SEC Country did its darndest to narrow down the best players from Nick Saban’s college head coaching career into a Top 50 list.
Now, it’s time to make a depth chart. A few notes:
- Not all 50 players on our All-Saban Team made the Top 50 list. Three positions — tight end, kicker and punter — weren’t represented at all, so we needed to fill in those spots here.
- Because Saban has fallen under the influence of Lane Kiffin, we have, too. Our team features three starting receivers in place of a fullback. It’s tough to blame us when you look at the options available.
- Saban’s defensive preference is a 3-4 front with plenty of defensive line depth, so that’s what we went with.
Here we go:
- AJ McCarron, Alabama (starter)
- Greg McElroy, Alabama
We went in-depth on this topic here, but McCarron and McElroy are the only quarterbacks who made the Top 50 list, with McCarron being the runaway favorite to start. A back-to-back national champion, the Heisman finalist could’ve won three in a row if not for Auburn’s infamous “Kick Six.”
- Derrick Henry, Alabama (starter)
- Trent Richardson, Alabama
- Mark Ingram, Alabama
Take your pick. We placed all three of these stars in the Top 10, so shuffling them won’t make much difference on the field. Henry gets our starting nod because he just wrapped up perhaps the greatest offensive campaign in SEC history, blowing by Richardson’s and Ingram’s single-season marks in the record books.
- Amari Cooper, Alabama (starter)
- Josh Reed, LSU (starter)
- Plaxico Burress, Michigan State (starter)
- Julio Jones, Alabama
- Michael Clayton, LSU
This team has limitless potential through the air, thanks to a pair of Top 10 players (Cooper and Reed) and the incomparable Burress. Any squad that keeps Jones on the bench is too good to actually exist, and — sadly — that’s the case here. Even with the running back talent available, there’s no way an offensive coordinator could resist designing a pass-heavy game plan with this personnel.
- O.J. Howard, Alabama (starter)
- Robert Royal, LSU
Saban has never had a tight end drafted higher than the fifth round, but that’s likely to change when Howard leaves Tuscaloosa next spring. His national title game performance (208 yards and two touchdowns) was one for the history books, and he’s sure to have a more involved role in the passing game this season. Royal’s best year at LSU was 2002, when he caught 22 balls for 340 yards and five scores.
- Andre Smith, Alabama (starter)
- Flozell Adams, Michigan State (starter)
- D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Put a resort next to a mountain, and you get a fantastic travel experience. We’re pairing Flozell “The Hotel” Adams (6-foot-7, 340 pounds) with Andre Smith (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) to give McCarron plenty of space to roam in the pocket. Both men were outstanding at keeping their quarterbacks clean, as was Fluker (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) — no midget himself.
- Chance Warmack, Alabama (starter)
- Mike Johnson, Alabama (starter)
- Stephen Peterman, LSU
Strong guard play is integral to a healthy rushing attack, and Warmack led the way for three different All-SEC running backs. Johnson was great at both guard and tackle, while Peterman — a former tight end and defensive end — was known for a physical style that tended to knock opposing linemen on their backsides.
- Barrett Jones, Alabama (starter)
- Ben Wilkerson, LSU
You can’t go wrong with either of these two. Both players had lengthy start streaks while stuffing their respective trophy cases with awards. Jones gets the edge for earning three straight all-conference nods at three different positions — and being a key cog on a trio of national championship teams.
- Terrence Cody, Alabama (starter)
- Chad Lavalais, LSU
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama
“Mount Cody” seems like a good fit here, right? Lavalais was National Defensive Player of the Year and Dareus was a No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft, but Cody made the Top 10 on our list for a reason: He was the best defensive lineman Saban has ever coached at the collegiate level.
- Marcus Spears, LSU (starter)
- Julian Peterson, Michigan State (starter)
- Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
- A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Peterson was the purest pass rusher in this group, with Spears, Upshaw and Robinson representing the filled-out body type that Saban usually sticks at 3-4 end. We’d be tempted to let the former Spartan rest on our bench until passing situations, at which point he’d be free to show off the skills that brought him 25 sacks in 23 career games.
- C.J. Mosley, Alabama (starter)
- Rolando McClain, Alabama (starter)
- Reggie Ragland, Alabama
- Ike Reese, Michigan State
Next to running back, this position is the most impressive on Saban’s resumé. We stole a couple greats for outside linebacker (see below), but that still leaves Mosley and McClain — two of Saban’s five best players, ever — and Ragland, who’s no slouch. Add in Reese’s 420 career tackles, and we’ve got a scary set of players up the middle.
- Dont’a Hightower, Alabama (starter)
- Bradie James, LSU (starter)
- Robaire Smith, Michigan State
Saban needs his outside linebackers to rush the passer, so we threw Smith — a defensive end in East Lansing — into this group for depth. James was a star at inside ‘backer, but he played much of his career on the outside. Hightower is another tough fit; he finished his career in the middle for Saban. The All-American started plenty of games at the weakside spot, though, and is too talented to leave out of the starting lineup.
- Corey Webster, LSU (starter)
- Dee Milliner, Alabama (starter)
- Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
- Amp Campbell, Michigan State
Webster and Milliner were both slightly undersized, but that — as the SEC’s best receivers found — didn’t matter much. The pair of championship-caliber cover guys had dominant stretches that forced opponents to throw to the other side of the field. There’s not much depth in Saban’s cornerback cadre beyond Kirkpatrick, but Campbell — another small guy — was known for outplaying more talented opponents.
- Mark Barron, Alabama (starter)
- Rashad Johnson, Alabama (starter)
- Landon Collins, Alabama
- Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Barron and Johnson form an ideal strong/free combination, with a similarly structured duo (Collins and Clinton-Dix) waiting in the wings. All of these players had weaknesses, but together, they make quite the safety stew.
- Paul Edinger, Michigan State (starter)
- Leigh Tiffin, Alabama
Known for his wacky windup, Edinger led the Big Ten in field goals twice, finishing with 21 made kicks his senior year (second-best in the country). The All-American hit 79.3 percent of his career field goals. Tiffin was also an All-American, hitting 30 of 35 field goals (87.9 percent) during his senior year.
- JK Scott, Alabama (starter)
- Donnie Jones, LSU
When Scott was named Alabama’s punter as a freshman, pundits were, of course, skeptical. But Saban flushed out the doubt with five words: “Have you seen him punt?” Scott went on to earn All-American honors that season with a 48.0 average. Jones was an All-SEC player who set nearly every punting record at LSU. The eventual seventh-round pick’s best output was a 44.0 average on 64 punts his junior year.
- Skyler Green, LSU (starter)
- Javier Arenas, Alabama (starter)
- Domanick Davis, LSU
- Derrick Mason, Michigan State
All of these players were great at their “normal” positions, but they would not have made the Top 50 list without special teams contributions. Green and Arenas are two of the SEC’s best returners, ever, while Davis and Mason can fill special teams-only roles while serving as emergency backups at running back and wide receiver, respectively.