RECRUITING| National Early Signing Day wrap-up: Where this class ranks, and where it fits in

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For all the media buzz about Texas A&M signing a “generational” class on National Early Signing Day, the end result was that Alabama fell from its typical spot atop recruiting class rankings all the way to … second place.

And even that result is contingent on Alabama possibly adding WR Kendrick Law or DE Omari Abor at a later date. If Alabama gets to count CB Eli Ricks, who it got out of the transfer portal from LSU, then go ahead and flip the rankings.

At the end of the day, Texas A&M did hold a lead in the .com/NARCAS 2021-2022 recruiting rankings – classes won’t be officially ranked until after the traditional February signing period – with Alabama just behind. Georgia was a clear No. 3, and then as many as 15 other teams were in the mix to fill out the remainder of the top 10.

In general terms, Alabama filled its needs, with the possible exception of landing one more true difference-maker in the defensive backfield. It got its next quarterback of the future, Ty Simpson, two running backs, as many as four wide receivers (plus three tight ends), nine total linemen and an inside linebacker. Provided Alabama keeps some of its young inside linebackers out of the transfer portal, getting just one inside linebacker won’t be an issue.

What follows is our preliminary look toward the 2022 Alabama Crimson Tide roster, with today’s signees included, along with a brief discussion on any other recruits not committed that Alabama is continuing to follow at those positions. For all newly signed players, we list their height/weight, 40-times and NARCAS ranking. For departing players, those with notably another year of eligibility are indicated by an asterisk (“*”).


QUARTERBACK

Returning: Bryce Young (Jr.), Paul Tyson (Jr.), Jalen Milroe (So.)
Departing: Braxton Barker*
Signed: Ty Simpson (6-2, 180, 4.8, 10.0)

Analysis: Pretty much the status quo going into 2022, the biggest question to answer is whether Paul Tyson will remain the primary backup, or whether Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson will take the job from him. Braxton Barker, a skilled walk-on who did get a chance to play this year and throw a pass in a game, is eligible to return for another season, but opted to go through Senior Day, generally a good indication that the player has elected not to return. There will be no challenge to Young’s job as a starter, no matter what kind of his competition has, nor what kind of spring Young himself has or doesn’t have. Simpson is cut from the same cloth as Young, a mobile quarterback who can make plays on the move, but Young has more top-end speed. The most mobile of the group is Milroe, who has drawn comparisons to former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims in regard to running talent. We believe Simpson will likely redshirt to learn the offense and be worked in slowly, a plan all parties seem to be agreeable to.


RUNNING BACKS

Returning: Jase McClellan (Jr.), Roydell Williams (Jr.), Trey Sanders (Jr.), Camar Wheaton (RS Fr.)
Departing: Brian Robinson Jr.
Signed: Emmanuel Henderson (6-2, 190, 4.5, 10.0), Jamarion Miller (5-10, 190, 4.5, 9.9)

Analysis: For the first time in years – barring an addition from the transfer portal, like Georgia Tech’s Jahmyr Gibbs – Alabama won’t have a big, workhorse-type back ready to go at the start of the season (and even Gibbs is more thick than just plain big). Emmanuel Henderson becomes the only back in the room noticeably taller than six feet, and he’ll need at least a year of weight room work, if not two, to grow into the kind of running back Brian Robinson Jr. was. The biggest question, of course, is the health of the four returning scholarshipped backs. Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Trey Sanders each showed plenty of ability in their trials in 2021, and Alabama can win with any of the three as a featured back.

What’s more likely to happen is some kind of running-back-by-committee approach that splits the carries somewhat equally among the three. McClellan and Sanders are both a bit bigger than is Williams, but all three can execute similar playcalls. What we’ve only seen from McClellan at this point, however, is the ability to effectively pass-block for Bryce Young, and that may be the factor that determines who will start. Camar Wheaton is a total unknown at this point, as he injured a knee at the outset of fall camp and missed all of the 2021 year.

Alabama also returns multiple walk-ons, but none of them threatened to make the depth chart even in a depleted 2021. As for the signees, Henderson has a high ceiling but is oddly-built for a feature back unless he adds 20-30 pounds of good weight. Jamarion Miller is more compact and has drawn comparisons to Josh Jacobs. It would probably take another year of unexpected bad injury luck to get either Henderson or Miller onto the field outside of trash time or special teams work, but never say never.


WIDE RECEIVERS

Returning: John Metchie III (Sr.), Traeshon Holden (Jr.), Agiye Hall (So.), Ja’Corey Brooks (So.), Javon Baker (Jr.), Christian Leary (So.), Slade Bolden (Sr.), JoJo Earle (So.), Thaiu Jones-Bell (So.)
Departing: Jameson Williams*, Bret Bolin, Williams*
Signed: Shazz Preston (6-0, 185, 4.5, 10.0), Isaiah Bond (5-11, 180, 4.4, 9.9), Aaron Anderson (5-11, 180, 4.4, 9.9), Kobe Prentice (5-10, 180, 4.5, 9.7)

Analysis: The primary concern is who will be in the “departing” group, as we expect Jameson Williams to be a top-15 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. John Metchie would have been a second- or third-round pick had he chosen to leave, but a knee injury suffered against Georgia in the Championship Game will likely return him to Tuscaloosa next year. And then the fun starts, which is defined as trying to figure out which backups may be hitting the transfer portal. Those who kept up with the Twitter feeds of Traeshon Holden, and Javon Baker during the course of the year watched the drama play out, but Holden wound up in a key role by year’s end. That leaves Hall and Baker, a pair of immensely talented but disgruntled who have been blocked from playing time by even better players, along with someone like Thaiu Jones-Bell, who may transfer in search of clearer opportunities.

Presuming Alabama continues to only play five or six wide receivers a game going forward, next year’s depth chart is already fairly set: Metchie, and probably Auburn game hero Ja’Corey Brooks as the starters, with Holden, JoJo Earle and as the backups. Hall and Baker would be competing with Leary for the sixth spot, while Jones-Bell would probably be another year away at least from contributing. Williams has entered the transfer portal. Among walk-ons, Alabama will lose Indiana transfer Bret Bolin; elsewhere on the roster, Grant Krieger dressed out for most home games this year and has some height, but didn’t play.

From the signing class, Alabama adds Shazz Preston, who is immediately ready for the next level, along with three speedsters, Isaiah Bond, Aaron Anderson and Kobe Prentice. Anderson may find early work as a kick returner, while Bond has a lot of similarities in his game to Henry Ruggs III. Kobe Prentice has some phenomenal tape out there, but is probably behind the other three at this point. The other two names to watch closely are LSU transfer Kayshon Boutte, who would instantly start at the position Williams is vacating, no questions asked, or Kendrick Law, a member of this recruiting cycle. Law is almost a dead ringer for Kobe Prentice in terms of build and speed.


TIGHT ENDS

Returning: Cameron Latu (Sr.), Jahleel Billingsley (Sr.), Robbie Ouzts (So.), Caden Clark (RS Fr.), Charlie Skehan (Jr.)
Departing: Kendall Randolph, Major Tennison
Signed: Amari Niblack (6-4, 225, 4.7, 9.9), Elijah Brown (6-5, 240, 4.9, 9.7), Jaleel Skinner (6-4, 215, 4.7, 9.9 – committed)

Analysis: This is the weakest position group returning on the team, and all three of Alabama’s recruited tight ends may end up playing a role. At press time, Jaleel Skinner had not yet signed, but was expected to; if he does, he would be a like-for-like replacement for Jahleel Billingsley, if the latter decides to exit early for the NFL Draft. If Billingsley comes back, Alabama will have mostly the same scenario for next year it did this year, with Cameron Latu a bit out of position as the Y tight end and Billingsley as the H, and sometimes running routes from the slot. If Billingsley leaves, Robbie Ouzts becomes the H-back by default, with walk-on Charlie Skehan backing him up until the freshmen assert themselves.

Caden Clark, a scholarshipped player, has been hurt for a calendar year or more now, so we’re not really sure what Alabama has there until we see him back in action. Clark has put on about 30 pounds since he originally committed to Alabama way back in 2018, and is big enough to play on the line and let Latu move to his more natural position at H.

Among the walkons, in addition to Skehan, who goes about 6’1” and 240, Alabama had three others on the roster in 2021: Richard Hunt, Robert Ellis and Adam Thorsland. Ellis had a similar build to Skehan, while Hunt goes about 6’7” and 260 and certainly looks the part. Thorsland was somewhere in the middle, about Clark’s build. The signing class offers help at both spots. Skinner and Amari Niblack are both H-back types, with Niblack a possibility to eventually beef up over time. Both have elite speed as far as tight ends go and give Alabama that kind of matchup problem inside that Georgia was able to leverage this year with Brock Bowers, or that Alabama originally tried to create with Billingsley. Elijah Brown is a prototypical Y tight end who could very well end up starting as a true freshman if Billingsley leaves and Latu gets shuffled to H.


Returning: Damieon George Jr. (So.), Emil Ekiyor Jr. (Sr.), Seth McLaughlin (Jr.), Darrian Dalcourt (Sr.), Javion Cohen (So.), J.C. Latham (So.), Amari Kight (Jr.), Tommy Brown (Sr.), Jaeden Roberts (RS Fr.), Tanner Bowles (Jr.), Terrence Ferguson (RS Fr.), James Brockermeyer (RS Fr.), Tommy Brockermeyer (RS Fr.)
Departing: Evan Neal*, Pierce Quick*, Chris Owens
Signed: Elijah Pritchett (6-6, 290, 5.3, 10.0), Tyler Booker (6-4, 320, 5.3, 9.9), Dayne Shor (6-5, 310, 5.4, 9.7)

Analysis: Alabama will lose probably two starters from this group and could lose three, depending on whether RG Emil Ekiyor Jr. elects to test the NFL Draft. Evan Neal will almost certainly go, one of only two – for a change – certain first-round draft picks from Alabama this season, WR Jameson Williams being the other. Pierce Quick, who has fought multiple injuries, is in the transfer portal, likely headed to Georgia Tech. Quick has looked sharp the few times he’s been healthy enough to contribute, but by now probably needs a fresh start due to the sheer amount of talent around him.

Provided Ekiyor returns, Alabama will have a solid interior offensive line, but will need new starters at tackle, likely Damieon George Jr. at right tackle and J.C. Latham at left tackle. Amari Kight and Tommy Brockermeyer are really the only other pure tackles in the mix, although Tanner Bowles can play either tackle or guard and might have a say in things. Inside, the battle worth paying attention to will be at center, where Seth McLaughlin may have played his way ahead of Darrian Dalcourt. If Ekiyor were to leave for the NFL, Dalcourt would likely battle Tommy Brown for the vacant guard spot. Younger Jaeden Roberts, Terrence Ferguson and James Brockermeyer form the next tier.

As for the signees, Elijah Pritchett is the future for this team, but will need to wait his turn and also bulk up a bit. Tyler Booker comes in size-ready, but it may take some time to find his best position, be it right tackle, left tackle or a guard spot. Dayne Shor is an interior player only, and probably has the most ground to cover to find playing time.


DEFENSIVE LINE

Returning: D.J. Dale (Sr.), Tim Smith (Jr.), Stephon Wynn Jr. (Sr.), Tim Keenan (RS Fr.), Anquin Barnes (RS Fr.), Byron Young (Sr.), Justin Eboigbe (Jr.), Monkell Goodwine (RS Fr.), Braylen Ingraham (Jr.), Jamil Burroughs (Jr.), Jah-Marien Latham (So.), Damon Payne (RS Fr.)
Departing: Phidarian Mathis, LaBryan Ray
Signed: Khurtiss Perry (6-2, 265, 4.8, 9.9), Jaheim Oatis (6-4, 360, 5.4, 9.8), Walter Bob (6-4, 250, 4.9, 9.7 committed), Isaiah Hastings (6-4, 290, 5.2, 9.6)

Analysis: Alabama was stacked coming into this signing cycle, and still managed to add more than it lost. There will be some mild drama over starting roles and packages, simply because of the versatility lost by the departures of Phidarian Mathis and LaBryan Ray. Both players could play all three spots on Alabama’s defensive line, which has evolved into having unique responsibilities based on the situation. For those returning, D.J. Dale will be the starter at nose when Alabama chooses to use one. Otherwise, Tim Smith seems likely to take over Mathis’ inside-outside role as a tackle/end combo player. and especially Byron Young seem more pigeonholed into standard 3-4 defensive end roles, although Eboigbe has slid inside to nosetackle in the past, with varying results. Stephon Wynn Jr. developed into a reliable bench player at nose this year and actually has another year of eligibility beyond this one should he choose to use it, at which point he could probably challenge for Dale’s starting job after Dale moves on.

Of the rest, Jamil Burroughs has played some at the combo spot and Jah-Marien Latham seems to fit what Alabama wants out of its ends, but neither has a lot of snaps yet. Monkell Goodwine appeared to move ahead of veteran Braylen Ingraham for the other reserve end role. Damon Payne, Tim Keenan and Anquin Barnes all look better suited to be strictly inside players, although Payne has some potential to add other duties.

Among walk-ons, Alabama has one of specific note: Keelan Cox, who joined the team this year out of JUCO and dressed for most of the home games, if not all of them. He’s an end only. From the signing class, Khurtiss Perry has the chance to play the soonest due to his proficiency as a pass rusher, but he really needs to add weight first. He’ll probably be competing for Latham’s snaps, eventually. Isaiah Hastings, who has played just one year of American football, is another long-term project, but he has the perfect build for an interior position. Jaheim Oatis is a throwback nosetackle who is somewhat reminiscent of Terrence Cody. Walter Bob would have been a possibility either here or at Y tight end, but he appears set to begin his career at the junior college level.


OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Returning: Will Anderson Jr. (Jr.), Drew Sanders (Jr.), Dallas Turner (So.), Chris Braswell (So.), King Mwikuta (Sr.), Quandarrius Robinson (So.), Keanu Koht (RS Fr.)
Departing:
Signed: Jeremiah Alexander (6-2, 240, 4.7, 10.0), Jihaad Campbell (6-3, 220, 4.7, 10.0)

Analysis: To say this group will be elite and talent-stacked is like saying the sun is hot and could burn you if you fell into it. Alabama loses Christopher Allen, but it has made do without Allen for virtually all of 2021 and in the course of doing so, developed Drew Sanders and Dallas Turner into an elite complement to Will Anderson Jr. at the Jack position. Alabama played a 2-4-5 sub alignment so often this year that it basically turned into the Crimson Tide’s defensive base, and for that reason, we’re breaking out the outside linebacker position group here for its own analysis. To this point, there have been mild rumblings about either or King Mwikuta testing the transfer portal, which would be Mwikuta’s second time through the process, but so far it’s been only talk. Braswell was the original replacement for Allen but wasn’t quite ready for that kind of exposure; however, as the season went along, Braswell played his way back into the rotation and should be considered a candidate to challenge Turner and Sanders at strongside linebacker in 2022.

Alabama had one notable walk-on in 2021, Christian Johnson, but there was no word on how he progressed after camp and his return is uncertain. Alabama signed two elite recruits, Jeremiah Alexander – arguably the best recruit in the class outside of QB Ty Simpson – and Jihaad Campbell, who was added late in the process. Alexander has the body to play as a true freshman, but both will need patience, because breaking into this lineup will be a tall order.


INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Returning: Christian Harris (Sr.), Henry To’o To’o (Sr.), Jaylen Moody (Sr.), Shane Lee (Sr.), Deontae Lawson (So.), Kendrick Blackshire (So.), Demouy Kennedy (So.), Ian Jackson (RS Fr.)
Departing: Jackson Bratton*
Signed: Shawn Murphy (6-2, 215, 4.7, 10.0)

Analysis: First of all, we don’t expect Christian Harris, Henry To’o To’o and Jaylen Moody to all return for their final seasons. Moody, in fact, went through Senior Day activities, while Harris and To’o To’o are both projected to have draft grades in the upper half of the draft. But so far, the only announced departure is Jackson Bratton, who had risen up the depth chart far enough to displace at least two of the other names on this list before deciding to seek earlier playing time elsewhere. If everyone returns that can return, Alabama will once again be stacked, with a huge upperclassman-led logjam keeping like Deontae Lawson and Kendrick Blackshire buried down the bench. If all three leave, it’s a much different story. In that event, Shane Lee would probably be one of the starters, with Lawson and Blackshire competing for the opposite spot. However, Lawson’s name briefly came up within the last month as a player potentially looking at options, too. There’s a fairly clear step back from Lee, Lawson and Blackshire back to Demouy Kennedy, who had to move to running back down the stretch when Alabama’s established backs started dropping like flies, and Ian Jackson. There don’t appear to be any walk-ons challenging for playing time, although Kyle Flood Jr. has dressed out a few times in 2021. Signee Shawn Murphy looks like a future star, and has the talent to play as a freshman if the depth chart gets bombarded with departures. If that does happen, the biggest question of all will be whether Shane Lee is finally healthy enough to reclaim the starting job he held as a true freshman.


DEFENSIVE BACKS

Returning: Jalyn Armour-Davis (Sr.), Ga’Quincy McKinstry (So.), Khyree Jackson (Sr.), Jahquez Robinson (So.), DeMarcco Hellams (Sr.), Jordan Battle (Sr.), Brian Branch (Jr.), Malachi Moore (Jr.), Kristian Story (So.), Terrian Arnold (RS Fr.), Devonta Smith (So.), Kaine Williams (RS Fr.)
Departing: Daniel Wright, Josh Jobe, Marcus Banks*, Joshua Robinson
Signed: Eli Ricks (6-2, 195, 4.4, LSU transfer), Earl Little Jr. (6-0, 170, 4.6, 9.9), Tre’Quon Fegans (6-1, 185, 4.6, 9.8), Jake Pope (6-0, 200, 4.6, 9.7), Antonio Kite (6-2, 190, 4.5, 9.6)

Analysis: Alabama hit its biggest home run of the day by getting LSU cornerback Eli Ricks through the transfer portal. Ricks, who has incredible length and speed for a cornerback, figures to be a day-one starter at Alabama. The question is, who will he replace? With Josh Jobe graduating and Marcus Banks electing to hit the transfer portal himself, the starting cornerbacks were expected to be senior holdover Jalyn Armour-Davis, who has arguably been Bama’s most consistent defensive back in 2021, and Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry. Armour-Davis is a possibility to leave early for the NFL if he gets the right evaluation, so Ricks would be stepping into that spot and McKinstry would only need to hold off 2021 JUCO transfer Khyree Jackson on the other side. Jahquez Robinson is on scholarship, but hasn’t really pushed forward at any point since getting to campus. Joshua Robinson, a walk-on who heads into the Playoff as a second-teamer, is a senior and will be out of eligibility.

At safety, Daniel Wright’s checkerboard career will be over, but over the course of 2021 he finally found the consistency he’d been missing, to the point that as of today, he’s Alabama’s dime safety ahead of Malachi Moore. The safety group next year will be DeMarcco Hellams, a physical safety who collects gobs of tackles each week, and provided he comes back for his senior year, Jordan Battle. Battle was expected to be the leader of the secondary in 2021 and eventually, he became just that, after some early hiccups. Moore and Brian Branch will play the low safety (i.e., Star and dime) spots.

If Battle goes pro, however, it probably puts Moore on the field slightly out of position. Kristian Story has made good strides forward and would likely see the field in dime, although both Terrion Arnold and will be competing for that role. Kaine Williams may be a bit behind those two, but he did get a few snaps in this year. As for Alabama’s freshmen signees, Earl Little and Tre’Quon Fegans are both intriguing cornerback prospects, and we rate Fegans higher than most due to his measurables.

The safety signees, Jake Pope and Antonio Kite, weren’t as highly rated, but Pope has a Vinny Sunseri vibe about him and the physical Kite looks like Hellams did at the same age. Other than Joshua Robinson, there didn’t appear to be any walk-ons close to getting playing time.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Returning: Will Reichard (Sr.), Jack Martin (Sr.), James Burnip (So.), Chase Allen (Jr.), Sam Johnson (So.), Reid Schuback (RS Fr.)
Departing: Ty Perine*
Signed: None

Analysis: Although Ty Perine and Jack Martin both looked to have stronger legs than James Burnip, it was Burnip that won the starting punting job and kept it for the entire season, perhaps due to his ability to kick rugby-style when asked to, something that has become a regular facet of the modern punting game. Perine responded by going through Senior Day activities. Placekicker Will Reichard will return next year, with Martin the primary backup to both him and Burnip. Chase Allen, Alabama’s kickoff specialist in 2020, was injured for much of 2021 and is just now back in kicking shape; he and fellow walk-on Reid Schuback are the other listed placekickers. Sam Johnson began the 2020 season as the starting punter before getting beat out by a sequence of other players.

If we’re reading rosters correctly, Martin has another year of available eligibility beyond the upcoming one and could take over for Reichard in 2023. Kneeland Hibbett will likely be the longsnapper again in 2022, with the holder being either Burnip or one of the backup quarterbacks, although Paul Tyson had and lost that job once already.

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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