TUSCALOOSA — Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently hit the recruiting trail with the fervor of coaches half his age.
With in-home visits and late offers going out left and right, the Crimson Tide is in a unique — and uncommon — position leading up to National Signing Day on Wednesday, mostly because of the uncertainty of its 2018 class.
“With the early signing period, I think the assumption was it‘d kind of take away the drama in January (and February), and there wouldn’t be many questions that needed to be answered,” Hank South of 247Sports.com’s BamaOnline said this week. “And I think for most schools, that’s probably the case. … But for Alabama, this is the most dramatic signing day they’ve had since I’ve been covering (them) and probably in awhile. … I think there is some uncertainty, which is reflected by these late offers that are going out.”
Alabama, which currently has the nation’s No. 6-ranked 2018 signing class according to 247Sports’ composite team rankings, already has five members of its class on campus, including grayshirt 2017 4-star linebacker Jarez Parks. The other early enrollees include No. 1 junior college cornerback Savion Smith, four-star defensive end Stephon Wynn, four-star athlete Slade Bolden and three-star punter Skyler DeLong.
Alabama signed 10 players in the new early signing period in mid-December, including the nation’s top defensive end prospect, five-star Eyabi Anoma of Maryland. The other early signees include four-star corners Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe; four-star defensive linemen Christian Barmore, Jordan Davis and Cameron Latu; four-star offensive linemen Tommy Brown and Emil Ekiyor; four-star receiver Xavier Williams and three-star running back Jerome Ford.
Saban said then Alabama “basically (has) eight spots left” to fill, though recruiting experts expect the Tide could add between 7 to 10 more signees with some number crunching. That would include committed 3-star tight end Michael Parker of Huntsville being a potential blueshirt candidate.
“Obviously, there’s avenues to where they could add another kid beyond the 25 via blueshirt like they’re doing with Michael Parker," South said.
Also factoring in is what happens with three current commitments — four-star linebackers Quay Walker and Vernon Jackson, as well as four-star defensive tackle Bobby Brown — who are on official visits to other colleges this weekend. Walker, of Cordele, Georgia, is in Athens, while Texas-natives Jackson and Brown are both at Texas A&M.
“It’s not often you see Alabama outside the Top 5 a week before National Signing Day, but that’s kind of the situation they’re in this year,” Rivals.com’s BamaInsider recruiting writer Andrew Bone said. “It is a little different because you only have one five-star (signee) and you’re kind of banking on all these other guys to get on board, but you really don’t know what’s going to happen with them just yet.”
Among the Tide’s top targets are four more five-star prospects, including the top-2 rated cornerbacks in American Heritage (Florida) teammates Patrick Surtain Jr. and Tyson Campbell, No. 3 cornerback Olaijah Griffin of California and No. 1-rated offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, also of Florida.
Defensive backs are vital, especially after losing its entire starting secondary, which could allow for big additions Wednesday, including the No. 1 corner.
“I think (Alabama is) in a good spot for Patrick Surtain right now,” South said. “He’s a potential Day 1 starter, I think he’s a three-and-out type player.”
Alabama hopes to sign two to three defensive backs, with Surtain Jr. and three-star corner Eddie Smith of Slidell, Louisiana — reportedly the cousin of current Tide receiver Devonta Smith — the two favorites, with four-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart of California, the No. 4 corner who visited Tuscaloosa last weekend, a potential third option.
“It’s definitely going to be a heavily scrutinized position group over these next few days,” SEC Country’s Alabama recruiting writer Chris Kirschner said this week.
Alabama appears in good position with in-state four-star receiver Justyn Ross of Phenix City, who is also considering Auburn and Clemson, as well as fellow four-star receivers Jaylen Waddle of Texas and Jacob Copeland of Florida.
“I think both those guys (Ross and Waddell) right now are probably the likely additions, but you really can’t rule out Jacob Copeland either,” South said. “He’s a big fan of Saban and really likes (offensive coordinator) Mike Locksley, and they’re really prioritizing him.”
Alabama is also in prime contention for Petit-Frere, who is considering Florida and Ohio State, and four-star guard Penei Sewell of Utah.
“Several people I’ve talked to believe Alabama is the favorite to land (Petit-Frere),” Kirschner said, “but then in recruiting, things change by the day, especially in these final few days leading up to signing day. … I don’t see any of those guys ending up at Alabama right now.”
If the Tide doesn’t sign another offensive lineman, it could allow a third defensive back to sign or make it easier to add a quarterback in this class.
With Friday’s news that four-star quarterback Brevin White of California was sticking with his commitment to Princeton, three-star Arizona product Brock Purdy appears to be the leader to potentially be that quarterback signee, though four-star dual-threat option James Foster of Montgomery is also an option.
In a down year for in-state options, Alabama is still considered the favorite to land both Ross, the state’s consensus No. 1 player, and four-star defensive end Malik Langham of Huntsville, in addition to Armour-Davis, the state’s No. 2 prospect.
Nevertheless, coaches have remained active in the days leading up to signing day, including late backup offers to three-star defensive tackle Moro Ojomo of Texas and three-star inside linebacker Jaylen Moody of South Carolina.
“It’s definitely going to be a very busy National Signing Day for Alabama,” Kirschner said.
Added South: “It should be an interesting finish.”