SEC Country did its darndest to narrow down the best players from Nick Saban’s college head coaching career into a Top 50 list.
Players’ performance in the National Football League was not taken into account. We focused on the following:
- College performance under Saban (NOTE: players who reached peak performance after Saban left Michigan State or LSU — ex. Charles Rogers, LaRon Landry and Dwayne Bowe — do not qualify)
- Big-game moments/winning pedigree
- All-conference and All-American recognition
- Trophies and awards
- NFL draft position
With that, let’s continue the definitive ranking of Nick Saban’s 50 Best Players:
30. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (2013)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 1x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 21 overall by the Green Bay Packers
A two-game suspension for team rules violations and a late-season arthroscopic knee surgery forced Clinton-Dix off the field his final year, but he still earned consensus All-American honors for his performance in nine starts. The hard-hitting safety will be remembered for leading the Crimson Tide with five interceptions during their 2012 championship run — including three in consecutive games against Auburn, Georgia (SEC championship) and Notre Dame (national championship). His physical nature made him one of the conference’s most feared defenders.
29. Rashad Johnson, Alabama (2008)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 2x All-SEC, selected No. 95 overall by the Arizona Cardinals
A former walk-on running back, Johnson worked his way to a starting safety spot and captain status by his junior season. That year, he led the Crimson Tide with 81 tackles and six interceptions, earning All-SEC honors. And Johnson was even better as a senior, garnering consensus All-American honors wihile racking up 89 tackles and five picks. His biggest moment came against LSU that season, when he intercepted three passes — including a pick-six and a game-saving snag — as the Tide rolled over the Tigers in overtime.
28. Mike Johnson, Alabama (2009)
Accolades: 2x All-American (1x consensus), 2x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 98 overall by the Atlanta Falcons
The only offensive captain on Saban’s first championship team in Tuscaloosa, Johnson was as consistent as they come. He put together back-to-back All-American seasons while powering an elite running game that resulted in Mark Ingram’s 2009 Heisman Trophy. Johnson made 41 consecutive starts at either guard or tackle to finish his career.
27. Chad Lavalais, LSU (2003)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, National Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 142 overall by the Atlanta Falcons
Famous for working as a prison guard while trying to become eligible for acceptance at LSU, Lavalais became one of the the Tigers’ all-time greats once he arrived in Baton Rouge. Saban waited two years for the defensive lineman to get his ACT score up, and Lavalais eventually repaid him with a senior season that included 61 tackles, 23 quarterback hurries and seven sacks — oh, and a national championship ring.
26. Ryan Kelly, Alabama (2015)
Accolades: Rimington Trophy (nation’s top center), consensus All-American, Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC’s top center), 1x All-SEC, 2x national champion, projected second-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft
Kelly played 10 games during the Tide’s 2012 title season, earning an SEC All-Freshman nod for his efforts. From there, the 6-foot-5 lineman was a three-year starter at center and eventually anchored the best individual rushing output in conference history. Known for his intelligence and communication, Kelly missed just 0.08 percent of his assignments while committing one penalty this past season.
25. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (2011)
Accolades: All-American, 1x All-SEC, BCS National Championship Game MVP, 2x national champion, selected No. 35 overall by the Baltimore Ravens
The Tide’s best pass rusher for two consecutive seasons, Upshaw tended to play best in the biggest games. He earned MVP honors in two straight postseason wins — the Capital One Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game — while keying Alabama’s suffocating defense. Don’t forget about his work as a sophomore, either; he appeared in all 14 games that year and made the game-sealing fumble recovery against Texas in the national title game.
24. Flozell Adams, Michigan State (1997)
Accolades: All-American, Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, 2x All-Big Ten, selected No. 38 overall by the Dallas Cowboys
Nicknamed “The Hotel,” Adams was a massive 6-foot-7, 340-pound tackle who helped drag Michigan State’s rushing performance into the Big Ten’s elite class. His Spartans teams never finished with more than seven wins, but Michigan State reached No. 11 with a 5-0 start his senior year thanks to a ground game that eventually racked up more than 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. Adams also protected quarterback Todd Schultz, who became Saban’s first primary quarterback to finish with more touchdown passes (18) than interceptions (17) in a single season.
23. Chance Warmack, Alabama (2012)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 2x All-SEC, 3x national champion, selected No. 10 overall by the Tennessee Titans
If Alabama wanted to run left between 2010 and 2012, it ran left. Warmack was the primary reason Saban’s running backs were able to find breathing room on the southpaw side, and analysts around the country fell in love with his pure strength. Warmack brought the wood his final season, leading the Tide in pancake blocks while being called for only two penalties. He and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper became the first guards in 12 years to be drafted in the top 10.
22. Dee Milliner, Alabama (2012)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 1x All-SEC, 2x national champion, selected No. 9 overall by the New York Jets
Clearly the top cornerback on Alabama’s 2012 championship squad, Milliner was a consistent contributor on his first two Tide teams, as well. His 41 career pass breakups are second-best in the NCAA over the past decade, and each of his six career interceptions came against Power 5 opponents. The Millbrook, Ala., native’s most clutch forced turnover was a pick-six against Auburn to seal the 2011 Iron Bowl.
21. Ben Wilkerson, LSU (2004)
Accolades: Rimington Trophy (nation’s top center), 2x All-American, 2x All-SEC, national champion
A torn patellar tendon ended Wilkerson’s college career and torpedoed his draft stock, but he was considered the country’s best college center while earning two straight All-American nods. The 6-foot-4 lineman’s trophy collection underscored his impact at LSU, where he anchored an offensive line that kept its quarterbacks clean and paved the way for a championship-worthy ground game. Wilkerson started 41 career games for Saban despite missing the final month of the Tigers’ regular season in 2004.