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Meet the New Guys: Defensive Line

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We live only to strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses.

StudentSports

After spending the last three weeks discussing the offense - the backfieldreceivers, and offensive line - this week takes a little turn and begins to delve into incoming defensive players (which, spoiler alert, ended up as a much more interesting side of the ball in this year's class). As usual, I will be speaking about SPARQ and Z-scores with the assumption that you know what those terms and numbers refer to. If you don't, stop what you are doing and click this link right now.

Now, there are two of those old adages that commonly get tossed around by football fans. The first is that "defense wins championships," and the second is that "the game is won and lost in the trenches."

Using a little bit of math, smarts, and deductive reasoning, one can gather that there is one single unit on a football team that is possibly the most integral to success: the defensive line. Don't believe me? Look at the 2015 National Champions. Anchored by A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, and Jonathan Allen (all likely to be 1st round draft picks), the Alabama defensive line was easily the biggest strength of the team, and probably the best unit in all of football last year.

However, with Reed and Robinson heading to the NFL, along with the graduation of key back-ups D.J. Pettway and Darren Lake, Alabama's depth in the defensive trenches is a bit thin, and in dire need of a talent infusion. Fortunately, this class brought in four talented players, all who will be looking to take advantage of the depleted defensive line and break into the starting rotation as true freshmen.

One last thing before we begin: In Nick Saban's 3-4 hybrid defense, the outside linebackers will often line up on the edge of the defensive line, acting as a de facto defensive end. For the purposes of this series, I went ahead and left those edge rushing players as linebackers, and will solely focus on the interior linemen this week.

Jamar King- Stongside Defensive End

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
3 JC-51 JC-4 6040 270 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A


Joining offensive lineman Charles Baldwin as the other Junior College transfer to join Alabama this year, King will look to break into the playing rotation immediately this year. Jamar King was a basketball player in high school, and only played one season of football before graduating and going on to work at a factory in Detroit for the next 6 years. Finally, a mentor convinced him to return to junior college, where he bulked up from 240 pounds to be come an all-region defensive lineman and garner the interest of programs such as Alabama and Ohio State. At 26 years old, King will easily be the oldest player on Alabama's roster.

Pros

The man has a motor. He seems to be playing at full speed every single play, and is genuinely enjoying himself out there. He's fast off the line, and attacks the backfield at full force. Many defensive lineman make tackles by simply falling on the player with the ball, but King strikes the ball carrier with force, at times almost looking like a linebacker making the hit.

He's also extremely versatile and can line up at basically any position along the defensive line, be it inside, outside, or even as a stand-up linebacker. He's especially effective at attacking the gap between the guard and tackle and swimming past the lineman blocking him. He can also be pretty effective at driving an offensive lineman backwards with his powerful lower body.

Cons

He's still relatively new to football, and relies almost solely on either a swim move or bull rush to get past a defender. He also has rarely been asked to command double teams or act as a two-gapping lineman, both of which will be required responsibilities for him to learn to play in Saban's rotation.

Prediction

King stands a very good shot to get some meaningful playing time as a situational inside pass rusher, similar to Dalvin Tomlinson the past couple of years. The combination of his suddenness off of the line, maximum effort, and willingness to learn will go a long ways for him to get in good favor with the coaching staff and carving out a role for himself.

Quinnen Williams - Defensive Tackle

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 159 16 6040 260 5.24 4.72 28.7 42 90.3 1.30

With a 1.30 Z-score, the highly rated Alabamian brings some pretty elite athleticism to the table, led by a 42-foot powerball toss (good for the fourth best of Alabama's last 4 recruiting classes, trailing only Lester Cotton, Derrick Henry, and Lyndell Wilson). While Williams was barely known as a recruit for much of his high school career, he had a breakout senior season that coincided with an effort to trim his body fat into a muscular frame. At the conclusions of the season, Williams opened some eyes by looking like arguably the best player in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, and his ranking vaulted into the top 200 in the nation.

Pros

Despite only being around 260, Williams plays with tremendous strength. He can hold his own in double teams and can push a blocker backwards while still maintaining responsibility for both gaps. He has long arms, and can use them to keep offensive linemen away from him, and then throwing the lineman to the side when he's ready to burst through to make a tackle. He's an excellent run defender because of this, and also has the speed and explosiveness to be an effective pass rusher.

Cons

He often lets his pads get too high, which kills his forward momentum in a leverage battle. He also has very inactive hands and will need to work more to incorporate some hand-fighting into his game to keep an offensive lineman from getting a lock on him.

Prediciton

Though I think he is good enough to get some playing time this year, I think Saban will redshirt him as he adds about 20 more pounds of muscle to his frame and develops better technique. He'll eventually be able to become a force as a run defender who also contributes in the pass rush.

Raekwon Davis- Defensive Tackle

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 83 11 6080 314 5.49 4.84 26.2 40.5 93.63 1.42


Raekwon Davis is a very physically intriguing specimen. At 6'8", he has the kind of length that NFL scouts will drool over for the next 3-4 years, and his 1.42 Z-score shows that he has elite athleticism to boot. A 4.84-second 20-yard shuttle at his size is nothing to scoff at, and his very impressive power throw test demonstrates his upper body explosiveness. Davis is one of top 100 recruits in the nation, and was a huge win for Alabama to pull him out of Mississippi. Though being assessed as a defensive lineman, Davis stands an equal shot of playing on the offensive line at the college level.

Pros

Obviously, his size, length, and athleticism are his best qualities. You just don't find someone that's 6'8" 320 and moves as nimbly as Davis does - and it shows with how adept he is at chasing ball carriers laterally. Though extremely tall, he still does an outstanding job of keeping his center of gravity low, and can push double teams backwards solely with the drive in his lower body. He's also exceptionally quick at the snap, which is something rarely seen in someone his size.

Cons

Even more so than both men listed above, Davis has a severe lack of hand technique and a disappointingly tiny array of moves to shed blocks. As you would expect, he offers very little in terms of pass rush because of this deficiency. He also could use some added bulk in his chest/arms, as they look disproportionately small when compared to his tree trunk legs and belly.

Prediction

Raekwon Davis probably has the highest athletic ceiling of the four being listed today. His blend of size and explosiveness are second to none, but without the technical ability, that potential has not been translated into on-field results yet. I think Davis will redshirt this upcoming year, and work towards finding his way into the rotation next year. He'll have a great shot at filling the run-stopping defensive end role that Jarran Reed has manned so well the last two years.

Kendell Jones - Defensive Tackle

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 93 12 6050 361 5.65 4.89 22.9 29 67.65 0.49


At 360 pounds, the behemoth out of Texas has been one of the more ballyhooed recruits for the Crimson Tide this cycle. On top of his outgoing personality and uncanny resemblance to both Tide legend Terrance Cody and a small mountain, Kendell Jones was also given the 5-star status by Scout.com (even though the other big three recruiting services have him ranked lower).

Aside from a respectable 20-yard shuttle for someone his size, the rest of Jones' test results were a bit sub-par. Even when corrected for his massive weight with the SPARQ formula, he still only boasts a Z-score of 0.49. While that means he is still well above average for a college athlete, Alabama tends to recruit the elite of the elite, and Jones falls a bit below that usual quota.

Pros

You can't teach someone to be that big. And Kendell Jones carries all of those 360 pounds well - none of it looks like sloppy weight at all. Jones can toss offensive lineman backwards with ease, and instantly pushes the entire center of the offensive line backwards a yard or two as soon as the ball is snapped. He has active hands, and uses them to punch and strike at offensive linemen, keeping them from getting a lock on him. His bull rush, whether in the pass or run game, is the stuff of legends, and he has the short-area lateral agility to jump off of a block to either side and stop a ball carrier from cleanly getting into either gap.

Cons

With great size, comes a great lack of speed. Though surprisingly agile, Jones is most often the slowest player to attack the line after the ball is snapped, and he definitely won't be chasing any ball carriers horizontally down the line of scrimmage any time soon. He also tends to rely on his arm strength and upper body to generate all of his power, and could benefit from learning to bring his center of gravity lower and driving more with his legs.

Prediction

I think Jones will quickly cement himself as the back up nose tackle behind Daron Payne. Since Alabama rarely faces an opponent that requires the defense to use a true nose tackle, let alone worry about rotating in his back up, it will still be a role on the team nonetheless, and Jones will probably see some playing time here and there in blowouts.