TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It happens every year, but the 2017 national championship run proved more than ever that Alabama football isn’t afraid to rely on first-year freshmen in some of the biggest moments.
Freshmen Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Alex Leatherwood all made crucial plays that helped the Crimson Tide secure their fifth national championship in nine years.
Now, it’s time to figure out who among the 2018 newcomers could step in and fill an immediate hole for the Crimson Tide.
Patrick Surtain Jr., cornerback
Patrick Surtain Jr., the No. 1 cornerback in the country, was Alabama’s lone big splash on National Signing Day. At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, Surtain Jr. has the potential and pedigree to step into a depleted secondary and contribute from Day 1.
His father, Patrick Surtain Sr., spent 11 years in the NFL as a defensive back, making the Pro Bowl three times.
We listed Surtain Jr., but all of Alabama’s defensive back signees will have an opportunity to compete for a spot. Outside of Deionte Thompson at one of the safety spots, every other secondary position is open.
Christian Barmore, defensive tackle
If there’s one spot Alabama where needs immediate depth, it’s along the defensive line, particularly defensive tackle with Da’Ron Payne and Josh Frazier moving on.
Christian Barmore is currently listed at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, but he easily could add more size and strength once he starts working out with Scott Cochran. Even if he doesn’t become a full-time starter, Alabama will need depth behind top guys such as Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis.
Saivion Smith, cornerback
Typically, junior college transfers are brought in to fit an immediate need. That’s the case for Saivion Smith, who steps into a situation where both of Alabama’s cornerback spots are open with Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace moving on.
If Smith can step in and lock down one side of the field, that would be a huge bonus for the 2018 defense.
Stephon Wynn, defensive lineman
Barmore and Stephon Wynn were the lone two defensive linemen Alabama signed in this class. Wynn is currently listed at 6-4, 308 pounds so he’s another big body who could provide depth early on even if he doesn’t become a full-time starter.
Jaylen Waddle, wide receiver
Jaylen Waddle could contribute at slot receiver or return man from Day 1. He’s elusive, runs well after the catch and has nice quickness. He brings a dynamic Alabama doesn’t currently have in its receivers room.
Waddle will be tough for nickel defensive backs to cover given his ability to quickly change directions. Look for him to be a dynamic playmaker throughout his career.
Skyler Delong, punter
For the first time in four years, Alabama won’t have JK Scott to help flip the field with a booming punt. Instead, freshman Skyler Delong must step up with gigantic shoes to fill.
Scott was a two-time finalist for the Ray Guy Award. No pressure, kid.