-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 3 class in the nation.
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3. Alabama Crimson Tide (22 signees – 8 Athlon Consensus 100)
First and foremost, this was the single closest recruiting national championship race since the advent of the online recruiting service. A serious case could be made for three (maybe even four) different schools having the top class in the nation. And not to pour salt in the fantasy recruiting wounds of Tide fans, but had the nation's No. 1 player picked Alabama over South Carolina, Nick Saban's haul would have been the top class in the nation. That being said, third (out of 120) is nothing to be upset about — this collection of talent is phenomenal.
Saban’s reach on the recruiting trail is no more evident than with this Bama class. The State of Alabama is one of the most territorial states in the nation — meaning it can be impossible to pull players from the Yellowhammer State if Bama (or Auburn) wants someone. The staff still pulled five (two AC100’s) talented in-staters, but of his 14 nationally rated recruits only three come from Alabama. Saban went into Maryland for the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman (Cyrus Kouandjio). He went into Florida for the nation's No. 1 defensive back. He went into Ohio for the No. 5 linebacker in the nation. He landed the No. 2 player in the state of North Carolina. The list goes on and on.
Overall, Saban used 11 states from coast-to-coast to put together what could turn out to be the best class in the nation. No team landed more AC100 talents than Bama.
The strength of this class is the defensive front seven. Four AC100 talents are slated to play D-line or linebacker. The defensive end class for Alabama is right there with Notre Dame and Ohio State as one of the nation's best pass rushing classes. AC100 ends Jeoffrey Pagan and Xzavier Dickson, along with nationally rated counterparts LeMichael Fanning and D.J. Pettway, restock the defensive line that has lost tons of talent to the NFL over the last few seasons. Pagan was a huge National Signing Day victory. Dickson brings excellent athleticism and should be a terror rushing the passer off the edge. Junior college transfer Quinton Dial might be the most game ready of all the D-lineman. Dial and Fanning could both end up playing inside at the tackle position. Either way, the D-line is in great shape for years to come.
Trey DePriest and Brent Calloway lead a small but very talented trio of linebackers. The AC100 tacklers bring speed, range and versatility to a position that has been very strong under Saban.
Although the strength of the defensive class was up front, that does not mean that the secondary was ignored. Obviously holding a special place in Saban's heart, the secondary class features a pair of sterling talents. The nation's top safety, Hasean Clinton-Dix will have a chance to contribute early, and covermen Jabriel Washington and Chris Jones restock the outside.
Despite landing the nation's top blocker in Kouandjio, this O-line haul was not vintage Saban. Aaron Douglas, another JUCO transfer, will add immediate help, but this will be more of an underrated bunch than most Tide offensive line classes.
The skill players, however, are elite. Demetrius "Dee" Hart is the No. 8 running back prospect in the nation and brings the entire package to the backfield. He can catch, hit the edge with excellent speed and plays with a physicality that does not normally exist with players of his size (5'8", 190). Quarterback Phillip Ely is not a highly touted passer (and he is undersized), but he comes from a winning program and has proven that he knows how to take care of the football. Sound familiar?
All four pass-catchers in this class are of the nationally ranked variety. The tall and athletic Marvin Shinn leads this group with the equally big and physical Danny Woodson and small, speedy Bradley Sylve filling in the other gaps. Malcom Faciane is one of the nation's top tight end prospects and has a chance to be an all-around option at the position. His size (6'5", 260) and strength will make him a tremendous addition to the running game as a blocker, but he has deceptive athleticism that will allow him to contribute in the passing game as well.
No. 2 Cyrus Kouandjio, OL (Hyattsville, Md.)
No. 10 Hasean Clinton-Dix, S (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 32 Trey DePriest, LB (Springfield, Ohio)
No. 42 Dee Hart, RB (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 46 Jeoffrey Pagan, DE (Asheville, N.C.)
No. 53 Brent Calloway, LB (Russellville, Ala. - pictured)
No. 63 Xzavier Dickson, DE (Griffin, Ga.)
No. 79 Marvin Shinn, WR (Prichard, Ala.)
No. 118 Bradley Sylve, WR (Port Sulphur, La.)
No. 144 Malcolm Faciane, TE (Picayune, Miss.)
No. 159 LaMichael Fanning, DL (Hamilton, Ga.)
No. 175 Danny Woodson, WR (Mobile, Ala.)
No. 189 D.J. Pettway, DE (Pensacola, Fla.)
No. 205 Jabriel Washington, DB (Jackson, Tenn.)