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2018 National Signing Day Wrap-Up: Alabama Crimson Tide

The 2018 recruiting cycle wasn’t Nick Saban’s best at Alabama but it met most needs

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

From henceforth the 2018 Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting class will be known as “The Needs Class”.

The basic tenant of recruiting for any college football coach is: “I lost this many players at these positions to graduation or the draft. I must try to get as many back by Signing Day.”

While 2018 is far from Nick Saban’s best class at Alabama, considering the slow start and decommitments from this time last year to now, it’s impressive the Tide finished the way they did.

We can speculate the various reasons for all of this (Kirby Smart being the top, most likely), but as it stands, anyone in and around the program will tell you the Tide met a great deal of its needs on Wednesday.

It’s fun for us fans to count the stars by each player, but coaches evaluate based on their own requirements for each position and the number of stars seldom figures into the equation.

I understand that this sounds like a massive rationalization from a fan in the wake of his team not finishing at the top of the recruiting rankings for the first time in eight years.

That being said, Alabama did Alabama and most likely the deficit in this recruiting class can be attributed to teams like Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, Texas and Penn State closing the disparity gap.

The following is a rundown of the 2018 Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting class.


The Athletes

Quarterback

N/A

This is where having two championship-level quarterbacks competing for the starting spot is a negative. When one’s a rising junior and the other a rising sophomore, it’s difficult to convince even the most competitive athlete that they have a shot.

Saban alluded in his press conference on Wednesday that the Tide could still acquire a fourth scholarship quarterback. He said that he couldn’t elaborate, but this could mean going the graduate transfer route.

Nevertheless, this could be a problem for the Tide over the next 1-2 recruiting cycles simply due to younger players competing for a position where only one can start. Will he compensate for this in 2019 by trying to get two QBs? Only time will tell.

Offensive Line

  • Emil Ekiyor (****)-Cathedral (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Tommy Brown (****)-Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA)

Alabama lost only one starter from this year’s offensive line unit in center Bradley Bozeman, so by the aforementioned standard, the Tide did well enough in recruiting for the front of their offense.

Ekiyor played center in high school, so whether he is groomed for the same position at the collegiate level or winds up at guard, no matter what, you have an elite interior lineman at your disposal.

Brown, an Alabama legacy, played offensive guard in high school, but is big enough (6’6” 313 lbs.) to play tackle, which is good considering Saban likes his best linemen to be able to play every position across the line.

While Saban and his staff would’ve like to have added another player in this group (Nicholas Petit-Frere was considered a Tide lean over the last month), they received signatures from five linemen in 2017, so this is about where the Tide want to be.

Wide Receiver

  • Jaylen Waddle (****)-Episcopal (Bellaire, TX)
  • Xavier Williams (****)-Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood, FL)
  • Slade Bolden (***)-West Monroe (West Monroe, LA)

Wide receiver was a bit of a hit-or-miss kind of day for Alabama on Wednesday.

On the sour end, they lost out on the state’s top prospect (the first time since 2012) in Justyn Ross, who committed to Clemson, and Florida re-commit Jacob Copeland.

They did, however, nab Jaylen Waddle, a highly skillful slot receiver out of Texas with a lot of speed and the moves to go with it.

For the Tide, they lose three-year starter Calvin Ridley, along with seniors Robert Foster and Cam Sims, so acquiring three more receivers to make up for the deficit is beneficial for them.

What might’ve swayed Copeland and Ross to their respective schools is the fact that three rising sophomores, who played major roles for Alabama in 2017, will all be in line to fill in for Ridley, Foster and Sims.

On top of that, Xavier Williams and Slade Bolden are both talented enough athletes to break into the two-deep along with Waddle.

As we found out in 2017, Saban has no issues using a host of receivers in a number of different packages, so it stands to reason that Waddle, Williams and Bolden will all have the same chance. Plus, 2017 wideout signees Tyrell Shavers and Chadarius Townshend both took redshirt years.

From a numbers standpoint, Saban did just fine at this position.

Tight End

  • Michael Parker (***)-Westminster Christian Academy (Huntsville, AL)

Tight end was not a position that Alabama necessarily had to have, but the early signing day surprise of JUCO tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson committing to Tennessee most likely kept the Tide from blueshirting Parker.

A three-star who stated on Twitter that at this time last year he had no offers, Parker held off from signing in December most likely because Alabama had a more pressing need for several of the athletes they were going after in February.

As it turns out, Parker probably benefitted most from the Tide’s smaller class this year and he was able to sign.

Alabama tight ends Hale Hentges, Irv Smith, Jr. and Miller Forristall along with rising sophomores Kedrick James and Major Tennison all have eligibility to spend so this was probably a position Saban wanted a guy to fill it out.

Running Back

  • Jerome Ford (****)-Armwood (Seffner, FL)

Like Parker, Ford was a last-minute addition to the Tide’s class prior to the early signing period.

Ford, who had been on Saban’s radar for awhile, was a sort of consolation prize in the wake of losing 5-star RB Zamir White to Georgia and 4-star RB Asa Martin to Auburn.

Still, Ford can be seen as a Josh Jacobs type with his mixture of size and speed.

While his chances of seeing the field are slim with the return of rising senior Damien Harris and the already-crowded backfield of Jacobs, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson and Ronnie Clark, Ford can take a redshirt year in 2018 and find his way into the middle of the pack after Harris and Clark leave.

The importance of Damien Harris’ return cannot be stressed enough. Having him back took the pressure off recruiting in this position group in 2018.

Defensive Line

  • Eyabi Anoma (*****)-St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, MD)
  • Stephon Wynn (****)-IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL)
  • Jordan Davis (****)-Southwind (Memphis, TN)
  • Cameron Latu (****)-Olympus (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Christian Barmore (****)-Neumann Goretti (Philadelphia, PA)

Nick Saban stated on Wednesday that he would’ve liked a couple more defensive linemen, which seems a little irrational considering the above numbers.

However, losing Bobby Brown back to Texas A&M and in-state defensive end Malik Langham to Florida, Saban wanted a couple more larger bodies to fill out this class.

Why? Because three of the five above names could be tabbed to play outside linebacker at the next level. Anoma, Davis and Latu are all under 250 pounds and even though Scott Cochran’s S&C program would more than get them to the optimal weight to play on the line, it’s easy to see how they could be used as OLBs in college.

Barmore and Wynn are beefy tackle types who would fit well in Saban’s 3-4 scheme as nose tackles. With the losses of Da’Ron Payne and Josh Frazier that particular position on the line could use some bolstering.

Wynn being only one of the four signees already on campus will help jump start the process.

Tackle is where Saban needs players on the line and he got the right number to match the ones he lost from 2017.

Linebacker

  • Jaylen Moody (***)-Conway (Conway, SC)
  • Jarez Parks (****)-Sebastian River (Sebastian, FL)

As was mentioned above, this particular position group could probably have more names, but it’s good not speculate what might happen and just report on their position coming out of high school.

This is why linebacker could’ve used another player or two on top of the ones they received in this class. It didn’t help, either, when Quay Walker and Vernon Jackson flipped their commitments to Georgia and Texas A&M, respectively, on Wednesday.

Still, Moody is a nice find at the last minute for the Tide. Already at 225 lbs. he more than covers for the modern day Nick Saban middle linebacker. Both outgoing MLBs Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton hovered around this weight their entire careers.

Parks, who is technically counted towards the Tide’s 2017 class, took a greyshirt due to a numbers issue and began practicing with the outside linebackers during playoff prep. He’s another defensive end coming out of high school, but it seems the coaching staff already likes him with the OLBs.

Obviously, a point of emphasis will be linebacker in 2019 and based off previous classes, Saban will deliver.

Secondary

  • Patrick Surtain, Jr. (*****)-American Heritage (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
  • Saivion Smith (****)-Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. (Perkinston, MS)
  • Jalyn Armour-Davis (****)-St. Paul’s Episcopal (Mobile, AL)
  • Josh Jobe (****)-Cheshire Academy (Cheshire, CT)
  • Eddie Smith (***)-Salmen (Slidell, LA)

If there was one position group from 2017 that Saban wanted more numbers from it was the secondary.

Last year he only took three and knowing that he would be losing most if not all of his players from his 2017 team, he and his staff put a full court press on a large number of corners and safeties.

He succeeded.

As it turns out, Alabama lost all six of its primary members of the secondary. Corners Levi Wallace, Anthony Averett and Tony Brown along with safety Hootie Jones were all seniors. Juniors Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison were way too good to pass up on the draft.

Saban’s 2018 secondary group could be one of his best if not one that could at least challenge for starting spots going into the upcoming season.

JUCO transfer Saivion Smith is the one to watch right now. He’s already enrolled and has the experience at both the junior college and FBS levels. Barring injury or lack of development, it’s safe to say he’s going to lock down one of the spots vacated by Wallace and Averett.

Surtain, Jr., aside from maybe Anoma, is the crown jewel of this class. Saban wanted him and he made sure he got him, going so far to interview Surtain, Jr.’s father for the then-vacant secondary coach position.

Armour-Davis, Jobe and Smith help fill out an obvious need as all three could play safety or corner at the next level. Smith is the under-the-radar signee to keep an eye on. Saban courted him hard over the last month.

The lone disappointment is losing Nadab Joseph during the early signing period to Georgia. Otherwise, this is a top notch group.

Specialists

  • Skyler DeLong (***)-Nation Ford (Fort Mill, SC)

Talk about filling a need.

It’s not going to be easy to replace four-year starter JK Scott at punter, but flipping DeLong from Tennessee early on and keeping him might’ve been Saban’s best move of the class.

Saban puts a premium on specialists as it is evident in his offering scholarships to undersized centers at the high school level to be his long snappers. Last year, he gave scholarships to long snapper Thomas Fletcher and kicker Joseph Bulovas.

In 2018, it was time to get a punter.

One reason for DeLong’s flip to the Tide was due to Tennessee’s plan to use him as a kicker which Saban used against them.

Whether DeLong will be the kind of cult hero in Tuscaloosa that Scott was remains to be seen, but he’s already on campus and is the odds-on favorite to be the 2018 punter.


Geography

As always, the Tide reached far outside the boundaries of their own state to fill out the 2018 class.

In total, they signed athletes from 13 different states. Here’s how it breaks down:

Florida: 5

Alabama: 2

Louisiana: 2

South Carolina: 2

California: 1

Connecticut: 1

Indiana: 1

Maryland: 1

Mississippi: 1

Pennsylvania: 1

Tennessee: 1

Texas: 1

Utah: 1

Most striking, here, is the small number of players Saban got from inside his own state: two.

This is the first time since 2012, when Florida State stole Jameis Winston, that Alabama didn’t procure the top player in the state. When Phenix City wideout Justyn Ross decided to spurn the Tide for Clemson, you knew it wasn’t Saban’s year.

Most troubling for, both, Alabama and Auburn is 2018’s class was not a good in-state recruiting year in the way of blue-chip talent. It was a lot more sparse considering names like Marlon Davidson, Mack Wilson, Kerryon Johnson, Ben Davis, Tre Williams, OJ Howard, Reuben Foster, Rashaan Evans, TJ Yeldon, Ryan Anderson and Cassanova McKinzy all came out of Alabama high schools over the last six years.

Still, the Tide were able to go into Florida as they always do and get premium talent. Josh Jobe, who played football in Connecticut, is a South Florida product.

What Saban and his staff did well was stretch their feelers to both coasts and everywhere in between. It’s strange to see athletes from Pennsylvania, Indiana or Utah make their way to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but here they come.

Probably most concerning going forward is the lack of Georgia recruits. They only had one signee last year and zero this year, which is a testament to how well Kirby Smart and his assistants are doing in building a wall around the state’s borders.

All and all, this is a motley crew of athletes from east to west, which should, at the very least, make for some interesting rooming situations.


Final Analysis

Hell hath no fury like a Saban scorned. 2019 will be a very interesting cycle.