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.
What’s Alabama doing on the defensive line?
With several key defensive linemen departing Alabama next season — Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dakota Ball — and possibly Da’Shawn Hand, the Tide have some obvious concerns in this area.
Even though Hand, a junior, has not produced much for the Tide, he could potentially receive a high draft grade with his upside.
When you combine those subtractions with Alabama only adding three defensive linemen in 2016 (junior college transfer Jamar King and freshmen Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams), depth is not going to be ideal for the Crimson Tide in 2017.
Major 4-star defensive end target Elijah Conliffe told SEC Country recently that Alabama’s plan is to sign four defensive line prospects in the Class of 2017. The Tide currently have two commitments on the defensive line: 4-star defensive tackle Akial Byers and 3-star defensive end Aaron Sterling.
It’s possible that both of those commitments don’t sign with Alabama come National Signing Day. There are legitimate worries regarding Byers’ academics. According to a source, the Razorbacks didn’t offer Byers, who hails from Fayetteville, Ark., a scholarship because the Hogs believe his academics are a big concern.
Sterling is being strongly pursued by South Carolina and Tennessee. He also doesn’t know if he’ll take an official visit to Alabama. So, yeah, there are concerns with the status of his pledge. Make no mistake about it, though, Sterling is a wanted man by Alabama’s staff.
A big problem for Alabama, though, and for other schools wanting to sign several elite defensive linemen, is that there aren’t as many top recruits as in 2016. This year, there are only five 5-star defensive linemen. There were 10 in 2016.
In order of most confident to least confident, here are the players I think Alabama will sign on the defensive line:
Elijah Conliffe, 4-star DE, Hampton, Va.
Conliffe named Alabama his leader this summer after picking up an offer from the Tide at the team’s summer camp. He has continued to favor Alabama and a commitment is likely in the next few months. He told SEC Country he is planning to release a commitment video in October or November. He’s planning to visit Alabama soon. Conliffe hasn’t planned visits to other schools. It would be a shock if he didn’t end up in Alabama’s class.
LaBryan Ray, 4-star DE, Madison, Ala.
Ray is good friends with Alabama commits Kyriq McDonald and Kendall Randolph. That only helps the Tide’s chances of landing Ray when he makes his decision. It could happen whenever he makes his official visit to Alabama. Tennessee is Alabama’s biggest competition. But his familiarity with Alabama will likely be too much for Tennessee to overcome.
Akial Byers, 4-star DT, Fayetteville, Ark.
As mentioned above, there are concerns about whether he’ll qualify. If he does, he’ll stay in Alabama’s class.
Phidarian Mathis, 4-star DT, Neville, La.
Alabama is in daily contact with Mathis, via defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and wide receivers coach Billy Napier. He’s visited Tuscaloosa more than three times and has no problem leaving Louisiana to play college football. He’s quiet when it comes to his recruitment, but he loves Alabama, and the staff loves him.
Aubrey Solomon, 4-star DT, Leesburg, Ga.
Solomon is considered the team’s top defensive tackle target, but it may be hard to steal him away from Georgia, which is considered the favorite. The one positive working in Alabama’s favor, his mother loves Nick Saban and the program he runs. Solomon’s mother is the key in his recruitment.
Ryan Johnson, 4-star DE, Mobile, Ala.
Johnson grew up an Auburn fan, and that’s where things have been trending as of late. He was at the Tigers’ game against Clemson and should be back for multiple games this season. He has not visited Tuscaloosa recently but is expected back. With Ray and Johnson being similar players, it’s possible there may not be space for Johnson by the time he makes a commitment, which is expected in January.
Aaron Sterling, 3-star DE, Tucker, Ga.
I have not expected Sterling to stick with his commitment to Alabama for months now. I anticipate him eventually de-committing despite Alabama wanting him in this class.
Isaiah Buggs, 4-star DE, Perkinston, Miss.
Buggs is loved by the Alabama staff, but it hasn’t been able to get the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College defensive end to visit Tuscaloosa yet. If he does, I expect his name to jump up on this list. He loves Alabama, but he needs to visit to become a serious target.
Justin Thomas, 3-star DE, Spanish Fort, Ala.
Thomas is committed to LSU, but Alabama continues to pursue the Tigers pledge. His father, Atlas Herrion, played for Alabama in the early 2000s. He was actually recruited by Saban when he coached at LSU. If Alabama misses on some of these guys above, I expect the Tide to put the full-court press on him with the hopes of getting him to flip his commitment.
Tyler Shelvin, 4-star DT, Crowley, La.
Shelvin would have been higher on this list if Bo Davis was still Alabama’s defensive line coach. He’s not, so Karl Dunbar has a lot of work to do in order to build his relationship with the LSU commit.
Marvin Wilson, 5-star DT, Bellaire, Texas
It’s highly unlikely Alabama is going to sign Wilson. Like Shelvin, if Davis was still the coach, it would be a different story. Also, he’s not being strongly pursued by Alabama.
Follow Chris on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Bryant-Denny. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.