Signing Day 2018: So-so finish undersells a solid class

Jan 20, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban speaks to the crowd at the Alabama Crimson Tide National Championship Celebration at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 20, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; head coach speaks to the crowd at the Crimson Tide National Championship Celebration at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

By Jess Nicholas
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Feb. 8, 2018

A year after signing what was at the time, the best class in Alabama history on paper – a heralding that backed itself up on the field once the fall came – Alabama couldn’t repeat its past glories, and ended up signing the lowest-ranked class since Nick Saban’s first class at Alabama in 2007.

Saban’s age, the distribution of former assistants as head coaches at rival schools, and a nearly total rebuild of the assistant coaching staff – one which might still have a few moves to make – conspired to lessen the sexiness of the class. But even though Alabama ranked 8th in TideFans.com/NARCAS’ national rankings, that was still good enough for second among SEC teams behind Georgia’s massive haul that might go down as the highest-ranked class ever signed by any school.

Alabama’s class carried an average NARCAS ranking of 9.83, which is toward the higher end of Saban’s classes but still trailed the 2012, 2015 and 2017 class averages. What hurt Alabama in 2018 was two things, a raw lack of numbers – Alabama didn’t even fill its allotment of 22 scholarships, and that was with planned grayshirt Michael Parker going ahead and joining the class – and the failure to sign a second defensive tackle to go along with Christian Barmore, who will be a close call on qualifying. If Alabama were to lose Barmore, it would put extreme pressure on existing players and put Alabama yet again in a scenario of having to hold its breath and hope for good injury luck.

Balancing out the thin effort on the interior defensive line, Alabama might have signed the best defensive back class in its history, and certainly the best in the country this year. Alabama signed five big cornerbacks who can run, with several of them having the ability to slide to safety. This was an imperative task for Nick Saban, as Alabama lost its top six defensive backs at the end of the year to graduation and early NFL Draft entry.

Here’s a look at each player who signed, and their ranking.

Name POS Ht Wt 40time Rating Hometown/school

1. Eyabi Anoma LB/DE 6-5 235 4.6 10.0 Baltimore, Md./St. Francis Academy

Alabama fans have long searched for a Jason Taylor-type player off the edge, someone who could completely fulfill Nick Saban’s vision of what a Jack linebacker should be. Courtney Upshaw and Tim Williams both got close, but Eyabi Anoma, at least at this point in his career, looks like the guy who could finally be the answer. He’s got a better frame than Williams to handle the pounding of the running game, and he’s quicker out of the blocks than Upshaw was at this point in his career. Anoma flat-out abused OL prospect Nicholas Petit-Frere, who Alabama also coveted, in a postseason all-star game, and given the issues Alabama often had with a competent pass rush off the edge in 2017, his path to playing time might be a short one. Anoma is expected to qualify.

2. Jaylen Waddle WR 5-10 170 4.4 10.0 Bellaire, Texas/Episcopal

Alabama was set to fall out of the nation’s top ten classes until Jaylen Waddle saved Bama’s bacon late in the day. In doing so, Alabama got a player who might be the best all-purpose wide receiver prospect of the Nick Saban era. In addition to being a nightmare out of the slot, Waddle possesses fantastic downfield speed and is also an ace kick and punt returner. He’ll get a chance to step into that role immediately given the lack of dynamic ability Alabama showed there in 2017, particularly on kickoff returns. Waddle’s height probably knocked him down a peg or two in some circles, but TideFans.com believes he was probably the No. 1 wideout available in this class. He’s expected to qualify.

3. Patrick Surtain Jr. CB 6-2 195 4.5 10.0 Plantation, Fla./American Heritage

If Jaylen Waddle was the grand finale on Signing Day, Patrick Surtain Jr. was the opening salvo of fireworks, and in Nick Saban’s eyes, probably the biggest get of the class. Saban took a personal interest in Surtain, who projects to at least match the skills of former standout Bama corner Dre Kirkpatrick. In a defensive back class defined by height and speed, Surtain has more of both traits than most. He was the top corner available in the opinion of multiple analysts and will be expected to compete for early playing time. He is expected to qualify.

4. Saivion Smith CB 6-2 195 4.5 10.0 St. Petersburg, Fla./Mississippi G.C. CC

Getting one 6’2” cornerback with 4.5 speed is rare; getting several, as Alabama did, is almost unheard of. In Smith, Alabama gets a seasoned player who was once an LSU Tiger before leaving the program over a dispute over playing time. He continued to develop at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before pledging to Alabama early in the process. Like Surtain, Smith is expected to compete for playing time early, and to that extent, he has already enrolled at Alabama. Smith might get a look at a safety position if cornerback gets crowded.

5. Joshua Jobe CB 6-0 185 4.5 10.0 Miami, Fla./Cheshire

Alabama’s run on big corners continued with Miami-area prospect Joshua Jobe, who played his senior year at a Connecticut prep school. Jobe is another that could play a host of positions, from corner to a true safety spot to Alabama’s nickel corner (“Star”) position. Jobe was originally expected to stay in his home state for college, but chose instead to take the opportunity to be coached by Nick Saban as a defensive back. He is expected to qualify.

6. Jalyn Armour-Davis CB 6-1 180 4.5 10.0 Mobile/St. Paul’s

Arguably the top prospect in the state of Alabama, and certainly the state’s top defender, Armour-Davis is another tall corner/safety prospect who will be able to compete for early playing time in Alabama’s scheme. Like the others in this class, speed is not an issue, nor is size, and Armour-Davis’ ceiling is fairly unlimited. He is expected to qualify.

7. Christian Barmore DL 6-6 295 5.0 9.9 Philadelphia, Pa./Neumann & Goretti

Barmore may end up being the most important addition to this class depending on the development of Phidarian Mathis and Johnny Dwight at nosetackle this spring. Barmore is a huge speciment, quicker than he might initially look, and with the potential to become dominant particularly if he remakes his body a bit. Ideally, Alabama could redshirt him to get that process underway more quickly, but numbers might dictate otherwise. What Barmore must now concentrate on is getting (or remaining) eligible and reporting to Alabama on time in the fall.

8. Jarez Parks DE 6-3 250 4.8 9.9 Sebastian, Fla./Sebastian River

Seemingly against all odds, Parks, who was actually part of the 2016-2017 class, delayed entering college a full year simply for the ability to play for the Crimson Tide program. His story is still one of the most unbelievable in the history of big-time recruiting, so he will hit the practice field already having many more fans than a typical freshman would, in appreciation of his loyalty. As a player, Parks is a pure DE, but one who is able to get inside in rabbit packages, or hold point against the run. He’s similar in build and style to current Tider Isaiah Buggs, and he’s already on campus and will go through spring training with the team.

9. Cameron Latu LB/DE 6-5 235 4.8 9.9 Salt Lake City, Utah/Olympus

Latu is a pure edge rusher, a Jack or strongside linebacker who will be very at home playing with his hand on the ground in pass-rush specialty packages. An early commitment who turned into an early signee, Latu will get a chance to compete with Eyabi Anoma and Alabama’s veteran players to improve the Crimson Tide’s edge rush in 2018. Latu’s aggressiveness and natural strength will make him a bad matchup for tight ends and running backs assigned to catch him coming off the edge. He is expected to qualify.

10. Tommy Brown OL 6-7 320 5.2 9.9 Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei

Perhaps because he was an Alabama legacy, an early commitment, or just because he’s from far away, Brown never seemed to get the proper credit in this recruiting cycle, nor did Alabama for securing his signature. Brown was considered by most the top pure offensive tackle prospect in the state of California in 2017-2018, and as Alabama proved in the national championship game against Georgia, it’s not afraid to play true freshmen offensive tackles (Alex Leatherwood) if their number is called. Brown is expected to qualify. He probably projects as a right tackle early in his career, with the potential to move to the blind side later on.

11. Xavier Williams WR 6-1 190 4.6 9.8 Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna

Williams might not be the pure speed burner Jaylen Waddle is, but he plays with great technique, gets separation when it’s most needed and generally seems to be more further developed than many high school wide receivers. Williams is also a possibility to play safety, but for now it looks like wideout will be his first assignment. He is expected to qualify.

12. Eddie Smith CB 6-0 175 4.5 9.8 Slidell, La./Salmen

Probably the biggest sleeper in the class, Smith’s stock went shooting up late in the process and Alabama eventually stole him away from LSU. Smith is the same tall, fast corner as the other four in this class, and already displays an affinity for proper technique. Like several of the others, he could also find a home at a different DB slot. It’s unlikely all five corners will see playing time as a true freshman, but all five are capable of it. Smith is expected to qualify.

13. Stephon Wynn DL 6-4 290 4.9 9.8 Anderson, S.C./IMG Academy

Wynn was one of the quieter commitments Alabama took in 2017-2018; he made his pledge without much fanfare and stuck to it. As a player, he could stay at his current size and serve as a tackle/end combo player a la Da’Shawn Hand and Jonathan Allen. But Wynn could feasibly get bigger and move to a full-time interior tackle slot, a spot Alabama has a real need. Wynn has enrolled already and will go through spring practice with the team.

14. Jordan Davis DE 6-5 250 5.0 9.8 Memphis, Tenn./Southwind

Fans looking for a “value pick” in this class would have to look to Jordan Davis first. Somewhat lost in the shuffle as a Tennessee-based prospect, Davis is currently an edge-only defensive end but has the frame to add size without endangering his quickness. Many who have watched him see another Jonathan Allen in the making, while others lean more to an Xzavier Dickson type, a small end/big linebacker type who could be invaluable against the run. Davis is expected to qualify.

15. Slade Bolden WR 5-10 205 4.5 9.7 West Monroe, La./West Monroe

Bolden might not be the most heralded prospect in this class, but he’s certainly going to be one of the most-watched. Bolden’s high school career was something out of a novel, with Bolden making plays from a host of positions. He’s been projected as everything from a running back to a Wildcat quarterback to a free safety. At Alabama, he’ll most likely be a slot receiver and occasional scatback runner, a role similar to what Pig Howard had recently at Tennessee. Alabama has needed a tough, reliable slot receiver for some time, sort of a Kevin Norwood but with more after-the-catch running skills. Bolden has enrolled early and will go through spring practice with the team.

16. Emil Ekiyor OL 6-2 320 5.3 9.7 Indianapolis, Ind./Cathedral

Ekiyor may have been the top center prospect in the country this year, but he could also play both guard slots if called upon. Analyst opinions varied; those who liked Ekiyor absolutely loved him, while some see a lack of quickness and considered him more of a project. Few questioned his power, however, and his technical skills portend well if Alabama wants to make him its center of the future. He is expected to qualify.

17. Jerome Ford RB 5-11 195 4.5 9.6 Seffner, Fla./Armwood

Alabama went to Florida powerhouse Armwood to take its only running back signee, and in doing so, took a running back who was rarely a running back. Ford, like Slade Bolden, projects more as a slot receiver on a lot of boards, and in Ford’s case, that’s pretty much what he was as a high school senior. Ford is one of the smaller running backs the Crimson Tide has signed in some time, with Terry Grant’s name coming up as a potential analog. Ford will likely be asked to be a third-down back for Alabama exclusively, unless he can add size. He is expected to qualify.

18. Jaylen Moody LB 6-2 230 4.7 9.6 Conway, S.C./Conway

As Alabama and longtime commitment Vernon Jackson began parting ways within the past month, Alabama still felt it necessary to take an inside linebacker if for no other reason than pure numbers. The Tide selected Jaylen Moody, an aggressive, hit-first-ask-questions-later gap-plugger. Moody flew under the radar for most of the process, and may have been a benefactor of the early signing period rule, as it gave coaches more time to focus on second-line players later in the recruiting process. Moody may have some work to do to either get or remain qualified. As far as his football skills go, his highlight tapes are on par with much more highly-ranked players, as long as he can get past the issue of pure speed. Moody is quicker than fast, and relies on instincts over raw athletic ability. He’s not dissimilar to former Tider Curtis Dawson, up to the point that he could eventually eat himself into a first/second-down strongside end. For now, he’ll get an opportunity to show that he’s up to the task of playing middle linebacker in a scheme that demands a lot from that position.

19. Michael Parker TE 6-6 230 4.9 9.4 Huntsville/Westminster Christian

Parker was set to grayshirt, but when multiple players dropped off Alabama’s radar on Signing Day, Parker was allowed to come in with the rest of the this class. Parker, whose older brother just finished a walk-on career at Alabama, is a receiving-first tight end who will need at least a year in the weight room to bulk up. He’s currently a bit light for Bama’s Y tight end position, but probably not athletic enough for full-time duty at H. He is expected to qualify.

20. Skyler DeLong P 6-4 190 *.* *.* Fort Mill, S.C./Nation Ford

First, our usual disclaimer: TideFans.com/NARCAS does not rank punters and kickers. Having said that, DeLong was considered by many to be the best punter available in the 2017-2018 class and is certainly one of its top ten. Like the man he was recruited to replace, J.K. Scott, DeLong is a tall, lanky prospect who generates plenty of power with his kicks, but no matter how well he performs as a freshman, it will be hard to live up to Scott’s standard. DeLong is already enrolled and will go through spring practice with the team.

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