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By Jess Nicholas
Feb. 7, 2019
Alabama’s setback in the national championship game did not carry over to its 2019 recruiting class. Signing 27 players between the early and late signing periods, Alabama claimed the top spot in the 2019 TideFans.com/NARCAS recruiting rankings, narrowly edging out Georgia in the process.
Alabama’s stunning class average of 9.9 almost set a record, but didn’t. That honor still goes to the 2017 class, which came in at 9.904. Still, it was a class that definitively stated to the rest of the college football world that Nick Saban isn’t done just yet.
While TideFans/NARCAS doesn’t focus on naming a single player as the best available in a given class, it’s hard to argue that Alabama’s signing of Antonio Alfano was topped by anyone else. Alabama spread its signees across all positions on the depth chart, but focused most of its haul in the trenches and at linebacker – exactly the pressure points Clemson exploited in its win over Alabama earlier this year.
Changing up our regular routine a bit, we’ll take a look at how Alabama recruited based on position groups, and whether the Crimson Tide adequately filled the needs of that group based on who was signed. (Editor’s note: Players are listed with their height, weight, 40-yard dash time and NARCAS rating.)
Returning: Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, Layne Hatcher
Gone: Jalen Hurts
Signed: Taulia Tagovailoa (6-0, 200, 4.9, 10.0N), Paul Tyson (6-4, 215, 5.1, 9.9N)
Analysis: The loss of Jalen Hurts and the uncertainty of what Mac Jones brings to the table made getting a quarterback or two in this class a necessity. Signing two players the level of Taulia Tagovailoa (10.0 NARCAS rating) and Paul Tyson (9.9) is a rare occurrence in modern college football, where elite quarterbacks tend to avoid one another like a disease on Signing Day. It doesn’t hurt, though, when one of your signees is the brother of the incumbent starter and the other the great-grandson of legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Both Tagovailoa and Tyson are good athletes, although neither is a scrambler on the order of the elder Tagovailoa, or especially the departed Hurts. The backup job is considered open now, and both incoming players should be considered candidates to win it. If you’re looking for something to separate them, Tagovailoa has more balance in his game, while Tyson is more of a pure passer. Both are frontline talents.
Returning: Najee Harris, Jerome Ford, Brian Robinson Jr.
Gone: Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Ronnie Clark
Signed: Keiland Robinson (5-10, 190, 4.4, 9.9N), Trey Sanders (6-0, 220, 4.5, 10.0N)
Analysis: Alabama signed arguably the top running back in the country in Sanders, and then added Robinson, a multipurpose back who will compete with Jerome Ford for the role most recently held by Josh Jacobs. Sanders doesn’t have a lot of wear on the tires, a nice side benefit to playing at talent-filled IMG Academy. His best days are in front of him and along with returning running back Najee Harris, gives Alabama the potential to go full-bore into a power rushing setup in 2019 if it so chooses.
The loss of Jacobs a year earlier than expected is going to sting, but Sanders and Robinson, along with holdovers Harris, Ford and Brian Robinson Jr., mean Alabama won’t lose anything in regards to numbers. The Tide’s backfield will once again be among the most talented in the country.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Returning: Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, Tyrell Shavers, Xavier Williams, Slade Bolden, Major Tennison (TE), Miller Forristall (TE), Michael Parker (TE), Kedrick James (TE)
Gone: Derek Kief, Xavian Marks, Irv Smith Jr. (TE), Hale Hentges (TE)
Signed: John Metchie (6-0, 190, 4.6, 9.8N), Jahleel Billingsley (TE) (6-4, 220, 4.6, 9.8N)
Analysis: Alabama lost a couple of receivers at the back end of its playing rotation, but the real story is going to be what happens after 2019, when Alabama could lose all three of its starters to the NFL a year early. The signing of John Metchie probably won’t have a lot of immediate impact, as Alabama basically played just four receivers in 2018 and all four return. Metchie is built similarly to Alabama’s starting group, meaning he’s an average-height, average-build receiver but with physicality that exceeds his dimensions.
Of much greater concern is the tight end spot, where Irv Smith Jr. chose to enter the NFL Draft a year early and Kedrick James, Bama’s only pure Y-position tight end, was suspended for much of 2018 and faces an uncertain future. If James can’t right the ship, signee Jahleel Billingsley – who would benefit greatly from a year in both the weightroom and the cafeteria – could be forced into early action. Right now, Billingsley looks more like a big receiver than a pure tight end. Both of these signings were long plays, which is fine at receiver but worrisome at tight end.
Returning: Alex Leatherwood, Jedrick Wills, Deonte Brown, Matt Womack, Scott Lashley, Hunter Brannon, Emil Ekiyor, Kendall Randolph, Tommy Brown, Chris Owens
Gone: Ross Pierschbacher, Jonah Williams, Lester Cotton, Richie Petitbon, Elliot Baker, Josh Casher
Signed: Evan Neal (6-7, 360, 5.6, 10.0N), Darrian Dalcourt (6-4, 300, 5.6, 10.0N), Tanner Bowles (6-5, 270, 5.7, 10.0N), Pierce Quick (6-5, 285, 5.3, 9.9N), Amari Kight (6-6, 300, 5.6, 9.7N)
Analysis: What happens when you lose a full platoon of offensive linemen to graduation and the NFL Draft? You go out and sign probably the best offensive line class of any school. Alabama already has solid depth returning in 2019, with more starter-ready players than positions. Add to that massive tackle prospect Evan Neal, underrated inside player Darrian Dalcourt, combo players Tanner Bowles and Pierce Quick, and developmental tackle Amari Kight, and suddenly fall camp figures to be interesting.
Neal is the undisputed frontrunner here, and many considered him to be the Crimson Tide’s top recruit. He’s probably ready to play now and may even be ready to start now. Dalcourt is probably the next closest, with a high ceiling, big motor and all-business attitude. Bowles may be Bama’s most underrated signee, given the room he still has to grow despite already being a solid technique player. Quick and Kight probably have a longer horizon. There’s nothing to complain about here.
Returning: LaBryan Ray, Raekwon Davis, Phidarian Mathis, Tevita Musika, Stephon Wynn Jr., Christian Barmore
Gone: Isaiah Buggs, Johnny Dwight, Quinnen Williams
Signed: Antonio Alfano (6-4, 290, 4.8, 10.0N), Ishmail Sopsher (6-3, 325, 5.4, 10.0N), Byron Young (6-4, 280, 4.8, 10.0N), Justin Eboigbe (6-4, 265, 4.8, 10.0N), Braylen Ingraham (6-4, 275, 4.9, 9.9N), D.J. Dale (6-2, 320, 5.7, 9.8N)
Analysis: If the offensive line haul wasn’t the most impressive position group Alabama signed, it has to be this. Alabama started things off actually back during bowl season, when Raekwon Davis decided to return for his senior year. That decision allowed Alabama to at least take the hand off the panic button, but the Crimson Tide needed at least three linemen in this class, with two of them being true interior players. Bama got the latter in the form of Ishmael Sopsher and D.J. Dale, a pair of hard-to-move tackles who can clog running lanes. Sopsher is expected to add some ability as an inside pass rusher as well. Dale is probably a longer-term play.
On the outside, Alabama focused on combo players who can slide in and out as needed. In doing so, Bama signed arguably the country’s top recruit, DE Antonio Alfano, who should compete for the top reserve end spot right out of the gate. Alfano is stronger than you’d think and already shows development well beyond his years. Byron Young and Braylen Ingraham both have that Isaiah Buggs look about them, and will provide the flexibility to play multiple roles. Justin Eboigbe is probably the closest thing to a pure hand-down end in this class, and that’s a role Alabama hasn’t filled from the ranks of its defensive linemen in quite some time, probably going back to Keith Saunders. Alabama would have loved to have had Nathan Pickering, who chose Mississippi State, but there should be no complaints about this effort.
Returning: Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings, Eyabi Anoma, Christopher Allen, Ben Davis, Brandon Ale Kaho, Cameron Latu, Jarez Parks, Dylan Moses, Markail Benton, Josh McMillon, Jalen Moody
Gone: Christian Miller, Jamey Mosley, Mack Wilson
Signed: Christian Harris (6-2, 230, 4.6, 10.0N), Shane Lee (6-1, 250, 4.6, 10.0N), King Mwikuta (6-5, 225, 4.7, 9.9N), Kevin Harris (6-4, 220, 4.6, 9.7N)
Analysis: Alabama lost Henry To’oto’o to Tennessee on National Signing Day, an artifact of parting with defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. But the Crimson Tide did more than enough to add to its depth situation and hopefully correct some of the issues at inside linebacker. Mack Wilson rather unexpectedly declared for the NFL Draft in January, leaving a gap at middle linebacker that might very well be filled by either Christian Harris or Shane Lee. Harris is an extremely athletic player who offers some dual-role capability inside, which Alabama sorely lacked in 2018. Lee is a straight-ahead thumper, the kind of middle enforcer Alabama had gotten away from in recent years with the exception of Reuben Foster. Both could see early playing time, because the current depth chart at inside linebacker – Markail Benton, John McMillon, Jalen Moody, Brandon Ale Kaho and occasionally Ben Davis – has a lot of raw talent but few complete players.
The best of the bunch is probably Kaho, who was in bad need of some weight on his bones in 2018, while Moody showed a few flashes and deserves a more intensive look. Benton is athletic but slight of build; McMillon knows the defense but appeared to lack lateral quickness. While the opportunity is there for the inside players to make an impact, outside linebackers Kevin Harris and King Mwikuta will probably have to wait their turn. Terrell Lewis returns to his spot opposite Anfernee Jennings, while Christopher Allen is also back from an injury.
The best news of the week may be that talented speed rusher Eyabi Anoma decided to pull his name out of the transfer portal and stay in Tuscaloosa. Alabama will deeply miss Christian Miller, who had become a complete outside linebacker as a senior. But overall, Alabama brought in more than it lost, both in numbers and overall quality.
Returning: Patrick Surtain II, Xavier McKinney, Shyheim Carter, Trevon Diggs, Nigel Knott, Jared Mayden, Jalen Armour-Davis, Joshua Jobe, Eddie Smith, Daniel Wright
Gone: Saivion Smith, Keaton Anderson, Kyriq McDonald, Deionte Thompson, D.J. Lewis
Signed: Brandon Turnage (6-1, 180, 4.5, 9.9N), Jeffery Carter (6-1, 180, 4.5, 9.9N), Jordan Battle (6-2, 185, 4.6, 9.8N), DeMarcco Hellams (6-1, 205, 4.6, 9.8N), Marcus Banks (6-0, 180, 4.5, 9.7N)
Analysis: The post-2018 turnover for this group varied from the curious (Saivion Smith) to the expected (Deionte Thompson) and may not be over with, depending on how Daniel Wright’s situation works out. He was injured and suspended during the course of the season, with no clear updates yet given on his status. On the other hand, Alabama gets Trevon Diggs and Jalen Armour-Davis back after season-ending injuries in 2018, to go along with four signings. Brandon Turnage has the chance to be one of the Tide’s best signings overall, and the signing of Turnage, Jeffery Carter and Marcus Banks reflects the continuation of a long-term move toward larger cornerbacks.
At safety, Jordan Battle has the length, while DeMarcco Hellams has the drop-the-hammer kind of physical presence Alabama was going to need as a result of Thompson’s early exit. There isn’t a sure-fire superstar amongst Alabama’s signees, the kind of player that would be expected to come in and start from day one, but Alabama didn’t need that. It needed to replace numbers while veterans like Diggs, Shyheim Carter and Xavier McKinney lead the charge in 2019.
Returning: Joseph Bulovas (PK), Skyler DeLong (P), Mike Bernier (P)
Gone: Austin Jones (PK)
Signed: Will Reichard (PK) (6-1, 180, *.*, *.*)
Analysis: Word began to leak out this week that Mike Bernier might return to the team for a final season at punter. If that’s true, Alabama again will see a spring battle between Bernier and Skyler DeLong. Whoever wins the job needs to turn up the dial a bit, as punting was not the Tide’s long suit in 2018.
Of much more interest, however, is what will happen at placekicker. Joseph Bulovas took immeasurable grief from fans in 2018 due to several missed PATs; what gets overlooked is that Bulovas hit virtually all of his field goal tries down the stretch and was a consistent kickoff man. Will Reichard isn’t being brought in to ride the bench for three years, but Bulovas losing the placekicking job is not assured. TideFans.com doesn’t grade special teams signees, but it is appropriate to say the Tide didn’t need to miss out on Reichard – and it didn’t.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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