By Jess Nicholas
May 29, 2018
Publisher’s Note: Check out our Recruiting Board for up-to-the-minute updates on these and other recruits.
Among the questions that arose immediately following Alabama’s win over Georgia in the College Football Playoff was one of longevity – both in regards to Alabama’s already-extended position at the top of the sport, and also in regards to Nick Saban’s remaining career.
If early returns on the 2018-2019 recruiting trail are any indication, both paths have a lot of miles remaining on them.
Alabama currently sits with the top recruiting class in college football, and there is little to suggest the gap won’t continue to grow between now and next February. Let’s take a look by position group at what Alabama has coming back in the fall, who it expects to lose to either graduation or the 2019 NFL Draft, and who the Crimson Tide is pursuing for those vacant slots.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Seniors to lose: Derek Kief, Xavian Marks, Hale Hentges (TE), Ronnie Clark (HB)
Underclassmen who might leave early: None
Committed: Brandon Turnage
Recruiting: George Pickens, Dylan Wright, Trey Palmer, Bru McCoy, Isaiah Hazel, Hudson Henry (TE)
Analysis: Wide receiver is one of those positions where names can come and go as the process moves along, because it has probably the largest overall talent pool. The hard part is going to be selling playing time to new signees; the good news is Alabama has proven it will get the best talent on the field regardless of class, as it did last year when three freshmen wide receivers and two freshmen tight ends played despite good veteran numbers at both slots. Heading into 2018, Alabama has only a pair of senior role players at receiver whose careers will end prior to the 2019 season. Derek Kief is expected to have an expanded role in 2018 and Xavian Marks might as well if he can build off a strong A-Day performance, but the upshot here is neither is irreplaceable. Hale Hentges had a solid junior season after a shaky start to his college career, but he’s already being pushed by better talent in the lower classes. Ronnie Clark’s supposed H-back role never really materialized and he’s still on the running back depth chart due to injuries there. If Alabama can get one tight end (Hudson Henry seems to be the undisputed leader for that slot right now) and two wide receivers, it’s a win. Current commit Brandon Turnage is a possible safety prospect, and he hails from Oxford, Miss., which means he’s not a lock until the whole process is over.
Seniors to lose: Ross Pierschbacher, Lester Cotton, Josh Casher
Underclassmen who might leave early: Jonah Williams
Committed: Tanner Bowles, Amari Kight, Pierce Quick
Recruiting: Clay Webb, Xavier Truss, Devontae Dobbs, Keiondre Jones, Warren McClendon, Evan Neal
Analysis: Alabama loses two presumptive starters (Pierschbacher, Cotton) and its top interior reserve (Casher), so this will not be insignificant heading into 2019. There is also the case of tackle Jonah Williams, who is probably a 50/50 shot to go with a strong season. Presuming Alabama loses all four, if the Crimson Tide does nothing else but hold onto the three committed linemen it currently has, this may end up being a wash. Bowles is considered the top player in the state of Kentucky and one of the best linemen available anywhere, while Kight is the state’s No. 2 lineman and Quick the No. 3. The No. 1 in-state lineman is Clay Webb, who is considered a strong lean to Alabama, although both Georgia and Auburn have made an impression. If Alabama bags Webb to go along with these three, that may be all Alabama chooses to take. Even with the defections of Dallas Warmack and Brandon Kennedy, Alabama will enter 2018 with more than three complete scholarshipped platoons of offensive linemen. Adding Bowles and the Alabama trio to that group would stock Alabama for several seasons to come.
Seniors to lose: None
Underclassmen who might leave early: Jalen Hurts
Committed: Taulia Tagovailoa, Paul Tyson
Analysis: Tagovailoa and Tyson coming into Tuscaloosa together might be the most talked-about single-year QB haul going back to the year Billy Ray, Jeff Dunn and Gary Hollingsworth all ended up on campus the same year. The real question here has nothing to do with the recruiting class and everything to do with the competition between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, which could have implications beyond the battle itself. At this point, most people expect Tua Tagovailoa to win the job, which would most likely push Hurts to transfer. With the recent addition of Arkansas prepster Layne Hatcher to the mix as a 2018 recruit, it surely seems Alabama is getting ready to deal with the defection of either Hurts or the elder Tagovailoa. And if Tua leaves, it’s hard to imagine Taulia sticking with his commitment. The wild card here is Paul Tyson, a direct descendant of Paul “Bear” Bryant, and who has a solid skill set of his own. No other quarterbacks are considered seriously in the mix.
Seniors to lose: Damien Harris, Ronnie Clark
Underclassmen who might leave early: Joshua Jacobs
Recruiting: Trey Sanders, Nay’quan Wright, Quavaris Crouch, Deondrick Glass, John Emery, Mike Hollins
Analysis: It’s early to hit the panic button but it isn’t too early to hit the concern button. Alabama will lose Damien Harris to the NFL Draft and then there’s the case of Joshua Jacobs, who can’t stay healthy but when he is able to go, is a true difference-maker in the Alabama offense. While Najee Harris and Brian Robinson are expected to compete for the top backup spot, Jacobs’ expertise in a third-down back role means he should get a bunch of opportunities. If he happens to stay upright for the whole year and decides not to press his luck for a fourth season, it would leave Alabama with two rising juniors heading into 2019 along with 2018 signee Jerome Ford. Also leaving the program after 2018 is utility back Ronnie Clark. It therefore becomes a priority to get one or two running backs signed in this class. Alabama had a commitment from Trey Sanders at one time, but he has backed off his pledge. Of the other names out there at the moment, the one who looks most like a typical Nick Saban back is Quavaris Couch, but he’s a North Carolina prospect and outside Alabama’s typical recruiting “hold zone.” This one will bear watching.
Seniors to lose: Isaiah Buggs, Johnny Dwight
Underclassmen who might leave early: Raekwon Davis, Quinnen Williams
Committed: Antonio Alfano, Rashad Cheney, D.J. Dale
Recruiting: Faatui Tuitele, Tymon Mitchell, Ishmael Sopsher, Etinosa Reuben, Justin Eboigbe, Nathan Pickering, Travon Walker, Lloyd Murray, C.J. Clark
Analysis: You’ll see more names come and go here than usual, because Alabama is facing a numbers crunch already for a second straight season and is setting up for a third in 2019. In addition to the impending loss of the versatile Isaiah Buggs and inside reserve Johnny Dwight, Alabama is all but certain to lose emerging star Raekwon Davis. There is a slim chance Quinnen Williams could cut and leave with a good 2018 season, as this will be his third year on campus upcoming. Alabama recruited only three new defensive linemen for 2018, and each has or had a concern. Christian Barmore will be close on qualifying, JUCO transfer Tevita Musicka is considered a one-role player and Stephon Wynn was looked at as a raw project, but he responded with a solid spring that points at potentially bigger things in the near future. For 2019, Alabama already has three commitments on board, but both Alfano and Cheney are considered outside players only, while D.J. Dale appears locked into an interior tackle role. A month ago, Alabama seemed a lock for Tuitele, Sopsher and Pickering, but all three are turning up interest in other options. This has been a running need for two years now, and sooner or later Alabama figures to get caught by the injury bug at an inopportune moment.
Seniors to lose: Christian Miller, Keith Holcombe, Jamey Mosley
Underclassmen who might leave early: Terrell Lewis, Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings
Committed: Kevin Harris, Shane Lee, King Mwikuta
Recruiting: Nakobe Dean, Laiatu Latu, Kane Patterson, Mohamoud Diabate, Kalen Deloach
Analysis: Alabama might lose Keith Holcombe before the upcoming season, a combination of a future in baseball and the health limitations that appeared to affect him late in the 2017 football season. Former walk-on Jamey Mosley has become a key part of the rotation, but Alabama can probably absorb his loss, as well as that of Christian Miller – provided Alabama manages to hold on to at least one of the Terrell Lewis/Anfernee Jennings duo. The one potential pitfall for Alabama would be if middle linebacker Mack Wilson decided to leave after his junior season, which would require some significant retooling of the depth chart to absorb the loss. It’s also unclear how many other players Alabama intends to take besides the three it already has committed. Harris, Lee and Mwikuta are three of the biggest linebackers on Alabama’s board, and 2018-2019 appears to be the year of the smaller, quicker linebacker. Patterson, Deloach and others are just pushing the 200- to 210-pound mark, which is typically not what Alabama needs. Alabama is probably more concerned with development at the moment – getting Christopher Allen, VanDarius Cowan and Markail Benton ready to play is of much more immediate concern than expanding this recruiting class any further. Keeping Harris, Lee and Mwikuta in the fold through February would be considered holding serve for this position group.
Seniors to lose: None
Underclassmen who might leave early: Saivion Smith, Deionte Thompson, Trevon Diggs
Committed: Christian Williams
Recruiting: Andrew Booth, Elijah Blades, Makiya Tongue, MyKael Wright, Chester Kimbrough, Isaiah Rutherford, Brian Williams, Quinton Newsome, Jaylen McCullough, Jalen Catalon, Trikweze Bridges, Adonis Otey
Analysis: Alabama hauled in one of the premier defensive back classes in the last decade back in February, a good thing given the lack of experience in the current secondary. Even still, there are at least three players on the current team that could test the draft waters next April. Saivion Smith came to Alabama from junior college and one strong season would be enough to put him on draft radar screens. Deionte Thompson, who had a fantastic close to his 2017 season, is already on those radar screens. Cornerback Trevon Diggs has all the measurables, but needs to put everything together now that he’s clearly the man at left cornerback. Alabama’s lone commitment at the moment, Christian Williams, is a pure safety prospect who will need speed training at the next level. This is a deep class for both corner and safety prospects, so Alabama can afford to be picky. Expect another impressive haul in February.
Seniors to lose: Austin Jones, Mike Bernier
Underclassmen who might leave early: None
Committed: Will Reichard
Analysis: Temple transfer Austin Jones, who will have to work to unseat Joseph Bulovas on the heels of his strong spring, will be gone as soon as he arrived. Mike Bernier is probably Alabama’s backup punter at the moment; he, too, will exhaust his eligibility after transferring in from Eastern Illinois a year ago. Alabama signed Skyler DeLong in February to punt, and judging from his spring performance, he’ll be solid but is not yet in J.K. Scott’s league. Will Reichard is considered the best placekicker available on most boards right now, and he can also punt. This is a fairly deep class nationwide for punters and kickers, but Reichard is the only one Alabama is recruiting.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN