwood
Carter was an on-again, off-again Alabama commitment before finally signing with the Tide. He might very well be Ole Miss’ other top cornerback target, meaning Alabama very likely stole both of Hugh Freeze’s main targets right out from under his nose. Carter has some skills as a wide receiver and could be an option there if numbers demand it, but it’s more likely he starts out on the defensive side of the ball and never moves. He has excellent ball skills to go with top-end athleticism. He is expected to qualify.
9. Trevon Diggs WR 6-1 180 4.4 9.9 Gaithersburg, Md./Avalon
Because he committed early to Alabama and wasn’t part of the will-he-or-won’t-he-switch hype for much of the process. Diggs might have been overlooked by some services as the season went along. That’s unfortunate, because Diggs could be the next great deep threat for Alabama. He has the speed necessary to pull it off, and he might not be through growing yet. Alabama needs at least one wide receiver from this class to immediately compete for playing time, and Diggs is a good bet. He is expected to qualify.
10. Jamar King DL 6-5 280 4.9 9.9 Ukiah, Calif./Mendocino CC
Alabama was in dire need of at least one defensive lineman who could contribute right away in 2016, and King should be that guy. Despite being 280 pounds or more (some have estimated him being closer to 290 than 280) and still running a sub-5.0, how King wasn’t one of the top five players coming out of JUCO this year is somewhat confusing. King will play a role somewhere in between the ones vacated by Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, but that’s just what Alabama needed. He’s expected to qualify.
11. Jalen Hurts QB 6-2 205 4.7 9.9 Channelview, Texas/Channelview
Alabama selected Hurts early as its chosen quarterback recruit, focusing on him to the exclusion of others before his senior season even began. He is an athletic quarterback with the ability to make plays with his legs, but his quiet footwork in the pocket is probably his most impressive trait. Hurts signed early with Alabama and enrolled for the spring semester, and served as Alabama’s analog for Clemson QB Deshaun Watson during bowl prep. His passing skills may need a bit more work than originally thought, and a redshirt year is all but assured. But Hurts’ future is still exceptionally bright.
12. B.J. Emmons RB 5-11 235 4.5 9.9 Morganton, N.C./Freedom
Emmons was probably the best “big back” available in this class and if not, he wasn’t far off. Alabama hasn’t had a running back with this build since Trent Richardson, a low-to-the-ground bruiser with good speed and the ability to get downhill after one cut. The biggest challenge facing Emmons will be his grades; he is on the borderline for qualification at best, and will need a strong finish to his high school career in order to be eligible for the fall.
13. Kendell Jones DT 6-5 360 5.6 9.8 Killeen, Texas/Shoemaker
Just when everyone thought the Terrence Cody-type defensive tackles were going out of favor in college football, along comes Kendell Jones. Jones is a pure nose tackle and run-stuffer, but in that role he was one of the best prep stars in the nation in 2015. Alabama needs some depth at that position now that Darren Lake has graduated and Josh Frazier may end up playing end. Jones is expected to qualify.
14. Irvin Smith TE 6-4 245 4.8 9.8 New Orleans, La./Brother Martin
Alabama got a huge boost on Signing Day when Irvin Smith opted to cast his lot with the Tide. Alabama desperately needed an on-the-line tight end who can also catch – there was no one behind Hale Hentges on the current roster who could – and Smith should be that guy. Alabama can use Brandon Greene and Dakota Ball in the interim to give Smith a chance to ease into the role and put on additional weight, but by the end of the day, Smith could end up being one of the key signees in this class. He is expected to qualify.
15. T.J. Simmons WR 6-2 195 4.5 9.7 Pinson/Clay-Chalkville
Everything about Simmons’ game screams “Kevin Norwood,” which is something Alabama came within a whisker of lacking in 2015 before Richard Mullaney transferred in from Oregon State. Simmons has good hands, body positioning skills and enough speed to go downfield when needed. He was considered by most to be the best wide receiver available from in-state in 2015-2016. He signed early with Alabama and is already enrolled in school.
16. Quinnen Williams DL 6-4 268 5.1 9.7 Birmingham/Wenonah
Williams is a classic tweener in a 3-4 defense, but so is Dalvin Tomlinson, and Tomlinson will likely start for Alabama in 2016. Williams will play a key role for Alabama sooner rather than later, but moreover, he has the chance to add weight to his frame and bulk up into a true 3-4 end. He’s another who committed early and the hype machine lost track of him, but he’s probably the best long-term prospect of the defensive linemen Alabama signed. He is expected to qualify.
17. Scott Lashley OL 6-6 300 5.1 9.7 West Point, Miss./West Point
Long-armed, with good footwork and the ability to add more weight, Scott Lashley has a lot of the same qualities coming out of high school that Chris Samuels once did. Lashley needs to refine his body, add some bulk and work on technique, but he has the bloodlines and all the natural ability one could want. Lashley is a pure tackle prospect and may be better on the left than the right because of his footwork. He is expected to qualify.
18. Raekwon Davis DL 6-8 320 5.4 9.7 Meridian, Miss./Meridian
In terms of what Davis brings to the table from a physical standpoint, he has no equal in this class and maybe no equal in any team’s class. Pictures of Davis standing next to normal-sized people look like something from a circus sideshow. But with Davis, there are a lot of unknowns. It starts with what position he is best suited for: Some think he could be better on offense, but most think defensive line is his calling. Is he an end, or a nosetackle? Perhaps the biggest question of all is his grades. Davis will be on the borderline in regards to getting the grades he needs, but he has a better chance now than when he first committed to Alabama in autumn.
19. Aaron Robinson DB 6-1 180 4.5 9.7 Deerfield Beach, Fla./Deerfield Beach
Out of nowhere, Alabama stole Robinson from Florida, to the extent that none of the major services were linking the two prior to Wednesday. In regards to talent alone, Robinson is very reminiscent of Eddie Jackson at this same stage. He could play corner, but safety seems to be his ultimate destination. Robinson’s grades still need some work, but of Alabama’s borderline signees, he probably has the best shot.
20. Christian Bell LB 6-4 225 4.7 9.7 Hoover/Hoover
Originally part of the 2014-2015 class, Bell grayshirted last year and entered school over Christmas break. He is considered to be an outside linebacker prospect with good upside, and the frame to add enough weight to go to defensive end if needed. He’ll still have five years to play four beginning with the 2016 season.
21. Chris Owens OL 6-4 315 5.5 9.6 Arlington, Texas/Lamar
Owens has a great frame to add weight and settle in as a strongside guard, which is probably his best position. His footwork might preclude him from going out to tackle, but his upside is sufficient enough to get a look as a weakside guard. Owens was an early commitment, and early out-of-state commitments often exceed expectations under Nick Saban’s tutelage. Owens signed early and is already enrolled in school.
22. Joshua Jacobs RB 5-10 195 4.5 9.5 Tulsa, Okla./McLain
Jacobs has one of the most unusual stories of any recruit in college football this year. A month ago, few people even knew who he was, and his offer sheet figured more likely to land him at a directional Louisiana school than at a Power Five leader. When other running backs began to fall away, and with grade situations coming into clearer view with other running backs, suddenly, schools began taking a closer look at the Tulsa, Okla., prospect. As Jacobs’ film begin to make the rounds, he began shooting up boards, to the extent that several analysts had him as a top-10 available running back by Wednesday. Jacobs will fill Kenyan Drake’s former role for Alabama, although he may lack Drake’s top gear. He is expected to qualify.
23. Miller Forristall TE 6-5 220 4.7 9.5 Cartersville, Ga./Cartersville
Forristall is an intriguing prospect thanks to his good hands and above-average speed for a tight end, but he needs plenty of conditioning work to help fill out his frame. At present time, he would be considered an option only at H-back or as a slot receiver, but he has the natural ability to make an impact as a Y tight end later on. Forristall has already signed with Alabama and enrolled for spring practice.
24. Shawn Jennings S 6-1 215 4.6 9.5 Dadeville/Dadeville
Jennings is another who committed early and lost the benefit of the publicity machine in the process. Jennings has a similar build and plays a similar game to Shawn Burgess-Becker, who signed last year and managed to work his way onto the field in his first season. Jennings is shorter, thicker safety in the mold of Landon Collins, but isn’t as dynamic or fast. His contributions will likely come first on special teams given Alabama’s current safety depth. He enrolled in school over the break and will go through spring practice with the team.
25. Deonte Brown OL 6-4 350 5.7 9.4 Decatur/Austin
Brown is a pure inside player, much the same as current Alabama guard Alphonse Taylor. Alabama seems to have gone for more bulk from its inside players in this class, and they don’t come bulkier than Deonte Brown. Brown will probably need a year in the weight room to refine his physique, but aggressive players with his kind of raw strength are rare. Brown is expected to qualify.