When it comes to recruiting, Alabama football is the undisputed king on National Signing Day. Six consecutive No. 1-ranked classes leave no doubt about that.
Quarterback, however, is trickier subject when it comes to the Crimson Tide. Jalen Hurts looked like a future Heisman Trophy winner during his true freshman season, but it’s been awhile since the program had such an elite talent under center.
In today’s exercise, we take a look at how Alabama recruited the position this millennium, chronicling hits, missed and the many, many transfer decisions that inevitably come with quarterbacks. Let’s go.
Alabama QB snapshot
- Total signees since 2000: 19
- 5-stars: 3
- Transferred or dismissed: 13
- Signees who became starters: 6
- Best signing: AJ McCarron
- Biggest steal: Greg McElroy
- Biggest bust: Phillip Sims
Class of 2001: Brodie Croyle
Stats: 39 games, 6,832 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, 22 interceptions
Drafted: Yes (Round 3, Pick 85)
Despite losing his final year of high school to a torn left ACL, Croyle arrived in Tuscaloosa as a highly coveted recruit who held Alabama state records for career passing yards and touchdowns.
More impressively, Croyle helped guide the Crimson Tide through turbulent times, playing under coaches Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula in five seasons. He dealt with more hardship in 2004, tearing the ACL in his right knee and being forced to miss all but three games of that season.
Croyle finally put it all together as a senior, when he came back from injury to pass for 2,499 yards and 14 touchdowns to 4 interceptions while leading Alabama to a 10-2 record — wins later vacated by the NCAA following a textbook scandal.
Croyle was a third-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, he played sparingly as a backup over five seasons.
Croyle never became the prolific passer he was in high school, but given everything he had to deal with between injury and coaching changes, you can’t fault him too much. He fit the mold of the modern Crimson Tide quarterback — efficient game manager who was (mostly) careful with the football — and played reasonably well in his two-plus seasons as starter.
Class of 2002: Brandon Avalos
Stats: 3 games, 5-of-15 passing for 18 yards and an interception
Injury thrust Avalos, a two-sport athlete and Tuscaloosa native, into action during the 2003 homecoming game against Southern Miss — a 17-3 victory that saw three Crimson Tide turnovers. That would be the only start of his Alabama career; for undisclosed reasons, Avalos was suspended on Nov. 4 and sat out the rest of the season. By 2004, he had left the program to play baseball at Shelton State Community College.
Class of 2003: Cliff Davis
Drafted: Yes, technically.
Keeping with the two-sport theme, Davis signed with Alabama but later chose to go pro after the Houston Astros took him in the sixth round of the 2003 MLB draft. Davis had a 5.97 ERA across three minor league seasons in the Astros organization before joining Ole Miss as a walk-on quarterback. He never saw the field for the Rebels, either, and left after the 2007 season.
Class of 2005: Jimmy Johns
Stats: 36 games, 564 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns
Johns’ name might sound funny, but his story is anything but. Alabama moved the dual-threat prospect to running back once he arrived on campus, and Johns saw the field occasionally as a backup and special teams player.
Then, in June of 2008, Tuscaloosa police arrested Johns on six drug-related charges, including cocaine distribution. Nick Saban promptly dismissed him from the team. He was released from prison on Sept. 21, 2011.
On a more positive note, Johns seems to have turned his life around.
Class of 2005: Jimmy Barnes
Stats: 2 games, 6 of 11 passing, 45 yards, 1 touchdown
Barnes, another holdover from the Shula regime, quit the team in the summer of 2007 supposedly because of the way Saban treated him, according to the player’s father. That claim was disputed by Saban: “I don’t know of any circumstance that I treated any kid here — or anybody in our program — in a way that would affect their dignity,” he said, via The Associated Press.
Barnes transferred to Weber State, where he played three games before his season was cut short by a knee injury. He later walked on at Arizona State.
Class of 2005: John Parker Wilson
Stats: 45 games, 7,924 yards passing, 47 touchdowns, 30 interceptions
Drafted: No (signed as undrafted free agent)
When Wilson left Alabama, he held just about every major passing record in program history. The Crimson Tide went 12-2 during his final year under center, but it was in 2007 that Wilson provided some of his more memorable passing performances, including a 363-yard, 3-touchdown day against Tennessee.
Never especially flashy, Wilson goes down as a solid, productive passer who held the starting job for three full seasons. The Atlanta Falcons signed him as a rookie practice-squad player, and Wilson bounced around the NFL for a couple seasons after that.
Alabama signed three quarterbacks this year, so you’d figure at least one of them would have to pan out, right?
Class of 2006: Greg McElroy
Stats: 35 games, 5,691 yards passing, 39 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Drafted: Yes (Round 7, Pick 208)
Shula’s last quarterback signee turned out to be his best, although Shula wouldn’t be around to reap the benefits. McElroy redshirted and played sparingly during his first two seasons on the field. But as a junior, he helped lead the Crimson Tide to their first of four national titles under Saban — along with plenty of help from Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram, of course.
McElroy improved as a senior in 2010, completing 71 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. The New York Jets took a flier on him during Day 3 of the 2011 NFL Draft, but he appeared in two games as a pro.
McElroy wasn’t quite good enough to make it in the NFL, but he was a capable, steady college quarterback who left with a ring and surpassed his billing as a 3-star. He’s also a much more tolerable TV analyst than, uh, another notable ex-SEC quarterback.
Class of 2007: Nick Fanuzzi
The first Saban signee at quarterback didn’t last long in Tuscaloosa. Fanuzzi, a San Antonio native, played in one game as a freshman before transferring to Rice in 2008. In three seasons with the Owls, Fanuzzi passed for 4,402 yards — the seventh-most in school history — and 29 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. The official Rice athletics web site touts him as “most accurate passer in school history.” So that’s something.
Class of 2008: Star Jackson
Stats: 5 games, 13-of-18 passing for 116 yards
Jackson, once ranked the No. 8 pro-style passer in the nation, was a backup during the 2009 season but never saw much beyond mop-up duty. He transferred to Georgia State following his freshman season only to leave the GSU program for “personal reasons” in 2011.
Jackson showed up at Alabama after receiving plenty of fanfare as a touted high school prospect. But he needed a ton of work, despite being labeled as a “pro-style passer” entering college.
Class of 2009: AJ McCarron
Stats: 53 games, 9,019 yards passing, 77 touchdowns, 15 interceptions
Drafted: Yes (Round 5, Pick 164)
Saban didn’t need to look far to find the most prolific passer to ever wear an Alabama uniform. McCarron, born and raised in Mobile, signed with the Tide as the state’s No. 4 overall prospect and redshirted during their 2009 national championship run.
He took over the No. 1 job in 2011 and, like Wilson before him, went on to become a three-year starter — only McCarron and Alabama won back-to-back national championships. He scored often, throwing at least 3 touchdown passes in 13 games, while throwing only 15 interceptions during his college career.
After being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, McCarron became the first former Alabama quarterback to win an NFL game since 1987. He also started the 2015 AFC Wild Card game in place of the injured Andy Dalton, completing 23 of 41 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a loss to the Steelers.
McCarron will go down as one of the program’s best and most beloved quarterbacks. Winning will do that, and his numbers don’t hurt the case.
Class of 2010: Phillip Sims
Stats: 8 games, 18-of-28 passing for 163 yards, 2 interceptions
The top-ranked quarterback in the country and arguably seen as the crown jewel of his class, Sims was named “co-starter” with McCarron for the 2011 season opener only to watch his teammate run away with the job. Sims transferred to Virginia in 2012 and threw for 1,263 yards, 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 12 games with the Cavaliers. Academic ineligibility forced Sims to transfer again, this time to Winston-Salem State, where he split time at quarterback in 2014. Last year, he appeared in two games for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a CFL team.
Sims, once expected to be the “Next Big Thing,” goes down as one of Alabama’s more high-profile signing day whiffs of the Saban era. Had McCarron not run away with the starting gig, maybe we would’ve seen more of him in a Crimson Tide jersey.
Class of 2010: Blake Sims
Stats: 32 games, 3,731 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 705 yards rushing and 9 rushing touchdowns
The other Sims’ long wait to earn the starting job is well-chronicled. After spending four years as a backup, Alabama finally rewarded him with the starting gig during Lane Kiffin’s first season running the offense. The Crimson Tide finished 12-2 with Sims at the helm after losing to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff. He signed a futures contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month after spending time in the CFL.
Class of 2011: Phillip Ely
Ely spent two seasons as a backup before transferring to Toledo, where he started as a redshirt senior in 2015. He completed 56 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a Rockets squad that won 10 games.
Class of 2012: Alec Morris
Stats: 1 completion, 6 yards
Morris attempted all of one pass in his Alabama career. Soon after he left for North Texas, where he was benched two games into the 2016 season for freshman Mason Fine. When Fine was injured, however, Morris came back in to play the final four games of the season for the Mean Green. He threw for 1,126 yards, 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Class of 2013: Parker McLeod
McLeod went from Alabama early enrollee to Western Kentucky — a program he quit after sitting out the 2014 season as a transfer — to regular student at Georgia. Then, in a strange twist, he joined the Bulldogs as a walk-on last fall under former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. There’s worse things a guy could do with his college free time.
The jury’s still out on…
- Class of 2013: Cooper Bateman, 4-star — Transferring, started one game during 2015 season
- Class of 2014: David Cornwell, 4-star — Transferred to Nevada, never started
- Class of 2015: Blake Barnett, 5-star — Transferred to Arizona State after starting 2016 season opener
- Class of 2016: Jalen Hurts, 4-star — Led Crimson Tide to national championship game as a true freshman