When you’re talking about a class that ranks no worse than fourth overall in the country, it’s hard to talk about anything being a “step back.”
But for a program accustomed to leading the recruiting rankings and setting records year after year for average class strength, the 2020 class for Alabama was about as ho-hum as top-three/top-four classes can get (TideFans.com/NARCAS ranked Alabama’s class in a tie for third with Ohio State, behind No. 2 Clemson and No. 1 Georgia). Still, this was a step back for overall numbers, as Alabama averaged 9.800 over 25 signees. Last year’s class averaged 9.900; Nick Saban’s personal record at Alabama is 9.904 in 2017.
And yet, this class got back to its roots somewhat by being a need-filler – especially once graduate transfer TE Carl Tucker was added to it. While TideFans.com does not count graduate transfers in its recruiting classes, we would be remiss not to make special mention of Tucker, who is all but certain to grab one of Alabama’s two starting tight end positions.
For the second year in a row, Alabama signed a player who might be considered the best available in his class. Here’s hoping QB Bryce Young has a better career in Tuscaloosa than did DE Antonio Alfano, who was in town for a few months and then jetted off to Colorado after failing to either crack the playing rotation at Alabama or stay out of the doghouse.
Following the same format we first used last year, here is TideFans’ 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: Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa, Paul Tyson
Gone: Tua Tagovailoa
Signed: Bryce Young (5-11, 180, 4.5, 10.0N)
Analysis: No one was really surprised by Tua Tagovailoa’s decision to leave a year early for the NFL, but many are probably surprised that Mac Jones is expected to win the job unless signee Bryce Young beats him out in spring camp. Jones had a strong finish to the 2019 season, and especially showed against Michigan that he has the talent to lead the team to great things.
Young is viewed by many as another one of those “generational” quarterbacks, however. He is extremely fluid in the pocket, has a big arm and good touch on the ball. He also has sensational leadership qualities and is considered more mature than most players his age. What he lacks is time in the college system … and size. Young is diminutive for a quarterback, and the SEC is a rough-and-tumble place.
One of the early points of feedback on Jones has been his ability to take a hit, as he plays bigger than his listed size. While Jones and Young will be going at it, Taulia Tagovailoa will be right there with them. If Tagovailoa comes out of spring camp third or below on the depth chart, expect him to consider a transfer. Tagovailoa is a dual-threat quarterback with more running ability than his brother, but he is not nearly as polished as a passer.
Paul Tyson is still seen as a developmental player at this point, but he has the talent to stick around and especially if Tagovailoa leaves, he’ll play a key role in the depth chart. What Alabama can’t afford to have happen is to lose both Jones and Tagovailoa to transfer, if Young runs away with the job in the spring.
Returning: Najee Harris, Keilan Robinson, Trey Sanders, Brian Robinson Jr.
Gone: Jerome Ford
Signed: Jace McClellan (5-10, 210, 4.5, 10.0N), Kyle Edwards (5-11, 205, 4.6, 9.8N), Roydell Williams (5-11, 190, 4.5, 9.8N)
Analysis: Alabama got its biggest boost over the offseason when Najee Harris unexpectedly decided to return for his senior year. His return, along with Trey Sanders finally being healthy, gives Alabama four top-of-the-line returning backs and three strong signees, headlined by Jace McClellan, who is somewhat of a cross between Josh Jacobs and Mark Ingram. Beyond McClellan, Alabama also picked up another speedy slasher in Roydell Williams, and an inside banger in Kyle Edwards.
The real question here is what does Alabama do with everybody. Even with the loss of Jerome Ford to an early transfer, there weren’t really enough carries to even split three ways last year between Harris and the two Robinsons, and now Trey Sanders is in the mix. Edwards and Williams would seem like redshirt candidates, but keeping McClellan benched is probably a fever dream in itself. Of the returning players, Brian Robinson Jr. is probably the most vulnerable, as he was good but not great in 2019.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Returning: DeVonta Smith, John Metchie, Tyrell Shavers, Xavier Williams, Slade Bolden, Jaylen Waddle, Chadarius Townsend, Carl Tucker (TE), Miller Forristall (TE), Major Tennison (TE), Giles Amos (TE), Jahleel Billingsley (TE), Kendall Randolph (TE), Cameron Latu (TE), Michael Parker (TE)
Gone: Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III
Signed: Thaiu Jones-Bell (5-11, 180, 4.4, 10.0N), Javon Baker (6-1, 210, 4.5, 10.0N), Traeshon Holden (6-2, 190, 4.6, 9.9N), Caden Clark (TE) (6-5, 245, 4.9, 9.5N)
Analysis: It’s a little nuts to note that Alabama has nine tight ends on scholarship now, with two more walk-ons (6’7” Richard Hunt, and Melvin Billingsley) who are probably good enough to play a lot of places. The biggest name to watch will be graduate transfer Carl Tucker, who TideFans.com lists above in the “returning players” section due to his status as a fifth-year senior.
Alabama also added Caden Clark, but he may end up grayshirting while rehabilitating an injury and there are already questions about his speed. He’s viewed as an in-line blocker primarily – a definite need for Alabama, as only converted offensive lineman Kendall Randolph showed any consistency in that role in 2019 – but he needs to develop into a legitimate receiving threat. Tucker is already there. Miller Forristall will likely move back to H-back full-time, which fits him well.
Major Tennison is probably the biggest loser in Tucker’s signing, and will be especially if Randolph remains at tight end rather than moving back to the offensive line. Giles Amos’ role will probably be limited to fullback/H-back in short yardage, while Cameron Latu and Michael Parker have yet to make an impact. Jahleel Billingsley, a 2019 signee, showed some flashes at times as a true freshman but still has to add weight.
The other position to watch will be the third receiver next to DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. John Metchie, Slade Bolden and perhaps Tyrell Shavers figure to be the main contributors there, although Xavier Williams is in the mix. Chadarius Thompson needs to make a move now, or risk having to leave the program to find playing time. Alabama signed three solid prospects, headed up by speedster Thaiu Jones-Bell and Traeshon Holden, who has good length. Javon Baker is intriguing, as he profiles in ways similar to former Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown. He has some work to do in the classroom, however.
None of the true freshman appear quite as ready to play immediately as have receivers in recent classes, but Alabama has been spoiled in that way. The late addition of Tucker at tight end, though not accounted for in the class rankings, can’t be overlooked.
Returning: Alex Leatherwood, Evan Neal, Landon Dickerson, Deonte Brown, Tommy Brown, Emil Ekiyor, Darrian Dalcourt, Pierce Quick, Chris Owens, Tanner Bowles, Hunter Brannon, Amari Kight
Gone: Jedrick Wills, Matt Womack, Scott Lashley
Signed: Damieon George (6-6, 350, 5.8, 9.8N), Javion Cohen (6-4, 260, 5.1, 9.7N), Seth McLaughlin (6-4, 270, 5.2, 9.5N)
Analysis: Alabama didn’t have to take any players ready to play now, which is a good thing, as none of the three the Crimson Tide signed are anywhere close. Alabama lost Matt Womack to graduation, while Jedrick Wills left a year early to be perhaps the top offensive tackle taken in the NFL Draft, and reserve tackle Scott Lashley left in search of playing time after being buried on the depth chart for four years.
Alabama returns 12 scholarshipped linemen from a year ago, with the main question being who will start at tackle in Wills’ old spot. Either Evan Neal will move out there, or Tommy Brown will fight with Pierce Quick for the spot. The three new players all have promise, but need work. Seth McLaughlin is primarily a center prospect, and those guys typically don’t get rated highly, through no fault of their own. He needs a little weight, but has decent enough footwork now and probably has the shortest path to playing time given the position is currently staffed by two seniors (Dickerson, Owens). Javion Cohen could wind up just about anywhere due to his quick feet, but he needs a year at least in the weight room.
Where Damieon George ends up is anyone’s guess. He’s huge – 6’6”, 350 and may be bigger than that – but has footwork issues and just needs a general polishing. He’s either a right tackle or guard, but the coaches probably don’t even know yet. This was a pretty blue-collar haul but Alabama could afford it, this year at least.
Returning: LaBryan Ray, Phidarian Mathis, Christian Barmore, Byron Young, Justin Eboigbe, Braylen Ingraham, Ishmael Sopsher, Stephon Wynn Jr., D.J. Dale
Gone: Raekwon Davis, Tevita Musika, Antonio Alfano
Signed: Timothy Smith (6-4, 340, 5.5, 10.0N), Jamil Burroughs (6-3, 330, 5.3, 9.8N), Jah-Marien Latham (6-3, 285, 5.0, 9.7N)
Analysis: Alabama was young in 2019 and paid the price. LaBryan Ray was a huge loss, and his recovery came to a sudden and unexpected halt down the stretch. He may not be ready for spring practice. While he is either sidelined, or simply slowed down, the starting unit will probably be made up of Christian Barmore, D.J. Dale, Phidarian Mathis or Byron Young, the most consistent players from last year. Justin Eboigbe needs to make a statement after a year lost to nagging injuries and general ineffectiveness. Stephon Wynn Jr. and Braylen Ingraham will be competing for roles, but all eyes are on Ishmael Sopsher, who got a tiny amount of work late in the year but managed to get fans buzzing anyway.
Of the departed players, Antonio Alfano never made an impact. Tevita Musika was a capable role player, but was limited in how he could help. Raekwon Davis, however, put together a solid, if not particularly flashy senior season, eventually doing his best work at nosetackle during the Michigan game and probably causing the coaches to question why they hadn’t tried that more during the regular season. Whereas Alabama had plenty of bodies and potential in 2019, what it didn’t have was a lot of impact.
Timothy Smith, probably one of the 10 best defensive players available this cycle, if not 10 best regardless of position, could make such an impact. If he can continue to develop his quickness off the ball, he’ll displace a veteran or two. Jah-Marien Latham flew under the radar for the most part but he moves well for a guy his size, has the frame to add more size, and could probably stand a little time in the weight room trying to make that happen.
The wild card is Jamil Burroughs, who could be dominant if he closes well in the classroom. Alabama needs Smith and Burroughs to lean on the veterans in front of them for the sake of healthy competition.
Returning: Christian Harris, Shane Lee, Joshua McMillon, Markail Benton, Brandon Ale Kaho, Jaylen Moody, Jarez Parks, Ben Davis, Christopher Allen, King Mwikuta, Kevin Harris, Dylan Moses
Gone: Anfernee Jennings, Terrell Lewis
Signed: Will Anderson (6-3, 240, 4.6, 10.0N), Demouy Kennedy (6-2, 205, 4.6, 10.0N), Drew Sanders (6-4, 230, 4.7, 9.9N), Chris Braswell (6-3, 220, 4.7, 9.6), Quandarrius Robinson (6-5, 220, 4.8, 9.6N), Jackson Bratton (6-3, 230, 4.7, 9.6N)
Analysis: The return of Dylan Moses for his senior season, after suffering a knee injury in the 2019 preseason, was huge. Getting Joshua McMillon back for depth purposes didn’t hurt, either. Having Moses on the field will automatically raise Alabama’s profile, as the tandem of Christian Harris and Shane Lee, both true freshmen in 2019, left much to be desired.
You have to think reserve Brandon Ale Kaho will be making a move forward in 2020, given how dominating he was on special teams, but Kaho is still a lightweight for an SEC inside linebacker. Markail Benton found a role as a dime linebacker, but with Moses back, he stands the most to lose of the returning players. Jaylen Moody never managed to get on the field except on kick coverage.
The outside spots are wide open, although most expect Christopher Allen to claim one quickly. McMillon may be a candidate, too, but if he’s not, Ben Davis and King Mwikuta will most likely fight for the other spot with Kevin Harris and Jarez Parks adding depth. Alabama signed six linebackers, but came away with only one inside player, in-stater Demouy Kennedy. Kennedy is a special talent who shot up analysts’ boards late in the process, but he is about Kaho’s size right now and will need to add bulk. Alabama took four outside players but outside of Will Anderson – who will compete immediately for one of those vacant outside spots – the rest are guys with a lot of potential but not really ready to play immediately.
Drew Sanders is a bit of a man without a position, as he could make an impact at linebacker, defensive line or tight end. Chris Braswell draws raves from some but not others; he needs weight and time to acclimate to SEC ball. Quandarrius Robinson needs to work on his first step and get a little quicker overall, but he has potential. Jackson Bratton could be an option inside or outside, depending on whether he can show the lateral quickness necessary to play an ILB position. Anderson could wind up being the best signee in the class, at least on defense.
Returning: Patrick Surtain II, Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Marcus Banks, Jeffery Carter, Daniel Wright, Jordan Battle, DeMarcco Hellams, Eddie Smith, Brandon Turnage
Gone: Trevon Diggs, Nigel Knott, Xavier McKinney, Jared Mayden, Shyheim Carter
Signed: Brian Branch (6-0, 180, 4.5, 9.9N), Ronald Williams (JUCO) (6-2, 190, 4.5, 9.9N), Kristian Story (6-1, 205, 4.6, 9.8N), Jahquez Robinson (6-1, 180, 4.5, 9.7N), Malachi Moore (6-1, 175, 4.5, 9.5N)
Analysis: Alabama basically lost an entire starting unit to graduation, early defection and injury, but did a good job replenishing overall talent – while getting bigger in the process. Ronald Williams will be the first guy from the new group to play, as he’s a JUCO transfer with size and speed and he didn’t sign to sit. Whether he displaces Patrick Surtain II to Star safety, or simply fends off Josh Jobe, no one knows, but Jobe had a stellar bowl game after Trevon Diggs elected to skip it and it’s not going to be easy to keep Jobe on the bench.
The real question for Alabama is at safety, because only one of the signees, Brian Branch, plays that position, and even Branch needs some time to bulk up. Kristian Story, the other candidate, was primarily an offensive player in high school and will be well behind in the learning curve in 2020. Daniel Wright and Jordan Battle look like the early starters at safety, with DeMarcco Hellams and Brandon Turnage the chief competitors. Marcus Banks, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Jeffery Carter – if he sticks it out and doesn’t re-enter the transfer portal – will be the reserve cornerbacks.
It’s not clear how Eddie Smith will fit in. Alabama took two cornerbacks with length, Jahquez Robinson and Malachi Moore, but both need some adjustment time.
Returning: Will Reichard, Joseph Bulovas, Ty Perine, Skyler DeLong, Jack Martin, Tripp Slyman
Gone: Mike Bernier
Analysis: While Alabama didn’t sign anyone to a scholarship, the Crimson Tide does appear to be bringing in two preferred walk-ons, kicker Chase Allen and punter Sam Johnson. While Will Reichard would seem to enter spring as the prohibitive favorite at both positions, Reichard hurt himself twice last year, once on a kickoff and then later while punting. Given that the primary reason he’s on scholarship at Alabama is to kick field goals and extra points, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alabama go elsewhere for the punting and kickoff specialist roles.
Joseph Bulovas is an average kicker, but he has considerably less leg strength than Reichard, meaning if he’s kicking off it would be solely to limit Reichard’s exposure to injuries, not because Bulovas is the superior kickoff man.
The situation at punter is even grayer, as Ty Perine took the job from Skyler DeLong at midseason, then lost it to fellow walk-on Mike Bernier for the bowl game. Bernier is finally out of eligibility, and while Perine would seem to be the favorite heading into 2020 over DeLong despite Perine not having a scholarship and DeLong having one, there is the matter of the dropped punt against LSU that may have been the ultimate difference in that game. DeLong is going to continue to get every chance to kick given he’s on scholarship, but Perine objectively was far better in 2019 and should be rewarded by being P1 at the start of spring drills.
Fellow walk-ons Jack Martin and Tripp Slyman are also around, but were not used in games last year. Punter isn’t the most important battle of the spring, but it might wind up being the most intriguing.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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