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:
40. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (2014)
Accolades: 1x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 36 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars
The one-time preseason All-American never fully lived up to the hype. Yeldon’s career numbers (3,816 total yards and 39 total touchdowns) are some of the best in school history, but he failed to put together a truly outstanding season in Tuscaloosa. His potential Heisman campaign in 2014 dissipated quickly, as he averaged just 71.0 rushing yards over the first four contests and failed to score in five of six games to open the year.
39. Cyrus Kouandijo, Alabama (2013)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 1x All-SEC, 2x national champion, selected No. 44 overall by the Buffalo Bills
An elite recruit who was slowed by injuries throughout his career, Kouandijo still managed consensus All-American honors and a first-team All-SEC nod in his final year. The powerful left tackle won two national titles in Tuscaloosa, and helped key the rushing attack during a blowout of Notre Dame in the 2012 BCS title game.
38. Antoine Caldwell, Alabama (2008)
Accolades (during Saban’s tenure): Consensus All-American, 1x All-SEC, selected No. 77 overall by the Houston Texans
Known for his versatility, Caldwell started games at guard and tackle before settling in as Alabama’s full-time center under Saban. He anchored an offensive line that finished third in the SEC in tackles for loss allowed and helped Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram rack up well over 2,000 yards on the ground. Caldwell was a consensus All-American and Rimington Award finalist during his breakout senior year.
37. Landon Collins, Alabama (2014)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 2x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 33 overall by the New York Giants
An injury to Vinnie Sunseri gave Collins a starting safety spot as a sophomore, and he never looked back. Pegged as a preseason All-American before his junior year, Collins followed through by leading the Crimson Tide with 102 tackles and tied Cyrus Jones for the most interceptions on the team with three. Coaches counted on him to defend the run at an elite level, an area of strength that more than made up for his comparatively iffy coverage skills.
36. Stephen Peterman, LSU (2003)
Accolades: All-American, 2x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 83 overall by the Dallas Cowboys
LSU converted Peterman from tight end to defensive end during his freshman year. The next autumn, he switched back to offense and became the full-time starter at left guard. His role on the offensive line became permanent, and Peterman allowed just two sacks over his final two seasons en route to collecting a pair of first-team all-conference honors and an All-American nod. The Tigers’ national title run was made easier by the guard’s outstanding senior campaign, which included 10 knockdowns against Georgia in the SEC championship game.
35. Marcell Dareus, Alabama (2010)
Accolades: 1x All-SEC, BCS National Championship Game Defensive MVP, national champion, selected No. 3 overall by the Buffalo Bills
When fans think of Dareus’ college career, one game comes to mind: The BCS Championship on Jan. 7, 2010. Though Alabama’s massive defensive lineman was not a full-time starter that season, he quickly became a star by knocking Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and then later returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown. Dareus failed to live up to preseason All-American hype during his junior year — a two-game suspension for illicit dealings with an agent didn’t help — but that didn’t stop NFL teams from drooling the following spring.
34. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama (2015)
Accolades: Consensus All-American, 1x All-SEC, national champion, projected first-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft
A scary blend of size and mobility made Robinson an ideal 3-4 end in Kirby Smart’s defense over the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound athlete had a knack for creating problems in the passing game while taking up two blockers and clogging up opposing teams’ running schemes. While his role doomed him to unimpressive individual statistics, Robinson led the country’s best run-stopping defense to a national title.
33. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (2011)
Accolades: All-American, 1x All-SEC, 2x national champion, selected No. 17 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals
Kirkpatrick was a shutdown corner who failed to rack up big stats because teams would often avoid his side of the field. His total tackles declined from 53 to 26 between his sophomore and junior seasons, but recognition began pouring in: All-American. First-team All-SEC. Thorpe Award finalist. The 6-foot-3 star was the top corner on a national championship defense that is considered one of the best in college football history.
32. D.J. Fluker, Alabama (2012)
Accolades: All-American, 1x All-SEC, 3x national champion, selected No. 11 overall by the San Diego Chargers
A full-time starter on two straight national championship teams, Fluker was also a former Hurricane Katrina refugee known for his efficiency on the field. His 6-foot-6, 335-pound frame made him an elite NFL tackle prospect when he left Tuscaloosa, and his quick thinking (only 11 missed assignments in 728 plays his junior year) turned him into one of the nation’s most effective players.
31. Michael Clayton, LSU (2003)
Accolades: All-American, 2x All-SEC, national champion, selected No. 15 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Clayton left LSU as the school’s all-time TD receptions leader (21) and was one reception shy of tying Wendell Davis’ career record (183). The 6-foot-4 star was a consistent presence, catching at least one pass in all 40 career games and becoming the first LSU receiver to record three straight seasons with at least 700 receiving yards. He was also a driving force during Saban’s first championship season, catching touchdown passes in six straight games before the Sugar Bowl.