Alabama is on the hunt for its seventh straight recruiting championship. Join us here on SEC Country for a daily recap of Alabama recruiting news, insight on what’s happening behind the scenes, and for a glimpse at what’s coming next.
TAMPA, Fla. — I can still see Raymond James Stadium standing from my hotel room, so that’s good. After listening to the Paul Finebaum Show on Tuesday, I would have thought some Crimson Tide fans would have planted some sticks of dynamite in the stadium to demolish their memories of what happened there Monday night.
Strolling through the locker room after Alabama’s 35-31 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game, you could just feel how heartbroken the team was. Several players were crying. Several players were too emotional to speak with reporters. Alabama hadn’t lost its previous 26 games before Monday, so how the team would collectively react was an unknown.
“I don’t know how to describe this feeling,” running back Damien Harris said. “Simple as that.”
But the future of Alabama football is bright. The Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the top teams again next season, mainly because of the recruiting success they’ve had ever since Nick Saban took over the program.
The Class of 2017 is no exception, and it’s possible this could be Saban’s best recruiting class on paper since arriving at Alabama. The team is expected to have 14 early enrollees — 12 of them will be on campus Wednesday for Alabama’s first day of classes. Xavier McKinney and Brian Robinson are trying to enroll at a later time.
How do the new mid-years look?
Each one of Alabama’s four 5-star prospects will participate in spring practice. That includes the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, Najee Harris, the 5-star running back from Antioch (Calif.) High School. His recruitment was filled with twists and turns, but he ultimately decided to stick with the Tide on Sunday.
Alex Leatherwood, one of those 5-star prospects, practiced with the team before it headed to Tampa for the national championship. Dylan Moses, the nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker, and 5-star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy arrived in Tuscaloosa after the team had already departed for the championship, so their first practices will come in the spring.
The star tally and rankings snapshot of the early enrollees look like this:
- 5-star players: 4 (Harris, Leatherwood, Moses, Jeudy)
- 4-star players: 6 (Tua Tagovailoa, Tyrell Shavers, Isaiah Buggs, Elliot Baker, Chadarius Townsend, Major Tennison)
- 3-star players: 1 (Kyriq McDonald)
- 2-star players: 1 (Thomas Fletcher)
- Top 3 players at their position: 7 (Harris, Leatherwood, Moses, Tagovailoa, Buggs, Baker, Fletcher)
- Top 20 players at their position: 11
The early arrivals for 2017
Najee Harris, running back
If the rankings don’t change before National Signing Day, Harris will be the first No. 1 overall recruit Alabama has signed in the Saban era. I saw one of Harris’ games in person this season and he put up more than 300 yards of total offense. That was with nine defenders in the box for the most part, too.
Harris was also playing almost all of his senior season at less than 100 percent. He held off knee surgery to compete in the Army Bowl. That’s the kind of competitor he is. Expect Harris to see carries in 2017.
Alex Leatherwood, offensive tackle
If you asked me who in this group is almost guaranteed to be a first-round pick in three years, it’s Leatherwood. I think he’s the closest thing to a “can’t bust” prospect.
He’s only been playing on the offensive line for a few years, but he’s rated the nation’s No. 2 offensive tackle. The scary thing about Leatherwood is that he still has room to improve his technique. I’ve seen him at several elite camps in the past year and he only lost a few reps out of dozens. It wouldn’t shock me to see him start on the line in 2017.
Dylan Moses, linebacker
The only reason I don’t have Moses listed below as a potential starter for Alabama in 2017 is because the team is still deep at linebacker next season. The Tide will have Rashaan Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Anfernee Jennings, Christian Miller, Terrell Hall, Mack Wilson and Ben Davis back.
Moses won the high school version of the Dick Butkus Award, given to the best prep linebacker. At the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this month, he looked like the best linebacker at an event with several other top linebackers.
Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver
Jeudy may have the best footwork for a wide receiver in the Class of 2017. You have likely seen one of his highlights on your Twitter timeline, as they usually go viral because of his devastating ankle-breaking moves. If Jeudy hits you with a double move, he’s hard for defensive backs to stop; however, he does need some polish with his route-running outside of his signature go-to move. He also has a tendency to drop some easy passes. He needs polish, but he should be a star.
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback
Tagovailoa has told SEC Country before that he’s going to Alabama with the mindset of taking Jalen Hurts’ job from him. That’s going to be difficult for him to do after Hurts set multiple records at the school this season and led the Tide to a national championship game.
But if anyone can push Hurts in 2017, it’s Tagovailoa. He has the personality that guys are going to flock to and possesses the same skills Hurts has. The main difference is going to come down to whether Tagovailoa, from Day 1, like Hurts did, shows that he’s capable of running the offense. It’s one thing to be a decorated passer in Hawaii high school football and another to do it against Alabama defenders in practice. Tagovailoa has shined at every elite camp he’s been to and won the Elite 11 MVP, so he’s shown that he can compete against top defenders.
Tyrell Shavers, wide receiver
Shavers busted out on the recruiting scene this past spring when he posted a 4.38 40-yard dash at a camp. Shavers also is 6-foot-6. So, when you combine that size and speed together, big programs are going to take notice, and that’s what Alabama did. He committed to the Crimson Tide in June while on a visit. Shavers is a freak. Don’t be surprised to see him get on the field.
Isaiah Buggs, defensive end
Alabama fans should get to know the name Isaiah Buggs now because he’s likely taking one of the open defensive line spots from the departures of Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. Buggs transferred to Alabama from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was one of Alabama’s top overall targets regardless of position.
Expect him to see the field early and often next season.
Elliot Baker, offensive tackle
Baker has one of the most unique recruiting journeys out of the recruits listed here. Baker is the second junior college prospect on this list. He transferred from City College of San Francisco and is a candidate to replace Cam Robinson if he decides to declare for the NFL Draft.
Chadarius Townsend, athlete
This comparison gets thrown out a lot when it comes to Townsend, but it fits. He may be the next ArDarius Stewart for Alabama. Townsend played quarterback for Tanner (Ala.) High School but will likely play wide receiver for the Tide. He was deciding between playing cornerback or wide receiver at Alabama, but the plan is to play on the offensive side of the ball. I think it’s a good choice because there aren’t many more players who are as electric in space as he is.
Major Tennison, tight end
With O.J. Howard moving on from the program, there’s a spot in the starting lineup that needs to be filled. Tennison was targeted as the team’s top tight end prospect and eventually got him to back off his commitment to Texas before committing to Alabama a couple months later. Miller Forristall is my pick to be the team’s starting tight end next season, but Tennison could see some action.
Kyriq McDonald, defensive back
McDonald is a do-it-all type of player. He took snaps at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and punt and kick returner while at James Clemens High School in Madison, Ala. The plan for McDonald is for him to play a nickelback sort of role.
Thomas Fletcher, long snapper
Fletcher is regarded by many to be the nation’s best long snapper. Cole Mazza, who was Alabama’s long snapper, is moving on from the program after an extremely successful career. Fletcher should be able to step right in without any major noticeable difference.
A few predictions …
Likely starters at some point of their freshman seasons: 5 (Buggs, Fletcher, Jeudy, Leatherwood, Harris)
Day 1 starters: 2 or 3 (Buggs, Fletcher); Jeudy could be one of the team’s starting wide receivers if ArDarius Stewart decides to declare for the draft.
Who will push the starter in practice the most this year: Tagovailoa
Biggest early impact: Buggs
Most important: Leatherwood
The guy who must also contribute early: Moses
Most likely to be All-SEC the soonest: Leatherwood
Fan favorite: Tagovailoa
Most physical player: Harris
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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