Alabama rode a tidal wave of late-season momentum en route to winning its fourth national title in the seven years last month.
That momentum carried over into the 2016 recruiting season as the Crimson Tide climbed from outside the top 10 among several recruiting services to reel in the consensus No. 1 class once again, all in a span of a few hours on National Signing Day.
After entering the day as a long shot for the top spot, Alabama finished the day with the nation’s best class among 247Sports.com, Rivals and Scout, with ESPN giving the nod to Florida State — though the Tide was second.
“It’s amazing, just to know that your class is one of the top in the country — or the top in the country,” said freshman early enrollee Shawn Jennings, a three-star safety from Dadeville. “And to know the people that are beside you are the best (players), so you can lean on them if you need help, it’s amazing to know the class (is No. 1).”
Not everybody at Alabama is concerned with rankings.
“I always seem to answer questions about rankings and ratings, and I say this every year: Every coach stands up and says, ‘We got the players we wanted and the players we needed, we had a great recruiting class,’ all that kind of stuff,” coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “But I think it’s more important that we get players who are committed to doing the things that they need to do to develop in your program and to grow and develop in your program, personally, academically and athletically.”
It’s the sixth straight year that Alabama finished first in the 247Sports.com composite team rankings, thanks in large part to a handful of signing day splashes, including from a pair of premier in-state products.
Five-star linebackers Ben Davis of Gordo and Lyndell “Mack” Wilson of Carver-Montgomery were instrumental in propelling the Tide back atop the national rankings. Davis’ signature moved the Tide to No. 3 after opening the day at No. 5, and Wilson’s pushed it even further to No. 1, according to 247Sports.
While the importance of getting the top two in-state players wasn’t necessarily the Tide’s main directive, it certainly helped move the needle, especially from a national perspective.
“Perception doesn’t win any games for us around here, but good players do, and we were excited about both those guys,” Saban said. “We thought they were outstanding players, very athletic guys, both of them can run, they’re instinctive players, and the goal for us is to teach those guys as much as we can as soon as we can because this is a position where we’ve had lots of guys in the past contribute as freshmen — Rolando McClain did, Donta Hightower did, CJ Mosely did, I think Nico Johnson did.”
Alabama’s class filled its needs and added depth.
After utilizing a plethora of experienced players among the defensive front seven this season, it was important to reload there — especially along the front where the Tide signed five defensive linemen.
That group included towering five-star tackles in 6-foot-7, 325-pound Raekwon Davis of Meridian, Mississippi, and 6-5, 350-pound Kendell Jones Jr. of Killeen, Texas, to go along with 6-4, 290-pound junior college defensive tackle Jamar King of Mendocino, California, and four-star end prospects Terrell Hall of Washington, D.C., and Quinnen Williams of Wenonah-Birmingham.
Saban, though, acknowledged he wanted one more defensive lineman.
“We probably would have liked to have added a defensive end, edge-rusher type of guy to that group,” Saban said. “But again, you don’t get everything that you want all the time. We’re really pleased with the players that we got.”
Offensively, Alabama filled all its needs except at slot receiver with the additions of five offensive linemen — including three tackle prospects — two running backs, two tight ends/H-backs and a pair of receivers, not to mention a true dual-threat quarterback in four-star early enrollee Jalen Hurts of Channelview, Texas.
“I think this class sort of reflects some of the needs that we have. I’m really pleased that we got five quality offensive linemen in this class,” Saban said. “I think we got two good runners, which certainly we need. There’s some young talent at that position in terms of the number of players that we have at that position.”
The boost along the offensive line, especially at tackle, was important with the signings of top-rated JUCO lineman Charles Baldwin of ASA College, five-star tackle Jonah Williams and 6-7, 325-pound Scott Lashley of West Point, Mississippi, one of three players plucked from the neighboring state.
“The five-hour radius is really important to us, and Mississippi sort of comes into that area, and because of the quality of programs that they have in their own state, it’s been a little more difficult lately to get guys to leave (Mississippi),” Saban said. “We felt very fortunate, and we’re very pleased with the three guys that we were able to get, and I think we went down to the wire on a couple other guys that are really good players as well.”
Alabama got a boost at running back, where it needed to replenish the position after the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, signing four-star tailback B.J. Emmons of Morganton, North Carolina, and late four-star addition Joshua Jacobs of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
All in all, the Tide’s 2016 class checked off nearly all its boxes.
And Alabama may not be done just yet.
“I think we’re always looking for good players, and I’m pleased (with what we have),” Saban said. “But … we’ll probably be on the lookout for the next best player we can find, whether it’s someone who didn’t sign on Signing Day or (a transfer) looking for an opportunity.”