For the second time in three years, the Alabama Crimson Tide finished with the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in college football, according to the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. For nearly any other program, that would be historically good news. But at Alabama, it's more noteworthy because the Tide didn't rank No. 1. With the Crimson Tide coming off a second straight season without a national championship, missing the College Football Playoff altogether for the very first time, and finishing No. 8 in the final Associated Press Top 25 — the first time Alabama finished a season outside the top five in the final AP poll since 2013 — it might seem like head coach Nick Saban's squad is more vulnerable than it has been in ages.
Of course, Saban and his coaching staff still brought in one of the most talented groups of recruits in the country. And at least five of the 25 players in the 2020 signing class are capable of making an immediate impact. Perhaps even enough to get Alabama back to where it believes it belongs: No. 1, both on the field and in the recruiting rankings.
Bryce Young, QB
Tua Tagovailoa is off to the NFL. Though Tagovailoa's ankle and hip injuries were a major factor in Alabama's disappointing finish to the season, they also offered a silver lining, doubling as an early audition period for Mac Jones to make his case to be the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide in 2020.
But Jones will be challenged by Young, a five-star signee who enrolled after finishing as the No. 2 overall player in the 247Sports Composite player rankings, and the highest-rated player nationally in the 2020 class by 247Sports itself. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Young is small by traditional quarterback standards, but his physical tools, including one of the most accurate arms in recent memory for a high school prospect, make him arguably the most likely true freshman to start in Week 1 of any signal-caller this year.
Will Anderson, DE/OLB
Alabama landed three five-star pass rushers in its 2020 recruiting class, and while both Drew Sanders and Chris Braswell have bright futures and are likely to play early and often in 2020, Anderson seems most likely to start in Week 1.
Anderson was one of the most impressive players during the All-American Bowl and rose to become the No. 17-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite, which was two spots ahead of Braswell and five places above Sanders. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Georgia native earned the No. 1 ranking nationally among weak-side defensive ends, though he is likely to begin his college career as an outside linebacker. His electric first-step quickness should be an asset there coming off the edge.
Brian Branch, S
Minkah Fitzpatrick comparisons shouldn't be thrown around willy-nilly, but there are some understandable reasons Branch reminds talent evaluators of the former Alabama All-American. Branch is smart and instinctual, and flashes a diverse skill set, including ball skills honed as a high school receiver and return man. He's also athletic and versatile enough to play multiple positions.
Unlike the other players on this list, Branch will not arrive in Tuscaloosa until summer. Nevertheless, with the Crimson Tide returning just one full-time starter in the secondary (cornerback Patrick Surtain II), and only one safety with any starting experience (Jordan Battle, four starts), there's still a path to early playing time.
Thaiu Jones-Bell, WR
Whoever starts at quarterback for the Tide in 2020 will have a talented group of receivers to work with, headlined by DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. But with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III both opting to leave school early for the NFL draft, there are openings for newcomers to work into the rotation early. As the highest-rated receiver in Alabama's class and an early enrollee, Jones-Bell should have the inside track.
Like Jeudy, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley, the Tide plucked Jones-Bell out of South Florida, so he's sure to be compared to that elite trio often during his time in Tuscaloosa. Jones-Bell is listed at 5-foot-11, two inches shorter than each of the aforementioned studs, but he has excellent hands can make difficult catches in traffic.
Ronald Williams, CB
Williams was one of two cornerback prospects Alabama signed during the 2020 cycle, and as a junior college player, he is expected to contribute right away. Williams was a late bloomer who attended Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College after high school. He developed into an All-American as a sophomore, and at 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds, finished as the No. 4 corner prospect in the junior college ranks.