Defending national champions ready to add next wave of talent
Following an unprecedented string of No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, the Alabama Crimson Tide landed at No. 7 in the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings in 2018. Nick Saban and his coaching staff secured the signatures of 19 players, two of whom were rated as five-star prospects, which would be considered a highly successful haul for nearly every program in the nation.
However, the standards are particularly high in Tuscaloosa, and there is a twinge of concern that the Crimson Tide missed out on several recruits Saban coveted. The Crimson Tide also saw two highly touted commits flip to SEC rivals on National Signing Day.
Nevertheless, the defending national champs — who have not been shy about playing newcomers early on, as evidenced by the second half of the College Football Playoff National Championship — were able to land several players capable of making an immediate impact. Here are five Alabama recruits to watch for the Crimson Tide in 2018.
1. Patrick Surtain Jr., CB
Surtain provided Alabama with its best news of the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 7. Surtain, who entered the day as the highest rated uncommitted player at No. 6 overall in the 247Sports Composite, chose Alabama in somewhat surprising fashion. LSU had long been considered the favorite to sign the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Florida native, but, citing “championships” as his primary motivation, Surtain opted for crimson and white over purple and gold.
The son of the former NFL All-Pro cornerback of the same name, Surtain was ranked No. 2 among high school cornerback prospects nationally. He has a prototypical frame for a corner, and the speed, athleticism and coverage skills for the position, but some analysts see him taking on a versatile role similar to the one Minkah Fitzpatrick played over the last three seasons. Either way, he’ll play early and often.
2. Saivion Smith, CB
Surtain is talented enough to earn playing time as a true freshman, especially since there will be ample opportunities because Alabama lost its entire starting secondary to either graduation or the NFL draft. However, it’s Smith who will have the inside track to a starting position. Smith signed with LSU in 2016 as a five-star high school prospect, and though he became a contributor in the Tigers secondary as a freshman, opted to transfer to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for the 2017 campaign. He starred there, and was widely considered the top cornerback prospect from the junior college ranks, and one of the top JUCO prospects overall.
Unlike Surtain, Smith signed with the Crimson Tide during the early signing period and is already on campus. He will therefore have an opportunity to impress the coaching staff in spring practice, learn the defensive playbook, and work his way up the depth chart.
3. Eyabi Anoma, DE/OLB
Defensive end was a priority position for the Tide. Though the coaching staff would have liked to add more depth on the edge than they were ultimately able to, Alabama was able to land one of the best overall players in the nation in Anoma, who comes in as the top-ranked defensive end prospect in the country. Anoma, the highest rated recruit ever from the Baltimore area, has a limited football background. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound, five-star standout played basketball primarily during his early high school days before joining the football program as a junior.
Though he has the ideal blend of speed and power for a defensive end, in addition to a big frame that projects well for the position in a 4-3 defense, Anoma will likely line up at outside linebacker at Alabama. The Tide operate out of a multiple 3-4 defense, so Anoma will play a hybrid position that sometimes calls for him to line up as a hand-in-the-dirt pass rusher although most of the time he will be utilized as a traditional linebacker on most plays.
4. Jaylen Waddle, WR
The 2018 season will be one of transition for the Alabama receiving corps. Leading receiver Calvin Ridley opted to forego his senior season to enter the draft, where he will likely be a first-round pick. Ridley was the only wide receiver on the roster to record more than 14 catches last season (running back Bo Scarbrough ranked second with 17), and Robert Foster and Cam Sims, who caught 14 passes apiece, are out of eligibility.
Talent obviously remains. Jerry Jeudy is a Ridley clone who proved to be a dangerous deep threat as a true freshman, Henry Ruggs III led the team with six touchdown receptions, and DeVonta Smith averaged 22.3 yards per catch and hauled in the national title-winning TD. But there will be plenty of opportunities for newcomers to play a role. Waddle tops the list of true freshmen given his elite speed and acceleration, and his ability to stretch the field as well as turn short gains into big plays. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Waddle would be the shortest receiver on the roster, but he might be the fastest as well.
5. Stephon Wynn, DE
With Anoma transitioning to linebacker, Wynn is actually the best incoming defensive lineman in Alabama’s 2018 class. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, Wynn has the size to play inside, and could develop into a nose guard to anchor the middle. He doesn’t have great quickness on the outside, and relies heavily on his strength to bull rush linemen, but Wynn is athletic enough to handle himself in either a three-technique, or as a traditional 3-4 defensive end in Alabama’s base defense.
And of course, he will develop nicely once ingrained in the Alabama strength and conditioning program. A South Carolina native and IMG Academy product, Wynn chose Alabama over Georgia and South Carolina last summer, and has been one of the building blocks of the 2018 class. He has already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.