Early signing period foretells a shift in how schools do business

Filed under: 2017 Football,Football,Recruiting |

By Jess Nicholas
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Dec. 22, 2017

With the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision adding an early signing period for prospects beginning this fall, the question was going to be how many of ’s targets would go ahead and sign in the early period.

The answer, seemingly, was all of them – whether they signed with Alabama, or someone else.

Alabama recorded 15 total signatures from Wednesday, Dec. 20 through Friday, Dec. 22. Alabama also took a commitment from prized defensive tackle target Bobby Brown, but as of press time, Brown had not sent LOI paperwork to Tuscaloosa.

Alabama’s 15 signings – out of what is expected to be 22 by the end of the day on Wednesday, Feb. 7 – was good enough to land Alabama second among SEC teams, well ahead of LSU and Auburn, but also well behind , which may end up setting some kind of record for quality in a Signing Day class. ’s class could get even richer (and damage Alabama’s in the process) if the Bulldogs manage to flip linebacker Quay Walker, who has been a longtime Alabama commitment.

TideFans.com intends to wait out the process before filing final class evaluations, which are set to come in February as usual. It would be fair to say we were surprised at how many players went ahead and signed in the early session, but would also note we feel this could create a situation where some lesser-heralded recruits now get a chance to get a more in-depth evaluation from college coaches between now and Feb. 7.

Here’s a look at who Alabama signed, who’s still committed, and what Alabama fans might expect in the next couple of months.

QUARTERBACKS

Signed: None
: James Foster, Swift Lyle, Tanner McKee
Analysis: When Alabama either lost Emory Jones to Florida, or simply stopped recruiting him – Jones’ star has fallen a bit as the process has gone along, particularly as a pure quarterback recruit – the chances that Alabama takes a quarterback in this class fell significantly. In-state players James Foster and Swift Lyle may end up being the only choices Alabama has heading into February, as most of Alabama’s QB board has already signed elsewhere, or at the very least is considered firmly committed. Both Foster and Lyle are athletic quarterbacks and Foster has a big arm, but Foster also has accuracy issues. Lyle may have to go to a smaller school if he wants to continue to be a quarterback, but his measurables (6’3”, 185, 4.6) portend a possible shift to safety or receiver. Tanner McKee would be a major target were it not for the fact he still plans on delaying college enrollment to go on a Mormon mission after high school graduation, thus essentially making him a 2020 recruit. Given the depth of the QB market next year, Alabama probably won’t spend much energy on McKee down the stretch. Regarding Foster and Lyle, no one may end up benefiting more from the new “second season” in recruiting than Lyle.
Prediction: No signees

RUNNING BACKS

Signed: Jerome Ford
Recruiting: Harold Joiner, Kavosiey Smoke
Analysis: When Alabama unexpectedly lost out on Asa Martin, who picked Auburn instead, the Crimson Tide decided to move on third-down back Jerome Ford, who deserves the catch-all “ATH” tag more than just about anyone else in this class. Ford was used more as a receiver than a running back, and compares more favorably to former Tennessee pocketknife Pig Howard than anyone else. Ford isn’t big enough to carry an every-down load, and probably can’t add that much weight, but as Alabama continues to transition more to a speed-oriented spread attack than its familiar ground-pound game, Ford becomes an even better fit. If Alabama needs to go looking for a big back – which depends more on what Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris intend to do than anything else – two in-state players, Mountain Brook’s Harold Joiner and Wetumpka’s Kavosiey Smoke, are pretty much the best still available. Smoke was highly productive as a senior but his tape doesn’t reveal a lot of special ability. Joiner’s stock was high a year ago, fell off precipitously this summer, but has since rebounded, and he’s going to be an SEC player somewhere by the time it’s all over, likely at LSU or Ole Miss.
Prediction: Ford (signed)

WIDE RECEIVERS

Signed: Slade Bolden, Xavier Williams
Recruiting: Jaylen Waddle, Justyn Ross, Justin Watkins, Josh Moore, Jalen Hall, Jacob Copeland, Isaah Crocker
Analysis: For months, Alabama has counted Jaylen Waddle in this class, but the arrival of Jimbo Fisher as Texas A&M coach has complicated that. Alabama covets Waddle, who is a slightly smaller Calvin Ridley clone and figures to be an earlier contributor. But at this point he appears to be leaning away from the Tide. Of the others, that leaves mostly Florida star Jacob Copeland and Justyn Ross, who is the state of Alabama’s top receiver but whose speed measurables aren’t that great. Florida is Alabama’s top competition for Copeland and Clemson for Ross, most likely. The other issue is how many of Alabama’s 7 vacant scholarships (4 if you count the players committed to Alabama but not yet signed) are going to be given to wide receivers. Of the two players already signed, Xavier Williams could be a possibility at corner or safety. He’s a receiver with standard measurables who would probably need a redshirt before contributing. Bolden is one of the most intriguing prospects in some time. He’s a pure slot receiver/scatback option, but he’s more physical than his size and has explosiveness. He’s the kind of player Alabama has frankly been missing for a few years at that position.
Prediction: Bolden (signed), Williams (signed), Copeland or Ross but not both

TIGHT ENDS

Signed: None
Recruiting: Michael Parker (commit), Glenn Beal
Analysis: Alabama struck out on Dominck Wood-Anderson, who the Tide lost to Tennessee when Jeremy Pruitt was named head coach there. Malcolm Epps, who Alabama also briefly targeted, ended up at Texas. Alabama took a commitment from Michael Parker, considered by most to be a grayshirt, and passed on Luke Ford, who has good height but little speed; Ford ended up at Georgia. Tight end isn’t a need position for Alabama this year anyway. Hale Hentges has another year, and Irv Smith Jr., Miller Forristall, Major Tennison and Kedrick James are all underclassmen. There is even a walk-on, Cam Stewart, who holds some promise. The only other name besides Parker to watch is potentially New Orleans-based Glenn Beal, who is a versatile athlete with a lot of upside. In a year Alabama could take 25, Beal would probably already have a firm offer.
Prediction: Parker (commit, grayshirt who will count against 2018-2019 numbers)

OFFENSIVE LINE

Signed: Emil Ekiyor, Tommy Brown
Recruiting: Penei Sewell, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Jarrett Bell
Analysis: Tommy Brown is a Bama legacy, but he’s also one of the most highly-rated pure tackles available in 2017-2018. Emil Ekiyor is an interior player and potentially Alabama’s best recruit in this class. Given the depth Alabama enjoys on the offensive line – Alabama has three full teams of scholarshipped athletes right now – OL isn’t a need position. But with guys like Penei Sewell and Nicholas Petit-Frere out there, Alabama could hardly say no if either wanted to join the class. Sewell in particular has been pursued heavily all year. He looks like a guard, but he’s quick enough for tackle and an awesome athlete. Petit-Frere is extremely raw and needs to add weight, but he’s got a little Chris Samuels in him, and would be too good to pass up. Also in the mix is Jarrett Bell, who was committed to Alabama for several months but might not have had a committable offer at this time. Like the receiver category, you should expect Alabama to take at least one other player here. If Sewell, who likes Oregon a ton, and Petit-Frere both go elsewhere, Bell might find himself a part of the class.
Prediction: Ekiyor (signed), Brown (signed), Sewell, Petit-Frere

DEFENSIVE LINE

Signed: Jarez Parks, Christian Barmore, Stephon Wynn, Jordan Davis
Recruiting: Bobby Brown (commit), Malik Langham, Michael Thompson
Analysis: The commitment of Bobby Brown was huge, because Alabama needed to get two pure tackles in this class. Christian Barmore is the other, and with both of them, Alabama would at least be able to hold serve in the face of losing Joshua Frazier and most likely Da’Ron Payne as well at the end of this year. Of the others, Stephon Wynn has the potential to grow into an inside player; he’s potentially the Jonathan Allen of this class, a flex lineman who can overpower outside players and out-quick interior linemen. Jordan Davis may be the sleeper of the class, a rush end with the frame to add a lot of weight without losing his quickness. Jarez Parks grayshirted this year and should enter the 2018 season ready to contribute early. He has some of the same qualities Dalvin Tomlinson possessed. It is critical, however, that Brown is held onto until February. He was previously committed to Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher will stay in his ear right up to the point he moves into a dorm in Tuscaloosa. In addition to this group, Alabama offered in-state star Malik Langham and likely expected to get a fast commitment, but it didn’t happen. Langham remains unsigned. St. Louis-based Michael Thompson certainly has the talent to contribute, but he hasn’t been a focus of Alabama just yet. That may change now that the early period is over.
Prediction: Parks (signed), Barmore (signed), Wynn (signed), Davis (signed), Brown (commit), Langham

LINEBACKERS

Signed: Eyabi Anoma, Cameron Latu
Recruiting: Vernon Jackson (commit), Quay Walker
Analysis: Alabama got signatures from two first-rate pass rushers in Eyabi Anoma and Cameron Latu. Anoma is the consensus highest-rated player in the class, but Latu looks every bit as impressive on film. Together with Jordan Davis, who will start at linebacker but who is expected to quickly grow into a defensive end, Alabama has pretty much solved its outside linebacker questions for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, both Alabama’s inside linebacker targets failed to sign this week, and Quay Walker isn’t even considered a firm commitment anymore by TideFans.com. Georgia has made significant inroads there, to the point the Bulldogs might lead. Vernon Jackson is an intriguing prospect, a quarterback in high school who possesses undeniable athleticism. Texas A&M has come on quickly, but Jackson is still expected to stick with Alabama. He could be an early contributor despite not focusing on the linebacker position yet.
Prediction: Anoma (signed), Latu (signed), Jackson (commit)

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Signed: Jalyn Armour-Davis, Joshua Jobe, Saivion Smith
Recruiting: Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Patrick Surtain Jr., Tyson Campbell
Analysis: Alabama certainly addressed the issue of bigger, more physical cornerbacks with this class. Armour-Davis, Jobe and Smith are all over six feet tall and play with aggression. It would have been even better had Nadab Joseph been part of the class, but in the final week, questions arose about his ability to qualify at Alabama and Joseph flipped to Georgia instead. It’s a curious situation but one that is now in the past. Joseph’s departure from the class makes it more likely Alabama makes a push for Tyson Campbell and potentially Patrick Surtain Jr. as well. Campbell has been slowly becoming more and more interested in Alabama, but Surtain is considered a strong LSU lean and it was more than a modest surprise that he didn’t sign in the early period. Isaac Taylor-Stuart would have to be considered a longshot at best, but Tosh Lupoi has turned up the heat on him and Alabama is now considered by some a co-favorite with Texas A&M.
Prediction: Armour-Davis (signed), Jobe (signed), Smith (signed), Campbell

SPECIALISTS

Signed: Skyler DeLong (P)
Recruiting: None
Analysis: This is the shortest analysis in the history of analyses: Skyler DeLong is the odds-on favorite to be Alabama’s punter in 2018. No other specialists will be signed.
Prediction: DeLong (signed)

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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