As Nick Saban winds down his 13th season at Alabama and with the unfortunate season-ending injury to Tua Tagovailoa, it's time to examine the most important position in sports, the quarterback and how they rank over the course of Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa.
At the top of this list, most people will just automatically say Tagovailoa and they are not wrong. He's by far the most gifted passer Saban has ever had. Heck, he's the most gifted passer in the history of Alabama football. He's going to be a very high pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, assuming the junior declares.
But I decided to look at more than stats and NFL trajectory. I looked at their entire body of work, collegiately. So when it comes to John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Blake Sims, Jake Coker, Jalen Hurts, and Tagovailoa, here's a ranking based on their record at Alabama, statistics, and their teams' success (SEC titles, College Football Playoff appearances, and national championships).
7. John Parker Wilson (2007-08)
Saban inherited Wilson after replacing Mike Shula as Alabama's head coach. Wilson's first season was more of the same that Crimson Tide fans saw under Shula, going 7-6. Wilson gets credit for finishing his career a winner and starting the turnaround for the program in 2008. Alabama would finish the regular season undefeated and reach the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 1999. The Tide led Florida 20-17 after three quarters only to fall to Tim Tebow and the Gators 31-20, ending their bid for a BCS National Championship appearance. Alabama would go on to lose to Utah in the Sugar Bowl and finish 12-2.
6. Blake Sims (2014)
Sims had the tough task of taking over for AJ McCarron, a three-year starter. Saban hired Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator and Sims, a converted running back, flourished in his only season as the starter (and only season as a QB). Sims threw for 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns, frequently connecting with All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper. Sims would go on to win SEC Championship Game MVP honors, as Alabama trounced Missouri 42-13. The Crimson Tide then lost to eventual national champion Ohio State (42-35) in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
5. Jake Coker (2015)
The 2015 season was very interesting at the QB position. Coker transferred to Alabama from Florida State, was beaten out by Blake Sims in 2014 and had to win the competition the following year to earn the starting job. The eye-test would tell you that Coker had some physical traits that you like, but he was the least impressive QB of the Saban era, until the postseason came around. Coker led Alabama to another SEC title, this time defeating Florida, and then put together a mesmerizing playoff performance in wins over Michigan State and Clemson. Coker, surrounded by a dearth of talent, was considered the weak link, but he proved any and all doubters wrong with a December and January to remember in leading the Tide to another national title.
4. Greg McElroy (2009-10)
Year 3 of the Saban era will go down as his finest in Tuscaloosa. McElroy was the quarterback of the 2009 team, the only team under Saban to finish with a perfect record. And the road to 14-0 came in glorious fashion for the Crimson Tide faithful. A year after losing to Tim Tebow and Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama returned to Atlanta and got revenge against the Gators. Then the Tide defeated Texas, coached by Mack Brown and led by quarterback Colt McCoy, in the Rose Bowl to win their first national championship in 17 years and signal to everyone that 'Bama was officially back.
3. Jalen Hurts (2016-18)
There is no question Hurts will go down as one the most beloved Alabama players of all-time. How often does a quarterback go 26-2 as a starter, lose his job, stay at his school in a day and age of the transfer portal, come back to win an SEC championship as an injury replacement, and then transfer to Oklahoma and receive zero flack for doing so? That's the beauty of Hurts. In the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, Hurts left with the lead against Clemson only to see Deshaun Watson and the Tigers score the game-winning touchdown as time expired. The following season, Hurts would be replaced in the second half of national title game against Georgia, only to watch Tua Tagovailoa rally the Tide to eventually win in overtime. Hurts remained at Alabama in 2018 as the backup and then he led Alabama to a come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game after an injury to Tagovailoa. In January, Hurts left Alabama for Oklahoma as a graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility and with his place in Crimson Tide lore secured.
2. Tua Tagavailoa (2017-19)
Nobody will dispute the native Hawaiian's talent. You can easily make a case for him to be No. 1on this list. He's by far the most talented quarterback in the group. His stats jump off the page at you. He will be a franchise QB in the NFL. But it's hard to believe, as decorated, discussed and covered as he was for his two years as the starter, neither season ended in a Heisman Trophy (may be a finalist for the second straight year) or a national championship (TBD). Yes, certainly he gets a ton of credit for helping beat Georgia in the national championship game two seasons ago in relief of Hurts. Without Tagovailoa, the Bulldogs probably win that game with relative ease. I am simply putting him second based on No. 1's overall body of work.
1. AJ McCarron (2011-13)
McCarron was a game manager as a sophomore in 2011. After being a liability in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU that cost Alabama a shot at the SEC title, he was an asset in the rematch, leading the Tide to a 21-0 victory in the national championship game against those same Tigers. In 2012 McCarron would show more signs of growth as Bama went back-to-back. The junior had a good night against Notre Dame in the title game, and all signs pointed towards him putting together a solid senior campaign. McCarron not only out-dueled reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the Tide got some payback against Johnny Football and Texas A&M, he was in consideration for the award. If it wasn't for the "Kick Six" against Auburn, Alabama finishes the regular season undefeated and may have won its third straight national title. McCarron wound up second in the Heisman voting and finished his career 36-4 as the starter, winning two national titles and an SEC championship.
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.