I went into this Jumbo Package with the intent of focusing only on what’s coming next, rather than dwelling on Monday. Like Jalen Hurts said in his post game interview: The next season starts today.
As you could expect, though, the entire media is entranced— and rightly so— with the Clemson win, so there’s little out there to link to. To compensate, I’ll give you many of my own thoughts and let the rest of you comment below on your expectations, predictions, concerns, and excitement for the next iteration of Alabama football.
Seven players from the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked signing class of 2016 redshirted during the team’s 14-1 (8-0 SEC) campaign, including former five-star prospect and Alabama legacy Ben Davis, three offensive linemen and three other defensive players.
Below is a list of the true freshmen that redshirted and their rankings out of high school.
ILB Ben Davis, rated No. 10 nationally
CB Nigel Knott, rated No. 62 nationally
DT Quinnen Williams, rated No. 160 nationally
OG Deonte Brown, rated No. 176 nationally
OG Chris Owens, rated No. 178 nationally
OT Scott Lashley, rated No. 195 nationally
ATH Shawn Jennings, rated No. 598 nationally
I think that 247 composed this list based off of the players that did not see a single snap all season. Most likely, there will be a few other players that did see a few snaps, but end up redshirting anyway since they were under a certain benchmark, whether due to injury or other reasons. Defensive back Jared Mayden and running back B.J. Emmons are the first that come to my mind as likely candidates to also get a redshirt added to their name.
Quinnen Williams in particular stands to be a dark horse breakout candidate as a redshirt freshman next year. He’s a bit of a tweener, with attributes that could have him playing at defensive end or as an interior rusher. Jonathan Allen mentioned him specifically mid-season as a player to watch out for in the future, and Williams will be walking into a wide-open competition for a role on the defensive line with Allen and Tomlinson both graduating.
On offense, Alabama will retain almost all of their starters from 2016. Jalen Hurts will enter year 2, while Tua Tagovailoa will enter the fray to challenge him to retain his spot. All three of the Tide’s running backs return, along with getting B.J. Emmons back from injury and adding in Najee Harris, the top recruit to commit to Alabama in Tide history.
At receiver, only Gehrig Dieter will move on, and considering him posting only a 40% catch rate on the season, that may well be addition by subtraction. He was an impressive blocker, but I would imagine that Cam Sims can do that just as well (he was used exclusively as a blocker on screen passes during his freshman year before getting the chance to be an actual receiver). Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart will be the top dogs again, but the battle for #3 will be fierce. Cam Sims has been waiting in the wings and should play a factor. Robert Foster was once a starter, but was inexplicably buried and forgotten on the depth chart last season. Truthfully, I expect the former 5 star recruit to transfer, but you never know. Rising sophomore Trevon Diggs showed some flashes and gained more playing time than anyone expected as a true freshman, and will also be vying for the spot. Lastly, true freshman Jerry Jeudy will be coming in this year, and the 6’1” pass-catcher is as mercurial and smooth as they come, particularly in the route-running department.
The tight ends will lose O.J. Howard, but I am really high on rising sophomore Miller Forristall, who has really improved his blocking in year 1 to go alongside his intriguing athleticism. He looked to be a solid receiving threat during A-day last year, and 2017 will give him the chance to show his potential.
On the offensive line, LT Cam Robinson and RG Korren Kirven will have to be replaced. Like Dieter with the receivers, replacing Kirven will likely be another case of addition by subtraction. Kirven, Lester Cotton, and Alphonse Taylor all really struggled at right guard last season, so finding a replacement will be a priority. Brandon Kennedy and rising redshirt freshman Chris Owens both really impressed me with their technical skills and footwork in high school, so I hope to see one of those guys in the mix.
I think it’s likely we see Jonah Williams move to left tackle to take Cam Robinson’s spot, and the competition for right tackle will be between Lester Cotton (tackle is his more natural position than guard), Matt Womack, Scott Lashley, and incoming JUCO transfer Elliot Baker. Baker is a tremendous pass blocker with quickness and length, but is a bit tall and thin to be a true road grater in the run game. Either way, I think all four of those players will have a legitimate shot to be your next starting tackle in 2017.
On defense, there’s a bit of a different story. Almost the entire front 7 will be graduating. The linebackers should be fine, as there is a ridiculous amount of depth and talent waiting in the wings (plus 4 more coming in 2017 class), but defensive line will be a concern.
Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dakota Ball will all be leaving. Daron Payne returns as the only starter and will be the unquestioned leader at nose tackle. All signs point to senior and former 5 star recruit D’Shawn Hand finally getting his shot at a starting role too, after being a primary backup for the last two seasons. The other spot along the line will be wide open.
Josh Frazier, the back up nose tackle and rising junior, has shown flashes at times, including one herculean type play again Clemson. He’ll likely stay as a reserve player to spell Payne, but he also will try to throw his name in the hat to play alongside Payne. As I stated above, Quinnen Williams is my pick to win the spot, but the redshirt freshman is still an unknown. The monstrous Raekwon Davis will be in the mix, as will incoming JUCO talent Isaiah Buggs.
Another possibility is that Jack linebacker (and my favorite player from the 2016 recruiting class) Terrell Hall will continue to add weight to his already massive frame and move to a permanent defensive lineman, rather than a pass-rushing linebacker. Whichever direction he goes, I expect to see a lot of him next year.
Shaun Dion Hamilton, Rashaan Evans, and Mack Wilson will all be more than ready to play the off-the-ball linebackers, and Hamilton will be the unquestioned leader in the center of the defense. Evans and Wilson are both versatile enough to also play on the outside and rush the passer from the edges if the situation requires, while Keith Holcombe and redshirt freshman Ben Davis will provide valuable depth.
Not only that, but child prodigy Dylan Moses will join the team, along with Chris Allen, VanDarius Cowan, and Markail Benton. There will be plenty of depth at linebacker.
For the pass rushers, Anfernee Jennings seemed to take the spot as primary back up to Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson this year and will likely be first in line in 2017. Christian Miller brings elite speed and quickness around the edge, while Terrell Hall is an absolute monster with a lot of energy. Those guys, combined with Evans and Wilson in situational work, and the freshman like Allen and Cowan with experience at defensive line as well as linebacker, should all be able to combine to provide the Tide with plenty of pass rush, if not quite as good as the last two seasons.
The cornerback position is a bit of an unknown for a few more weeks. Both Marlon Humphrey and/or Anthony Averett might declare for the NFL draft, but we don’t know yet. Assuming they stay, the Tide will be in a good position in the secondary next year. They’ll hold down their spots at corner while returning senior Tony Brown will be challenged by rising sophomore Shyheim Carter for the Star nickel back. Jared Mayden, Nigel Knott, and Aaron Robinson will all be in their second season and much more ready to provide the key depth needed in the secondary. Alabama also adds Chadarius Townsend and Kyriq McDonald.
Safety will return Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison as the starters, with Hootie Jones still the rotational back-up. Behind them, Deionte Thompson brings another year of experience after playing receiver as a true freshman, and Mayden or Robinson are both candidates to move from corner to safety if needed. Daniel Wright and Xavier McKinney will both be coming in June to reinforce the depth with youngsters.
JK Scott returns as for his senior season to build on his already legendary punting abilities, while Adam Griffith will graduate, leaving senior Andy Pappanastos to fend off incoming freshman Brandon Ruiz, the #2 rated kicker in high school.
Cole Mazza is relinquishing his 4-year hold on long snapper, but the Tide is bringing in Thomas Fletcher, the top long snapper in high school, on scholarship.
And who knows if anyone will be able to take the kick and punt return roles by the horns. I’m not even going to try to project that.
With all that said, I think the offense takes a big step forward next year. After really slumping the second half of the season, Jalen Hurts showed improvement in the championship game, his stats not reflecting that due to 6(!) bad drops from his receivers and a poor showing from the offensive line, leading to many throw aways (not sacks or interceptions... something that has gone without notice). The line returns three starters and will have the chance to improve, while the running backs and receivers are absolutely loaded with talent.
The defense, though, may struggle. With so many graduating, there’s going to be some major personnel changes, and it may look totally different than what we’ve seen the past two years. If Humphrey and Averett both stay, though, the secondary might finally be a strength for the defense again for the first time since the pre-2013 years. Either way, with Jeremy Pruitt calling the defense and the talent in hand, especially at linebacker, I have faith it can still live up to Alabama standards.
Roll Tide, and happy gump day!