With summer under way, the 2017 recruiting cycle is about to start really picking up steam. Rivals just held their annual Five-Star Challenge, where in the past players like O.J. Howard first picked up their 5th star and gained much more media exposure. Nike will soon be holding The Opening Finals in Oregon, where many of the most elite recruits will compete in both drills and workouts for a week. The Elite 11 Finals are also wrapping up for the top quarterback prospects in the nation.
A year ago, Alabama was struggling to put its recruiting class together early like it had many years prior, and many of the biggest names did not commit until as late as National Signing Day. So far, 2017 is shaping up to be more like the previous years. The Tide holds 13 commitments, with 5 ranked in 247sports.com's top 100, and sits at either the top or #2 recruiting class in the nation, depending on which site you ask.
Though already a solid class throughout the spring, Alabama picked up four new commitments in five days last week, all of whom are very highly regarded prospects.
Elliot Baker, OT
Hailing from California, Baker is the top rated JUCO player in the entire nation. A prototypical left tackle, he stands at 6'7" and weighs a shade under 300 pounds. Though fairly well-regarded in high school, he was known to be a guaranteed academic casualty from early on, and was barely recruited as a result (PSA to high school kids: just do your homework).
The two biggest traits that stand out when watching Baker are his pure wingspan and just how ridiculously fast he is for a lineman. Whether backpedaling, executing kick-steps in pass protection, or sprinting to the second level for screens, the guy can move. Though JUCO players rarely have any public testing data, I would be willing to wager he's one of those rare lineman that can run a sub 5.0 forty yard dash.
As often seen with quicker lineman, though, he trades that speed for some strength and leverage in the trenches. He never plays out of a 3-point stance, typically playing straight up instead, and that leads to issues in power situations. He's raw, but an extremely athletic and lengthy prospect that has a very good chance to excel in Lane Kiffin's zone-blocking west coast offense.
Mac Jones, QB
With the most stereotypical quarterback name since John Parker Wilson, Mac Jones represents a dying breed of quarterback. Seriously, go watch one of his videos: his team often operates out of split backs, near, and far formations. He possesses a sleight of hand and firmness with his play-fakes than you rarely see out of even professional quarterbacks, and has a masterful way of moving in the pocket.
What he has in technique, he lacks in arm strength and athleticism. However, he only recently hit a growth spurt (he's 6'2" and supposedly still growing quickly), and his changing body could lead to untapped future athletic potential.
In short, he is a 17-year old clone of former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a master of the Mike Holmgren west coast offense.
Markail Benton, LB
On top of being a great player, securing Benton's commitment was a huge win for Nick Saban. He's regarded as one of the top three players in the state and hails from Phenix City, right in the thick of Auburn territory. With Auburn hanging on to some of the states top prospects the last few years (though doing very little out of state), Benton is a huge victory for the Tide.
At 6'2" 235, he is more of a pass coverage linebacker than a throwback run-stopper that we're accustomed to at Alabama. In fact, his high school coach often leaves him one on one with slot receivers, and is on record saying he believes that Benton would be just as effective at safety as he is at linebacker. He's fast, nimble, and a solid, form tackler. He has some issues with shedding blocks and over-pursuing, but that is often the case with the linebacker/safety hybrids like himself.
His style and body build may remind many of former Alabama great, C.J. Mosley. Though nowhere near as refined as Mosley was as a freshman, Benton still has a year of high school to improve his instincts while cutting back on over-pursuing. With the right development, he could become that ultimate pass-coverage linebacker that NFL teams are valuing so highly right now.
Brandon Ruiz, K
At this point in the year, none of the major services have rankings for any of the kickers yet. Ruiz does, however, come highly lauded. Obviously, there's the video he posted of himself hitting a 76-yard field goal in practice.
In game time, he has hit a 51-yard field goal as time expired to win a game, so we know he can perform in intense situations. 55 of his 59 kickoffs in his junior year were touchbacks.
It's always hard to evaluate kickers, as so much of their performance is mental. But by all accounts, it looks like Ruiz has the leg to be a real weapon.
The Rest of the Class
On top of these four new editions, the Tide's 2017 class is shaping up to be great. It is spearheaded by running back Najee Harris, who the unanimous top running back and arguably to #1 player in the entire nation. At 6'3" 226, he follows in the line of Derrick Henry and Bo Scarbrough as a runner that is much taller than the prototype. Oddly enough, the other running back in this class, Brian Robinson, is also 6'2". You think Saban may have a type?
Another commit since 2015, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood is a five-star lineman who might be the most important recruit in this class for the Tide to hold on to.
At QB, Alabama has two four-star players in Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa is a dynamic lefty who has thrived in a spread option system to become arguably the top dual-threat signal caller in the nation. The Hawaiian has already drawn many comparisons to Michael Vick with his explosive running ability, left-handedness, and darting throwing motion. If both Tagovailoa and Jones stick with their commitments, it will be interesting to see which direction the offense will turn in the future.
The class is loaded at linebacker with Benton, VanDarius Cowan, and Gary Johnson. Cowan is a similar player to Benton, and ranked very near him in most recruiting sites. Johnson is a pure inside linebacker and is the top JUCO linebacker in the nation.
Xavier McKinney and Chadarius Townsend are both upper-four star, rangy defensive backs. Townsend is ranked 5th in state of Alabama, and is another big win over Auburn, while McKinney comes right from Kirby Smart's backyard in Georgia.
Three-star defensive end/tackle Aaron Sterling rounds out the class as the only defensive lineman, and will look to make a name as an interior pass rushing specialist.
Right now, Alabama most needs commitments from receivers and defensive linemen. Another offensive lineman or two and a pure cornerback are also high on the priority list.
Wyatt Davis, the top offensive guard in the nation and yet another Californian, is a favorite to land with the Tide. Yet another JUCO tackle from Brooklyn, Isaiah Wilson, is also strongly considering Alabama. With the offensive line trend, Austin Troxell, the second-overall prospect in the state of Alabama, is considered by many to be a favorite to land with the Tide. Lastly, Kendall Randolph, the 290-pound brother of former Tide basketball star, Levi Randolph, is strongly considering playing for Alabama.
At receiver, the top player in the state of Alabama, 6'5" Nico Collins, is considered a strong Crimson Tide lean. Also, watch for the four star Florida native, Jerry Jeudy, and the 160-pound Devonta Smith from Louisiana. Henry Ruggs III hails from Montgomery, and will likely come down to either Alabama or Auburn.
Nose tackle Aubrey Solomon looks to be another war between Alabama and Georgia over a prospect from the Peach State, and big defensive end LaBryan Ray from Huntsville, AL, is a strong lean to the Tide.
Four-star linebacker Christopher Allen from Louisiana has listed Alabama as his favorite, and inside linebacker Will Ignont is another in-state prospect that Nick Saban will have to fend off Auburn to keep.
Though likely long-shots, Alabama is in the running for quite a few out of state top prospects. Cam Akers, a former Tide commit and 5-star running back from Mississippi, decommitted earlier this spring. While most decommits never go back to their original decision, we can always hope he follows the path of fellow Mississippian from the 2016 class, Shyheim Carter.
Marvin Wilson is the top defensive tackle in the nation, while Jeffrey Okudah is the top safety. The two are the top two players in the state of Texas, where Alabama has a recent track record of swooping in to take the top five star players. Both of these guys are considering the Tide, but will most likely stay further west.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention media-child Dylan Moses. The linebacker/running back/athletic freak of nature was offered scholarships by LSU and Alabama in his 8th grade year, and was committed to LSU for much of high school. However, he backed off his commitment and named Alabama his favorite for a while, before changing to listing Texas as his favorite. Personally, I still think he goes to LSU. But despite his love for media, a 230 pound player that runs a sub 4.5 forty and loves to hit would be an amazing addition if he joins Alabama.
BREAKING: 4-star WR Commits to the Tide
Tyrell Shavers of Lewisville, TX committed to Alabama Monday evening after taking an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa the day before.
"I enjoyed myself," Shavers told 247Sports, which first reported his commitment. "Alabama is the National Champs. My recruitment is over. I’m playing for the best."
The wide receiver towers at 6-6 and 202 lbs. He has been timed at a blazing 4.38 speed in the 40 and reportedly ran a 4.3 at the Opening regional in Dallas. Shavers is an incredible athlete who excels at jumping up and catching the ball at its highest point. And of course there is that speed.
Shavers chose Alabama over 26 other offers including Texas, Auburn, Michigan, and Florida State.