By Jess Nicholas | @TideFansJessN
May 21, 2017
Over the last seven years, TideFans.com has 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 2011 class, Nick Saban’s fourth full class at Alabama. Only 12 of the 24 players signed ever started or became key contributors, for a hit rate of only 50 percent. As such, the 2011 class cannot truly be considered a “great” class – although 6 of the 8 players who rated a perfect 10.0 on the TideFans.com’s NARCAS ranking scale developed into eventual stars, making 2011 a very top-heavy year.
For 2012, Alabama brought in a total of 26 players, and 18 of those became front-line contributors, a success rate of 69.2%, an incredibly high percentage and one of the best of Nick Saban’s career. Oddly enough, though, the top of the class underperformed relative to the middle. Of the 9 players who rated a perfect 10.0, 6 (66.7%) became key contributors, and 3 of those either just barely qualified for the honor or had other issues pop up during their stay in Tuscaloosa.
Here’s a breakdown of the individual players represented in the 2012 class. Players are listed in the order in which they were ranked by TideFans/NARCAS on National Signing Day in 2012. Players in red were deemed to be key contributors for the purpose of scoring this article.
1. Landon Collins S 6-1 210 4.4 10.0 Geismar, La./Dutchtown
After the now-infamous announcement of Collins’ commitment to Alabama – one that his mother very clearly did not approve of – Collins got off to a slow start as a freshman before breaking out in his second and third years. He opted to leave Alabama after his junior season and was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants. After a decent rookie season, Collins broke out in his second year, finishing the season with 5 interceptions, including a pick-six, and was named to the NFL All-Pro team.
2. Eddie Williams WR 6-4 210 4.5 10.0 Panama City Beach, Fla./Arnold
After seeing Williams side-by-side with Amari Cooper, many evaluators were already beginning to question his hype long before he got to Alabama. Williams found himself moved to safety at an all-star game and probably headed for a future on the defensive side of the ball at Alabama as well, until the events of early February 2013. Williams was arrested as part of an assault, robbery and credit card theft case that also claimed the No. 3 player on this list, LB Tyler Hayes, along with older players Brent Calloway and D.J. Pettway. For all but Pettway, the arrests proved terminal to their Alabama careers, and Pettway was dismissed from school and forced to go through the JUCO route to get back to campus. Williams eventually pleaded guilty to robbery and avoided jail time, but his Alabama career was over. He also was later implicated in accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a teacher while still in high school. Williams eventually signed with Florida A&M but his career there did not take off.
3. Tyler Hayes LB 6-2 220 4.5 10.0 Thomasville/Thomasville
Hayes was part of the same incident that ended Williams’ Alabama career. He eventually received youthful offender status for that arrest but was arrested for a probation violation in late May 2015. In between, Hayes transferred to the University of West Georgia, but failed to make a mark on the field.
4. Travell Dixon CB 6-2 200 4.4 10.0 Miami, Fla./Eastern Arizona CC
Dixon might have the most unique story of anyone in this class. He signed with Alabama as an early entrant out of Eastern Arizona Community College and joined the team for spring practice. Fans were excited to see what Dixon could accomplish, given his rare height and length for a true corner. But Dixon, by all measurable evidence, was a bust. He finished the spring buried deep on Alabama’s depth chart and opted to leave school immediately. From there, he ended up at Washington, where he proceeded to be anything but a bust. Dixon thrived in the Washington defense and from there eventually landed on the Carolina Panthers’ roster for 2016. He finished the season on the practice squad but was re-signed over the offseason. While Dixon didn’t make an impact in Tuscaloosa, he was at least able to continue on the road to the NFL.
5. Cyrus Jones WR 5-10 180 4.4 10.0 Baltimore, Md./Gilman
Jones ranked above Amari Cooper largely because of his two-way ability and promise as a kick returner. He began at Alabama as a wide receiver and rose to the level of second-team slot receiver, but Saban recognized a cornerback hiding under a receiver’s jersey and Jones swapped sides of the field early in his career. From there, Jones eventually became Alabama’s best pure cover corner and a weapon on punt returns. He was drafted by the New England Patriots.
6. Geno Smith CB 5-11 170 4.4 10.0 Atlanta, Ga./St. Pius X
Smith came in as a cornerback prospect but spent most of his time at Star safety over his Alabama career, despite not really having the size for it. He ended up a key contributor on several teams, but also had a couple of off-field incidents that may have impeded his ability to grab a bigger role over the long term. Regardless, he finished his Alabama career in good standing, and when an NFL career didn’t pan out (he had a brief stint with the Redskins), he rejoined the program as an off-field assistant.
7. Brandon Greene OL 6-7 300 5.0 10.0 Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove
Greene was a borderline addition to this list, but in the end he qualified for inclusion based on being Alabama’s chief situational tight end in its power formations. Greene never could seem to crack the lineup at his first position, offensive tackle, although he was technically the second-team left tackle his last two seasons and occasionally played there. He made his greatest contribution at tight end, however, with the highlight being an improbable catch against LSU in Baton Rouge. All teams need some players who can fit in certain roles, and Greene managed to fill multiple such roles despite never being a true starter.
8. Dalvin Tomlinson DL 6-3 275 5.0 10.0 McDonough, Ga./Henry County
Knee injuries threatened to derail Tomlinson’s career early on, but by the time he was a senior, modern medicine had done its trick. Tomlinson became a key component of Alabama’s defensive line and may go down as the best-ever Alabama defensive tackle at defending spread running games. His background as a wrestler was put to good use, and Tomlinson was eventually drafted by the New York Giants in April.
9. Darren Lake DL 6-3 330 4.9 10.0 York/Sumter County
When Lake played, he was effective. Unfortunately for Lake, he was recruited at a time when the fire-hydrant-built nosetackle type was still prevalent in college football. By the time Lake was an upperclassman, conventional nose guards that lacked the ability to pressure the pocket from the middle – but who could easily fill two gaps against a traditional running attack – were a dying breed. Lake technically was a starter for Alabama – against certain opponents, in certain packages. Against the LSUs and Georgias of the world, Lake had a place. Against the Auburns and Ole Misses, not so much. Lake eventually signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2016, but was released in fall camp.
10. Amari Cooper WR 6-1 180 4.4 9.9 Miami, Fla./Northwestern
The first of Alabama’s sub-10.0 players in this class, Cooper was even further down on many analysts’ charts, but he jumped off the page at the Under Armour All-Star Game, outshining every other receiver (and every other Alabama signee as well). Cooper’s maturity, route-running ability and never-miss hands eventually put him in the running for best wide receiver in school history, along with Julio Jones, David Palmer and Don Hutson. Given his rather “typical” build and 40-time, he’ll be the receiver most all incoming signees are compared to for years, at least through the end of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. Cooper was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and continues to impress at the pro level.
11. Reggie Ragland LB 6-4 240 4.6 9.9 Madison/Bob Jones
Ragland rode the bench his first two years, making contributions only on special teams and late in blowout games. But his last two seasons saw him fill out his body and become one of the most athletic, versatile linebackers Alabama has ever had. Unfortunately, his professional career got off to a rocky start, as he suffered a torn ACL as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills and is just now starting to get back to being ready to play.
12. Chris Black WR 5-11 170 4.4 9.9 Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast
Some analysts had Black ranking above Amari Cooper and Cyrus Jones, but Black was always a bit of a work in progress. His route-running ability needed work and he wasn’t as far along physically as Alabama’s other 2012 signees. But he was blazing fast, with good moves after the catch and many believed he’d eventually bring value as a kickoff returner. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Black did improve his route-running skills, but contracted a case of the dropsies that he never shook. He made it as far as second-team at slot receiver (although it took moving Jones to defense for it to happen), but some critical errors shuffled him backward on the depth chart and he eventually transferred to Missouri. He became a key part of the Tigers’ wideout rotation, but only caught 17 passes in his one year there and was not drafted.
13. Ryan Anderson DE 6-2 245 4.6 9.9 Daphne/Daphne
When all is said and done, Ryan Anderson may eventually be considered the best front-seven defender signed in this class. His career got off to a rocky start, as he was sent home early from Alabama’s national championship game trip to Miami to face Notre Dame, but Anderson eventually turned his career around and was probably its best playmaker down the stretch as a senior in 2016. Anderson projected to grow into a full-time defensive end role, but he managed to retain the flexibility to move up and down between end and strongside linebacker. He also became one of the team’s strongest leaders in the clubhouse. The Washington Redskins drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
14. Kenyan Drake RB 6-1 190 4.4 9.9 Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove
There may have been more important players in this class, but there were none more entertaining than Drake, whose immense talent was equaled only by his bad luck, penchant for irking Nick Saban (albeit harmlessly, most of the time), and frequent trips to the training room. Drake had a fantastic mix of speed, moves and enough size to competently play every-down running back for an SEC school, but a series of injuries, both minor and major, relegated him to playing second fiddle to first T.J. Yeldon and then Derrick Henry. But against Clemson in the 2016 National Championship Game, it was Drake that put a fitting end to his Alabama career with a kickoff return for a touchdown that proved to be the crowning moment in the game. When he wasn’t doing things like patrolling the sideline on a scooter – with a box of Saban’s favorite Little Debbie Snack Cakes in the scooter’s basket, just because – he was busy being the X-factor on some of the best Bama teams in school history. The Miami Dolphins drafted Drake after the 2016 season, and Drake got busy irking Dolphins’ coach Adam Gase just like he had Saban. But like Saban, Gase openly refers to Drake as one of his key players.
15. Korren Kirven DL 6-4 270 4.9 9.9 Lynchburg, Va./Brookville
Talk about a Cinderella story. Kirven was well on his way to having his name appear in black on this list, as he had started one game and only gotten substantial snaps in a couple of others prior to his senior year. Kirven was still considered a second-teamer in name only, at least until Alphonse Taylor’s career was ended by concussions. Then, the former defensive lineman became a starter at right guard. Kirven wasn’t the most accomplished interior lineman Alabama has ever had, but he acquitted himself well enough, and deserves kudos for never quitting or transferring out. His patience was rewarded, as Kirven was offered a free-agent contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following April’s NFL Draft.
16. Denzel Devall LB 6-2 240 4.6 9.9 Bastrop, La./Bastrop
Every class needs a few blue-collar types, and Devall fit the bill here. Devall played both strongside and Jack linebacker for Alabama for four years and while never a particularly explosive player, he turned into one of the best edge-setters against the run Alabama has had during Nick Saban’s time. Devall displayed some promise as a pass rusher early in his career, but lost a couple of steps as an upperclassman after gaining weight to play with his hand down. He has now come back to Tuscaloosa, joining the coaching staff in its personnel department.
17. T.J. Yeldon RB 6-2 215 4.5 9.8 Daphne/Daphne
Yeldon’s Alabama career was one of the more interesting in recent memory. There was his iconic screen pass catch-and-run with less than a minute left against LSU in Baton Rouge as a true freshman. There were big runs against Notre Dame, Auburn, Michigan and countless others. But there were also ball-security issues, minor injuries and sometimes a maddening aversion to running vertically. In all, Yeldon’s career would rank as the best ever if it had happened at 100 other schools; at Alabama, he ended up probably as a four-out-of-five-star guy whose career was somewhat overshadowed by those who came before (Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson) and those who came afterward (Derrick Henry). Yeldon was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but after two ho-hum years, he’ll need a good fall camp to stay with the team.
18. Kurt Freitag TE 6-3 240 4.7 9.8 Buford, Ga./Buford
Kurt Freitag was set to miss the 2014 season with injury and ultimately gave up football. Unfortunately for Freitag, that wasn’t the whole story regarding his departure. Freitag landed in hot water after authorities found a whole lot of marijuana and whole lot of money – together – in his dorm room in October 2014. But he was never charged. Nick Saban, not one to decline to speak about players no longer with the program, gave reporters looking into Freitag’s case no details. For lack of a better way to state it, this whole episode ended not with a bang or even a whimper, but with complete silence. According to sources near the program, Freitag stayed in school at Alabama and get his degree.
19. Deion Belue CB 6-0 165 4.4 9.8 Tuscumbia/NE Mississippi CC
Belue signed with Alabama for a second time after failing to qualify out of high school. While Belue was listed at 6’0”, 165 coming out of JUCO, in reality, he was probably much smaller. Even so, by the time Belue was a senior, he was Alabama’s best cornerback and got multiple shots in the NFL and CFL as a free agent after his college career was over.
20. Alphonse Taylor DL 6-5 340 5.3 9.8 Mobile/Davidson
Taylor signed as a potential nosetackle, but very quickly moved to offensive line and was a fixture in the guard rotation for his last three years on campus. Taylor’s footwork was never quick enough to allow him to be considered in the upper echelon of offensive linemen, but he had the size and attitude to make him an effective force in the running game. By the time 2016 rolled around, though, Taylor had run into some off-field trouble that appeared to cost him his starting job. And just as he won it back, a severe concussion ended his career. It’s unclear whether Taylor would have gotten a shot in the NFL, but he wisely decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
21. Dakota Ball DL 6-2 290 5.0 9.7 Lindale, Ga./Pepperell
Like Amari Cooper, Dakota Ball showed out in the Under Armour All-Star game following his senior year in high school. At the time, he was an undersized-but-buck-strong nosetackle who could lock down the middle against the run and put on decent pass-rush pressure at the same time. It was clear from the outset of his college career, though, that he would need a couple of years to get his body into SEC shape. But it never really happened for Ball, who struggled to add weight effectively. He eventually moved to tight end for a couple of seasons, briefly becoming a starter there in 2015. He switched back to defense, this time to end, in 2016 and was initially part of the regular playing rotation. But Ball was not able to effectively get penetration as a pass rusher, and as the season wore along, he lost his spot to younger players. Still, the fact he achieved key-contributor status on both sides of the ball during his career is something few recent Crimson Tiders can say.
22. Alec Morris QB 6-3 230 4.7 9.7 Allen, Texas/Allen
Morris’ closest brush with glory in Tuscaloosa came when he took P1 during a scrimmage in 2015 when the job was still up for grabs. But with the arrival of Blake Barnett, the writing was on the wall, and Morris transferred to North Texas. While it took him some time, Morris eventually claimed the starting job for UNT and threw for more than 300 yards in his final game there.
23. Dillon Lee LB 6-4 240 4.6 9.6 Buford, Ga./Buford
Like teammate Ryan Anderson, Lee’s career got off to an inauspicious start, as both players were sent home from Miami as freshmen after breaking team rules leading up to the Tide’s contest with Notre Dame. Both also ended up primarily at the same position by the time they were upperclassmen, with Lee technically the starting strongside linebacker as a senior and Anderson the floating backup at both that spot and Jack linebacker, too. Lee brought uncommon pass coverage ability to the position, which in Alabama’s scheme is more of a glorified defensive end. He also had a knack for the big moment, and even though his total snap count at Alabama was relatively low, he was no doubt an impact player. Lee signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints prior to the 2016 season, but was cut. He is continuing to pursue a pro career.
24. Brandon Hill OL 6-7 350 5.5 9.6 Collierville, Tenn./St. George
Hill’s mountain-like stature (and girth) made him a player to watch as soon as he flipped his commitment from Ole Miss. But Hill never made his grades, and was forced to begin his career in junior college. From there, he decided to cast his lot with the restarting UAB program. The only player in this class whose career is still active, Hill has one more season of eligibility with UAB, but missed spring practice there due to injuries. It remains to be seen whether he can return.
25. Caleb Gulledge DL 6-5 275 5.0 9.5 Prattville/Prattville
Gulledge was moved to offensive line out of the gate in the fall of 2012, and given his weight, it was clear that he would need multiple offseasons in the weight room to get where he needed to be if he was going to play offensive line for Alabama. Unfortunately, Gulledge’s Alabama career ended before it really began. He was medically disqualified but attempted to transfer to Jacksonville State and revive his career there. After one game at JSU, he again transferred, this time to Faulkner University in Montgomery. He was at one point attached to the staff of the Prattville Patriots, a semi-pro developmental team, but his name no longer appears on the team’s website.
26. Adam Griffith PK 5-9 165 *.* *.* Calhoun, Ga./Calhoun
Griffith’s Alabama career was largely star-crossed, from his unfortunate involvement in the “Kick Six” disaster to several missed kicks in other games. He became a reliable kickoff man his last two years, but a poorly executed kickoff late against Clemson in January was one of the overlooked negative plays of that game. On the other had, Griffith may have had bouts of inaccuracy now and then, but for the most part was a reliable short- and mid-distance kicker as a senior. At any rate, he received far more blame than he deserved and not nearly enough credit.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN