TAMPA, Fla. — The end of one season always signals the beginning of another, and while Alabama ended the 2016 season with a heartbreaking loss to Clemson on Monday night, rest assured the Crimson Tide coaching staff will get right back to work to try to get back to the championship game.
That work has actually already begun as 11 members of Alabama’s No. 1 ranked 2017 signing class are already on campus and participating in the offseason training program.
That list includes four of the class’ top targets — namely highly-coveted five-star tailback Najee Harris, five-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, five-star linebacker Dylan Moses and four-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Harris is the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings and should quickly climb a crowded running back depth chart this spring, while Tagovailoa is the top-rated dual-threat quarterback and is effectively the Tide’s No. 2 quarterback from the moment he stepped on campus.
With the already-announced transfers of backup quarterbacks Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell — as well as the mid-season transfer of Blake Barnett — Tagovailoa could be Alabama’s only other scholarship quarterback besides rising sophomore starter Jalen Hurts, and may be thrown into action sooner than expected because of that. The Tide will also look to lock up four-star quarterback Mac Jones of Jacksonville, Florida, on National Signing Day, but don’t be surprised if Saban and company is on the lookout for an experienced quarterback in the graduate transfer market this spring.
Leatherwood is another early enrollee who could find himself in the playing mix as a true freshman, much like starting right tackle Jonah Williams, and could be in line to pair opposite of Williams, whether that’s on the right or left tackle spot, with 3-year starting left tackle Cam Robinson likely turning pro after the season..
Moses is an intriguing addition and could immediately slide into a hole left by the graduations of senior linebackers Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.
Saban doesn’t bring in junior college players unless they’re expected to contribute immediately, meaning both defensive end Isaiah Buggs of Mississippi Gulf Coast College and offensive tackle Elliot Baker of City College of San Francisco could be candidates for playing time, with Buggs to fill a hole along the line after senior defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson head to the NFL and Baker a likely replacement at right guard.
But perhaps the one player almost assured of seeing the field is long snapper Thomas Fletcher, rated the nation’s No. 2 long snapper according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, given the graduation of multi-year veteran starting long snapper Cole Mazza. Three-star kicker Brandon Ruiz is another expected signee that could make an immediate impact as he will undoubtedly be locked in a tight competition with rising senior Andy Pappanastos to replace graduating three-year starter Adam Griffith.
Of the expected summer enrollees, don’t be surprised if five-star receiver Jerry Jeudy quickly makes his case to be playing alongside rising senior ArDarius Stewart and junior Calvin Ridley, as could four-star early enrollee Tyrell Shavers.
Alabama’s secondary is another position group that could see an influx of new faces with four defensive backs expected to join the fray, including early enrollee Kyriq McDonald and four-star safeties Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright, the latter who was a significant flip from Florida State. Junior college signee Jhavonte Dean of Blinn College is another defensive back that could be a candidate to fill a hole in the secondary with the expected departures of starters Eddie Jackson and Marlon Humphrey.
Jackson is a senior and will be headed to the pros, as could Humphrey, who is draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore and widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft class, so there could be two or three starting secondary spots up for grabs this offseason.
2017 Recruiting class
Early Enrollees (11)
Najee Harris, 5-star running back (No. 1 RB), 6-3, 226 pounds
Alex Leatherwood, 5-star offensive tackle (No. 2 OT), 6-6, 327 pounds
Dylan Moses, 5-star linebacker (No. 1 OLB), 6-2.5, 235 pounds
Tua Tagovailoa, 4-star quarterback (No. 1 dual QB), 6-1, 212 pounds
Tyrell Shavers, 4-star receiver (No. 15 WR), 6-6, 196 pounds
Isaiah Buggs, 4-star defensive end (No. 1 JUCO DE), 6-5, 280 pounds
Elliot Baker, 4-star offensive tackle (No. 1 JUCO OT), 6-7, 295 pounds
Chadarius Townsend, 4-star athlete (No. 8 ATH), 6-0, 190 pounds
Major Tennison, 4-star tight end (No. 10 TE), 6-6, 230 pounds
Kyriq McDonald, 3-star cornerback (No. 44 CB), 5-11, 185 pounds
Thomas Fletcher, 2-star long snapper (No. 2 LS), 6-1, 215 pounds
Jerry Jeudy, 5-star receiver (No. 4 WR), 6-1, 177 pounds
Jedrick Willis, 4-star offensive tackle (No. 10 OT), 6-5, 318 pounds
VanDarius Cowan, 4-star linebacker (No. 4 OLB), 6-4, 226 pounds
Xavier McKinney, 4-star safety (No. 8 S), 6-1, 192 pounds
Markail Benton, 4-star linebacker (No. 5 OLB), 6-1 ½, 237 pounds
Christopher Allen, 4-star linebacker (No. 8 OLB), 6-4, 234 pounds
Daniel Wright, 4-star safety (No. 15 S), 6-1, 187 pounds
Akail Byers, 4-star defensive tackle (No. 9 DT), 6-4, 275 pounds
Brian Robinson, 4-star running back (No. 11 RB), 6-1, 224 pounds
Kendall Randolph, 4-star offensive tackle (No. 22 OT), 6-4, 310 pounds
Jhavonte Dean, 4-star cornerback (No. 2 JUCO CB), 6-2, 180 pounds
Mac Jones, 4-star quarterback (No. 14 pro QB), 6-2, 180 pounds
Kendrick James, 3-star tight end (No. 13 TE), 6-5 245 pounds
Hunter Brannon, 3-star offensive guard (No. 11 C), 6-4, 290 pounds
Brandon Ruiz, 3-star kicker, (No. 2 K), 5-10, 165 pounds