Alabama addresses position needs in lowest-rated recruiting class since 2007By Matthew Speakman | 02/10/2018 1:23pm
For the first time since 2010, a team besides Alabama found itself at the top of the recruiting rankings. Georgia broke Alabama’s record for five-star recruits in a year and finished with the nation’s best recruiting class. Alabama finished just inside the top 10 at No. 7, according to the 247Sports composite team rankings.
By Alabama’s standards, finishing with the No. 7 class in the country is viewed as a disappointment. It is the team’s lowest finish since 2010 when the team finished No. 4. It’s also the first time since coach Nick Saban’s first year in 2007 that Alabama has a recruiting class outside of the top five.
While it’s not the result Alabama is used to having, Saban, like he does every year, reiterated that the most important thing is how the player develops. Rankings do not matter if a player does not improve to the level that is expected of him.
"As I say every year, you can't look at a puppy dog and look at his feet and know how big he's going to get someday,” Saban said. “The real evaluation of any recruiting class – and I said this when we had No. 1 recruiting classes and I'm saying it now – is really down the road in two or three years, how many of these guys turn out to be really, really good players.”
This year, different circumstances changed the way Alabama and most other teams approached recruiting. The institution of an early signing period on Dec. 21 meant many coaches had to go to work earlier in the year to lock in players.
The new rule came with an adjustment. With some players remaining open after the early signing period on Dec. 21, coaches only had a little under two months to convince them to pick Alabama over other schools.
“I do think that it does accelerate the recruiting calendar,” Saban said. “I think you have to have more guys visit early, you have to get on top of people early. If they're going to early sign, you have to identify that and recruit to that timetable.”
During that time, Alabama had to prepare to play the No. 1 team in the nation, Clemson, in the Sugar Bowl, and then turn around and play Georgia in the national championship.
While all of that was going on, Alabama dealt with an overwhelming amount of staff turnover. Both of its main coordinators, Jeremy Pruitt and Brian Daboll, took jobs elsewhere.
Alabama filled those positions from within by reportedly promoting outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi to defensive coordinator and wide receiver coach Mike Locksley to offensive coordinator. Alabama also brought in Josh Gattis, Jeff Banks, Pete Golding and Karl Scott to join the coaching staff.
Assistant coaches are instrumental in recruiting and developing relationships early-on with players. The staff turnover had an impact as players had to commit to new position coaches.
"Well, I don't think there's any question that there may be some prospects out there who were being recruited by someone who left and maybe that was a little bit of an issue with them,” Saban said. “But I do think that the coaches that we hired certainly did a great job of going out there and trying to develop relationships with the players that we were recruiting.
Still, Alabama was able to lock down some of the nation’s top recruits.
Five-star defensive lineman Eyabi Anoma signed with Alabama during the early signing period. He ranked as the No. 4 player in this year’s class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He was the highest rated player in Alabama’s 2018 class.
“It’s the Saban era,” Anoma said on ESPN during the early signing period. “Time in and time out, he just produces top-notch players that compete at a high level. I want to go there and compete at a high level.”
During the second signing period on Wednesday, Alabama’s biggest win came when five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. picked the Crimson Tide over LSU. Surtain Jr. had LSU as his leader for most of his recruitment. He played at Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His teammate and fellow cornerback, five-star Tyson Campbell, chose Georgia over Alabama.
Surtain Jr. explained his decision on ESPN. He has family in Louisiana, so the choice came as a surprise and was the highlight of Alabama’s day.
“They win championships,” Surtain Jr. said. “And over [at Heritage] we're used to winning. I want to be a part of that winning culture.”
Along with Surtain Jr., four-star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle chose Alabama over Texas A&M. He was the second-highest recruit Alabama obtained during the second signing period. He is the No. 39 overall player and the No. 5 wide receiver.
His commitment came as a sigh of relief after Alabama missed out on wide receiver Justyn Ross, who was the No. 1 player in Alabama, and Jacob Copeland, a four-star wide receiver who had Alabama in his final top three.
Waddle and Surtain Jr. were big wins for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide missed out on multiple players that were committed up until Wednesday. Defensive tackle Bobby Brown chose Texas A&M over Alabama after being committed to the Crimson Tide since Dec. 21. Linebacker Quay Walker, another Alabama commit, ultimately chose Georgia.
“I think that we've all kind of grown to understand that commitments don't really mean a whole bunch in a lot of cases,” Saban said. “I don't think you can judge much based on that because guys just continue to visit — so they're really not committed — and if they find something else that they like better, then they're not committed.”
A year after signing six five-star recruits, Alabama’s 2018 class did not boast the same type of overwhelming talent, but it definitely served a purpose. The class addressed Alabama’s needs.
Alabama lost its entire starting secondary. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Levi Wallace, Tony Brown and Anthony Averrett are all preparing for the NFL Draft. To address those departures, the Crimson Tide signed three other defensive backs outside of Surtain Jr., including four-star junior college recruit in Saivion Smith.
Ultimately, Saban believes the class did what it was supposed to. It added depth in positions where Alabama desperately needed it to.
“We were pleased with the guys we were able to attract,” Saban said. “I think in every recruiting class, there's always a guy that you get that you thought you might not get, and there's also a guy that you thought you might get that you didn't get. But overall, I think we solved a lot of needs in this class. I think we had to recruit a lot by needs.”