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2017 National Signing Day Wrap-Up: Alabama Crimson Tide

Ho, hum.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

It says something about your team when you can convince the 93rd best player in the country to delay his commitment by a year.

This was really the lone drama for the Crimson Tide today, as 4-star defensive end Jarez Parks out of Sebastian, FL, who was supposed to announce his decision this morning, delayed announcing his school of choice until this afternoon.

As theories began to circulate, the general consensus was that he was waiting on 5-star defensive end LaBryan Ray to announce his own decision around 1:00 PM EST. When that scenario looked inevitable it was then that Parks decided to “greyshirt” and enroll in Tuscaloosa next January.

(For those curious about the various types of “shirts” in college football, here is a very good source to have at the ready.)

That being said, the 2017 recruiting class is Nick Saban’s best class at Alabama and that’s saying a lot. In total, minus Parks, they received commitments from 28 players and, as I write this, 26 of those have signed and faxed their letters of intent.

The two outstanding LOIs are from 3-star Cullman, AL offensive tackle Hunter Brannon and 3-star Mandeville, LA kicker Joseph Bulovas. Brannon may be getting a similar treatment to Parks, but it’s quite curious why one of the best kickers coming out of high school would be “greyshirting” as well, when outgoing kicker Adam Griffith is gone. This is something worth keeping an eye on.

Out of the 26 signees, there are a staggering 23(!!!) 4 or 5-star recruits. 6 of those are 5-stars, bringing a total of 13 that are in the 247Sports Top 100 Composite rankings.

2 of the Top 5 JuCo players in the country are already in Tuscaloosa.

From the tippity-top to the bottom, this class is LOADED.


The Athletes

Quarterback

  • Tua Tagovailoa (*****)-St. Louis (Honolulu, HI)
  • Mac Jones (****)-The Bolles School (Jacksonville, FL)

One’s a dual threat and one’s pro-style. Both will provide much-needed depth at the position given that three scholarship quarterbacks (former 4 and 5 stars) transferred by the end of the 2016 season.

Rising sophomore Jalen Hurts could also use the competition. Knowing that two incoming freshmen are about to be in the position that he was last year will most certainly give him the extra juice to improve upon his own game.

Tagovailoa is the one more in the mold of Hurts. He has a terrific arm, but it’s his running ability that can cause headaches. Jones appears to be the Alabama quarterback of yore, which will make it doubly more interesting once both are on campus together.

*As of Nick Saban’s press conference this afternoon, Jones will be able to join the already-enrolled Tagovailoa for spring practice.

Offensive Line

  • Alex Leatherwood (*****)-Washington (Pensacola, FL)
  • Elliot Baker (****)-City College of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
  • Jedrick Wills (****)-Lafayette (Lexington, KY)
  • Kendall Randolph (****)-Bob Jones (Madison, AL)

For right now, we’re leaving off Brannon as he has yet to sign. Still, this is a terrific class of linemen, second in the conference only to maybe UGA.

Leatherwood and Baker are both on campus for spring practice, which is very important as 2016 Outland Trophy winner Cam Robinson declared early for the draft.

This should allow some interesting shifts along the line, especially if OL coach Brent Key decides to move the precocious rising sophomore Jonah Williams over to Robinson’s left tackle spot in 2017.

Wills and Randolph round the group as big-bodied, yet super-athletic and mean-spirited guard prospects.

Saban has always built his teams from the inside out and this year’s offensive line class is no different in its skill level.

Wide Receiver

  • Jerry Jeudy (*****)-Deerfield Beach (Deerfield Beach, FL)
  • Tyrell Shavers (****)-Lewisville (Lewisville, TX)
  • Henry Ruggs III (****)-Robert E. Lee (Montgomery, AL)
  • Devonta Smith (****)-Amite (Amite, LA)

If there was one position Saban wished he had closed out better in 2016, it was wide receiver. He closed the position out well in 2017.

Jeudy and Shavers are already on campus and to most coaches having two of the top receivers in the country committed would be good enough, but is there anything that’s ever really good enough for Nick Saban?

The answer to that is, of course, “no”.

Ruggs and Smith were both NSD announcements today and neither disappointed in their signing with the Tide. Utilizing strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran’s workout room will be essential for both athletes as they’re a little on the slighter side.

Still, this is an excellent crop of receivers that was a little down from last year.

Tight End

  • Major Tennison (****)-Bullard (Bullard, TX)
  • Kedrick James (***)-La Vega (Waco, TX)

One of the more unnoticed stories year-in and year-out is Alabama’s acquisition of tight ends. O.J. Howard is always the name that comes to mind and that was a huge get, but over the last two years, Saban brought end two tight ends each year.

This is a big deal when you not only look at Howard’s departure, but the players coming up behind him. Hale Hentges and Miller Forristall, recruits from the 2015 and 2016 classes, respectively, are on deck, but a guy like Tennison (yet another early enrollee) can challenge for a spot immediately.

In Alabama’s modern offense, there are two types of tight ends: Jumbo Package and Spread. Kedrick James fits the former and Tennison fits the latter. The former is known as an unofficial sixth offensive lineman, while the latter can line up wide or in the slot and make mincemeat of a secondary.

Both options will be on campus come fall practice.

Running Back

  • Najee Harris (*****)-Antioch (Antioch, CA)
  • Brian Robinson (****)-Hillcrest (Tuscaloosa, AL)

Harris gets the attention for obvious reasons (here), but Robinson is certainly no slouch and a Top 150 player without breaking a sweat.

Both running backs have excellent size and neither is afraid of the embarrassment of riches that sits in front of them heading into 2017.

Harris already being on campus seems a bit unfair, but even with Bo Scarbrough’s leg injury in the title game, this position group is easily the most loaded in the country and it’s not even close.

Damien Harris, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year will return as will the very underrated Josh Jacobs who managed to run for over 500.

Add in top running back from last year’s class, BJ Emmons, and you’ll see the logjam that is about to occur.

It’s going to get interesting this fall.

Defensive Line

  • LaBryan Ray (*****)-James Clemens (Madison, AL)
  • Isaiah Buggs (****)-Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. (Perkinston, MS)
  • Phidarian Mathis (****)-Neville (Monroe, LA)

For Parks, his position as a defensive end was the primary reason he had to take a “greyshirt”. This was probably the most quiet position group in the class until about a week ago.

With the departure of All-Everything Jonathan Allen and the vastly underrated Dalvin Tomlinson, this defensive line that was so deep with talent and experience in 2015, has been decimated. It was not a group that the 2017 class could afford to be quiet.

At the eleventh hour, Phidarian Mathis and LaBryan Ray joined talented JuCo transfer Isaiah Buggs and turned this into possibly the best position group of 2017.

The talent is there and in Buggs’ case, so is the experience. Saban and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will need immediate development from this group due to the loss of said defenders. With Buggs already on campus, the Tide will at least have a leading candidate to line up on the other side of senior Da’Shawn Hand.

Linebacker

  • Dylan Moses (*****)-IMG Academy (Brandenton, FL)
  • VanDarius Cowan (****)-Palm Beach Gardens (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
  • Markail Benton (****)-Central (Phenix City, AL)
  • Chris Allen (****)-Southern University Lab School (Baton Rouge, LA)

This group of linebackers is very similar to the one from 2012 that had four blue-chippers committed. 2017’s may be better, though.

Three out of the four appear to true outside linebackers, although Moses was thought to have been a “Mike” ‘backer were he to have committed to LSU under former coach Les Miles. Time will tell where the über-talented athlete will play. He’s already on campus (this is getting old) so we should find out soon enough.

Cowan and Benton are more in the mold of the modern Alabama outside linebacker, with Benton being slightly bigger, weight-wise. They’re quick-twitch like Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans and can get to the quarterback right fast.

Allen is the one to watch out for, here, because on tape he resembles Dont’a Hightower. He can play the middle of the field as a traditional “Mike” as well as rush the edge. Seriously, look out for this kid. The coaches made him a priority with LSU in his backyard, so I would imagine he’s going to figure into the lineup soon.

Secondary

  • Xavier McKinney (****)-Roswell (Roswell, GA)
  • Daniel Wright (****)-Boyd Anderson (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
  • Kyriq McDonald (***)-James Clemens (Madison, AL)

This group is probably the “receivers” of 2017. The talent is there, but not quite as plentiful as cornerback guru Saban would’ve wanted.

His hope is always for two pure safeties and two pure corners. He got the two safeties, but only got one of the corners. Luckily, the one corner is on campus for spring practice to assimilate into the rigorous game plan.

This lack of depth, though, could figure into the 2018 Alabama football team, when corners Tony Brown, Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace and safety Hottie Jones will all have run out of eligibility and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison will most likely declare for the draft.

Overcompensating this time next year will be paramount if Saban and his staff are to continually field generational defenses.

Athlete

  • Chadarius Townshend (****)-Tanner School (Tanner, AL)

Ah, the ever-elusive “athlete.” That invaluable member of the team who can plays quarterback and safety or running back and linebacker. You can’t pigeonhole the guy due to his ubiquity, so you call him an “athlete.”

Townshend is one such player and then some. An early enrollee, it’s uncertain as to what his position on the team is going to be, but given the lack of options at corner, Saban and secondary coach Derrick Ansley may give him a shot at that this spring.

Dylan Moses is listed as an “athlete” by ESPN, but that’s due to his earlier experience in high school as a running back. He’s been a linebacker for the past two seasons and was recruited as such by Alabama.

Specialists

  • Thomas Fletcher (**)-IMG Academy (Brandenton, FL)

Fletcher’s presence in this class may seem underwhelming, but make no mistake, he may be the most-needed player on the team right now.

In 2013, ever the innovator, Saban began to recruit specifically for the longsnapper position. He found an undersized offensive lineman out of Bakersfield, CA named Cole Mazza. Mazza came in in 2013 and started from day one at a position that demanded him.

Now that Mazza has run out of eligibility, Fletcher has come to Tuscaloosa as an early enrollee to learn the ins and outs of the position, because he will almost certainly be longsnapper for the Crimson Tide’s spring game.

As mentioned before, Bulovas is one of the two holdouts in faxing in their letters of intent. Saban stated in his press conference this afternoon that without mentioning the name, the commitment of a kicker was still out there. Currently, though, Fletcher is the only specialist signed on to play.


Geography

Alabama’s recruiting net stretches far and wide and this year was no exception.

In total, they signed athletes from nine different states. Here’s how it breaks down:

Alabama: 7

Florida: 7

Louisiana: 3

Texas: 3

California: 2

Georgia: 1

Hawai’i: 1

Kentucky: 1

Mississippi: 1

What’s most intriguing is the ONE player ‘Bama pulled out of the state of Georgia. This really speaks to how well Kirby Smart has done in not only keeping players in state, but specifically keeping players from going to his old employer. In fact, he stole two prominent athletes from Nick Saban who are from Georgia.

Otherwise, this is all pretty normal. Tosh Lupoi should get major kudos for his recruitment of Najee Harris and Tua Tagovailoa. As a former west coast player and coach, Lupoi has deep connections to the Pacific section of the United States.

Saban’s continual plucking of players not only from Louisiana but Baton Rouge in particular is rather alarming for The Tigers. Chris Allen was the big get, but people forget that while Dylan Moses played at IMG Academy in Florida, he is a Louisiana native through and through. And were it not for Les Miles’ firing, he’d probably be on his way to LSU, right now.

In-state, the Tide obviously lost a few battles to rival Auburn, but signing arguably the top player in the state in LaBryan Ray and getting talent across five other positions on the field is quite the coup.

Continuing their streak of nabbing five stars on the fertile grounds of Florida is merely par for the course at this point. Jeudy, Leatherwood and Moses all played high school ball in Florida this past season and they were all five-star recruits. And they did it even with the loss of ace in the hole Mario Cristobal to Oregon in January.


Final Analysis

They finished National Signing Day ranked No. 1. You are not surprised.