By Jess Nicholas
May 29, 2016
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 2010 class, Nick Saban’s third full class at Alabama. In retrospect, it was a class that did not live up to its billing.
Alabama only officially signed 23 players in 2011, but added a 24th player late to the class – wide receiver Duron Carter. Carter’s on-again/off-again relationship with the Alabama program ended permanently when he couldn’t satisfy entrance requirements. Of those 24 players, only 12 ever became front-line contributors to the program, a very average 50 percent of the class.
On the other hand, while only 8 players received a perfect 10.0 NARCAS rating on Signing Day (down from 9 in the 2010 class) , 6 of those 8 players (75%) developed into eventual stars.
But these numbers still trailed the class before it, significantly. In 2010, 17 of 26 (65.4%) of Alabama’s signees became impact players, with 9 of the 10 10.0-rated prospects (90%) doing so.
Here’s a breakdown of the individual players represented in the 2011 class. Players are listed in the order in which they were ranked by TideFans/NARCAS on National Signing Day in 2011. Players in red were deemed to be key contributors for the purpose of scoring this article. ® links to our 2011 review for that player.
1. S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, 10.0
Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix did more than just retire the trophy for most humorously named Alabama player in history, he became a star in the Crimson Tide secondary and left campus after only three years for a job with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Clinton-Dix was Green Bay’s first-round selection in 2014, selected 21st overall. Clinton-Dix followed the familiar path of Mark Barron and other Nick Saban-era safeties, playing sparingly as a freshman and breaking in on special teams. By the time his junior season rolled around, however, Clinton-Dix had become the top safety in the SEC and arguably the country.
2. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, 10.0
Kouandjio was an Alabama fan favorite from the outset, as Auburn was thought to have wiggled its way into his recruitment sufficiently enough that most national prognosticators had pegged Kouandjio to be a Tiger. After much late drama late in the process, Cyrus Kouandjio decided to join his older brother Arie in Tuscaloosa instead. Kouandjio got off to a fast start, eventually working his way into the regular playing rotation at left tackle as a true freshman. But what looked like a minor in-game knee injury eventually revealed itself to be something much more significant, and Kouandjio’s true freshman season came to an early end. Worse yet, the injury lingered even after the 2011 season; both Kouandjio brothers have battled recurring knee issues during their playing careers. Regardless, Cyrus Kouandjio elected to jump early to the NFL in 2014, where the Buffalo Bills picked him in the second round despite mixed reviews in pre-draft work. He remains on the Bills roster but does not start.
3. LB Trey DePriest, 10.0
Alabama was thought to have pulled a coup by getting DePriest out of Ohio State’s backyard. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact, as he played his way into the rotation as a true freshman and eventually settled in as one of Alabama’s starting inside linebackers. But DePriest battled weight issues that appeared to affect his lateral mobility, and while he was regarded as a solid player during his tenure, was never the superstar he was thought to be coming out of high school. DePriest went undrafted in 2015, then signed with the Baltimore Ravens but was eventually cut.
4. OT Aaron Douglas, 10.0
There are few more heartbreaking stories than that of Aaron Douglas, who began his college football career at Tennessee before leaving the Volunteer program after off-field troubles caught up with him. Alabama signed Douglas after a stint at Arizona Western Community College, but shortly after signing, Douglas was charged with DUI. Alabama, which viewed Douglas as a potential starting left tackle in 2011, elected to keep him on the team, and over the next few months, it appeared he had turned a corner in his personal life. Douglas battled Barrett Jones for the left tackle spot throughout spring, and post-spring information from inside the program suggested the coaches believed Douglas could take the job with a strong fall camp, allowing them to move Jones back to right guard. But on May 12, 2011, Douglas was found dead while on vacation in Florida of what the coroner’s report deemed to be an overdose of multiple drugs. The loss hit the team hard, perhaps harder than fans might have expected, and Douglas’ family continued to be a part of the Alabama program. His memory was honored at Alabama’s Senior Day the following year.
5. DE Xzavier Dickson, 10.0
Dickson’s career took some time to get started. The most memorable play of his first two seasons was probably a tackle he made on kickoff coverage against LSU in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game after the 2011 season. Dickson was signed as an elite pass rusher, but as his career went along, he became more at home as an edge-setting end in a 4-3 alignment. His tweener build in Alabama’s 3-4 base appeared to be too much for him to overcome, but then his senior season came along and Dickson blossomed. He finished the year with 9.5 sacks, finding his ability as a pass rusher finally after struggling in that role for three seasons. Dickson continued to be strong against the run and was drafted in the 7th round in the 2015 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He failed to make the team, however, and eventually signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
6. DT Jesse Williams, 10.0
Williams may be one of the most popular Crimson Tide players of the last 20 years thanks to his origin story. Alabama signed him out of Arizona Western Community College, but he hailed from Brisbane, Australia. Williams’ combination of huge stature, quick feet and and almost childlike appreciation for the American form of football combined to make him a fan favorite. Williams played end and nose tackle in his two years at Alabama before being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. An old knee injury haunted him for his first two seasons in Seattle, and then a diagnosis of cancer came soon afterward. Williams seems to have beaten his illness, but was released from the Seahawks earlier this year and remains a free agent.
7. DT Quinton Dial, 10.0
Alabama signed Dial twice, once out of high school and then again in 2011 out of junior college. Dial quickly became an integral part of Alabama’s defensive line rotation. Although he was never a full-time starter, Dial managed to attract the attention of the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him in 2013 in the fifth round. He has since become a starter there and recently signed his second contract with the team. Dial’s most memorable moment at Alabama was arguably a vicious, borderline late (but ultimately, clean) block on Georgia QB Aaron Murray following a turnover in the 2012 SEC Championship Game.
8. DL LaMichael Fanning, 10.0
Fanning was a physical specimen coming out of Auburn High School, but was extremely raw. He also was considered to be in need of direction somewhat, an analysis that unfortunately proved correct in 2013 when he was suspended from the team indefinitely. Fanning transferred to Jacksonville State, where he became a key player for the Gamecocks and attracted the eyes of some pro scouts. Fanning’s signature Alabama moment was a body-slam tackle of Missouri RB Russell Hansbrough in the waning moments of a blowout Alabama win in 2012.
9. DE Jeoffrey Pagan, 9.9
Pagan’s Alabama career proved difficult to analyze. He certainly never attained the lofty hype he was showered with as a high school player, but he nonetheless became a key part of Alabama’s defensive line rotation as both a sophomore and junior. Then, somewhat inexplicably, he declared early for the NFL Draft despite a mid-round evaluation, and he received middling reports from scouts in the run-up to the draft. The Houston Texans drafted Pagan in the sixth round in 2014, and he not only made the team but played in every game as a rookie. Pagan played in only six games in 2015, however. He remains with the Texans.
10. OL Isaac Luatua, 9.9
Alabama thought they had found a road-grader guard prospect in Luatua, who was signed out of La Mirada, Calif. NARCAS pegged him as an underrated athlete and a prospect at center as well as guard, but those projections never came to pass. Luatua hovered around the second-team/third-team breakpoint his entire five-year career in Tuscaloosa, getting less playing time as his career went along.
11. RB Dee Hart, 9.9
Injuries, position changes and Alabama’s offensive style pre-Lane Kiffin all conspired to bring Hart’s Alabama career to an untimely end. Hart spent three years at Alabama, where the Tide never could find the perfect use for his track speed. Hart’s diminutive size proved to be an issue in SEC play, particularly since Alabama’s offensive system preferred pure power backs during those years. Hart was arrested for a minor drug offense in early 2014, but before coaches announced any discipline, Hart was able to graduate just a few months later and transfer without penalty to Colorado State. It was an odd decision given the Rams were running the same offense as the one in place at Alabama, but Hart thrived under Jim McElwain’s tutelage there and when McElwain left for Florida, Hart declared for the NFL Draft. He went undrafted, then signed and was subsequently released by the Miami Dolphins.
12. LB Shannon Brown, 9.8
Each class seems to have one forgotten player, and 2011’s was linebacker Shannon Brown. Brown, from Adel, Ga., committed early to Alabama, and had some scouts calling him one of the best pure inside linebackers to come along in years. Others didn’t see anything special in the player. Brown’s senior season got off to a quiet start, but he began to gather more buzz as the year went along and by the end of the season, Georgia was trying hard to flip him from Alabama’s list, and Clemson and Georgia Tech were also in tight pursuit. It appeared the Bulldogs had an excellent chance of changing Brown’s mind, but he ultimately stuck with Alabama despite the word getting out that he would not qualify. Brown was set to go to East Mississippi CC, but quickly changed streams and ended up at Georgia Military. Brown claimed he still had offers from both Georgia and Alabama, but as the 2012 season came and went, Brown fell off the radar. He surfaced again in 2014, with a newspaper claiming he would join Alabama for the 2015 season. That didn’t happen, either. Today, Brown is in the wind, his career apparently over.
13. WR Marvin Shinn, 9.8
The in-state wide receiver class was already thin in 2011, and Alabama had missed on some bigger targets. The Tide eventually took a commitment from Vigor’s Marvin Shinn, who was viewed as an extremely raw player but a hard worker with good upside. Shinn redshirted in 2011, then elevated himself to just on the brink of Alabama’s main receiver rotation in 2012. His hands were suspect, but his blocking ability wasn’t, and after an injury to Darius Hanks and a refocus on the running game late in the year, Shinn saw his playing time increase thanks to what he brought to the running game. He is likely most famous for being a downfield blocker on T.J. Yeldon’s memorable screen pass touchdown against LSU in Baton Rouge in 2012. In search of more meaningful playing time as a receiver, he transferred to South Alabama in 2013, where he eventually became on the Jaguars’ most-used receivers.
14. CB Bradley Sylve, 9.8
Sylve’s contributions weren’t as numerous as other players, but he’ll have a place in fans’ hearts thanks to one particularly important night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2014. Facing Auburn, starter Eddie Jackson’s knee injury proved too much to overcome, as Jackson was baited and burned badly, twice, by the Tiger passing game. Sylve had been the starter in the opener against West Virginia, but had struggled against star receiver Kevin White and had been benched for the remainder of the year. With Jackson obviously unable to go, however, Alabama had to go to the next man up, and that man was Sylve. Sylve shut down his assigned receivers for the remainder of the game and broke up a would-be touchdown pass to Duke Williams late in the game. But the following week against Missouri, Eddie Jackson was back in the saddle, and Sylve would never start again. For that matter, he only played on special teams or in blowouts for the remainder of his college career. For those reasons, Sylve couldn’t be considered a true difference-maker for the purposes of this article, but he’ll always have the second half of the 2014 Alabama-Auburn game as a highlight.
15. CB Jabriel Washington, 9.8
The quick, ball-hawking but also incredibly slight Jabriel Washington took three years to become a contributor at Alabama before finishing up his career as the tide’s quarter safety. While his playing time went down as a senior, Washington’s junior year found him taking on an increased role. Somewhat surprisingly, Washington parlayed his time as a role player in Alabama’s secondary to an NFL contract, signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Rams.
16. LB Brent Calloway, 9.8
Calloway’s recruitment and short stay in Alabama were both forever in turmoil. Calloway committed early to Alabama, then flipped to Auburn late in the process. But a last-minute turn of events put Calloway back in Alabama’s camp, where he signed with the Crimson Tide on Signing Day and touched off all sorts of allegations from both Auburn fans and Auburn-friendly elements of the state press in the process. No evidence of wrongdoing was ever found. But Calloway’s on-campus experience didn’t go smoothly. He was only briefly tried at his position of choice, running back, before bouncing around the depth chart and eventually landing at H-back. Just when it looked like he’d found his niche, Calloway – who had run afoul of team rules already – was arrested along with three other players in 2013. While the other three were all charged with robbery, Calloway’s charge was much less serious – use of a stolen credit card – but this combined with his previous issues was too much to ignore. He was released from the team, transferred to a junior college, but was arrested again in 2015 in Florence.
17. DE D.J. Pettway, 9.7
One of the other players arrested with Brent Calloway was D.J. Pettway, who was charged with robbery and kicked off the team in 2013 along with Calloway, linebacker Tyler Hayes and receiver/safety Eddie Williams. Unlike the other three, Pettway got a second chance in Tuscaloosa, re-signing with Alabama in 2014 out of junior college. Pettway came to Alabama a pass-rush specialist, often as a stand-up end, and had early success in that role; by the time he returned to Tuscaloosa, however, he had grown into more of an edge-setter and played exclusively with his hand down. The robbery arrest turned out to be Pettway’s lone brush with trouble and he kept his nose clean during his second stint. Pettway’s weight gain, however, cut into his value as an NFL prospect somewhat, not to mention that Alabama’s DL rotation highlighted players other than him. He was not drafted in April, but did sign a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints.
18. C Ryan Kelly, 9.7
Pure centers almost always are undervalued in recruiting rankings, and Ryan Kelly was no exception. Considered the best technical center available in the 2011 class, Kelly’s size wasn’t considered ideal, and most thought it would take him two or three years to get into playing shape. Kelly developed quicker than predicted, however, and ended his Alabama career a three-year starter and Rimington Award winner. He was the first player from the 2015 Alabama team taken in this April’s draft, going 18th overall to Indianapolis. He didn’t allow a sack his last two years in college and was Alabama’s de facto backup left tackle the last two seasons.
19. TE Malcolm Faciane, 9.7
Faciane was not an elite prospect in most recruiting services’ eyes, but he had a solid senior season and was beginning to get more attention when a knee injury during his senior season in high school proved devastating. By the time Faciane had fully recovered in Tuscaloosa, his speed appeared to have been affected and he was considered mostly an in-line blocker only. A couple of minor off-field issues, though, slowed him down further. He started the 2014 Alabama-Auburn game, but played little as the game went along and his season snap count was low. Faciane left the program following the 2014 season and finished his career at UT-Martin.
20. WR Danny Woodson Jr., 9.6
Woodson’s Alabama career proved to be as ill-fated as that of his father, who at one time captured the starting quarterback job at Alabama before losing it to Jay Barker. The younger Woodson was considered a physical receiver prospect coming out of LeFlore High School in Mobile, but his hands were raw and he lacked elite quickness. He caught one pass at Alabama before being suspended in early 2013, then transferring to South Alabama, where he and fellow 2011 recruiting classmate Marvin Shinn became contributors for the Jaguars. Woodson put together a solid bio at USA before his career ended, catching 75 balls for more than 1,000 yards while there.
21. CB Christion Jones, 9.5
NARCAS ranked Jones as a defensive back coming out of high school, a position he only briefly played at Alabama in a few practices and scrimmages over the years. Jones instead made his impact on the offensive side of the ball, starting as the Tide’s slot receiver and main punt and kick returner from his sophomore season on. Arguably, Jones’ greatest contributions were in relief of an injured Marquis Maze in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game against LSU, and then again against LSU in 2014, with a spectacular catch to extend what would be a game-tying drive and send the game to overtime, where Alabama eventually won it. Jones’ entire 2014 season was maddeningly erratic, full of dropped balls, muffed kicks and missed opportunities, but the reception at LSU was no doubt a highlight.
22. LB Vinnie Sunseri, 9.5
Most everyone expected Sunseri to eventually bulk up and move to linebacker. Not only did he never do that, he eventually became the best rover safety in the SEC and played multiple years with the New Orleans Saints. Sunseri’s performance in 2013 against Texas A&M, which included an interception and subsequent touchdown return against Johnny Manziel, put him on the national map, but Alabama fans were aware of his importance well before that. Unfortunately for Sunseri, a knee injury sustained on special teams ended his Alabama career prematurely and may have cost Alabama a national title shot as a result.
23. QB Phillip Ely, 9.4
Judging whether Ely could be called a difference-maker for Alabama is a tough call. He was the co-No. 2 quarterback in 2012 along with Blake Sims, throwing a touchdown pass in the Mississippi State game in relief of a briefly-injured A.J. McCarron. But Ely fled Tuscaloosa after two years for the University of Toledo, where he became a solid starter for the Rockets, solid enough to get a camp invitation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring. His Toledo career has set up some interesting bar-room conversations – had he stayed in Tuscaloosa, who would have started for Alabama in 2015, Ely or Jake Coker? – and one college scout told NARCAS during Ely’s senior season in high school that he had some Drew Brees characteristics about his game. In the end, though, Ely had to leave Alabama to make an impact.
24. WR Duron Carter, 9.9
As Duron Carter did not actually sign on Signing Day with Alabama, he was not part of the original class wrap-up in February. Had he been, Carter would have been slotted as the 10th-best prospect in this class, just behind DE Jeoffrey Pagan. He came to Alabama from Coffeyville Community College, where he’d spent one year after playing his freshman year at Ohio State. But Carter could never get going at Alabama. Academic questions haunted him from the outset, and then there were other off-field issues that resulted in a suspension. Carter left Alabama after one year and transferred to Florida Atlantic, but the NCAA declined his petition to play immediately. Carter left FAU and went to the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, where he spent two years before trying to latch on with the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts cut him from the active team, then signed (and later cut) him from the practice squad. He’s back in Montreal, awaiting his next move.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN