As college football settles into Year 3 of the ill-timed Early Signing Period (aka ESP), it would appear that Alabama head coach Nick Saban has already mastered it.
It is unclear why the NCAA felt it necessary to establish this new period right in the most vital part of the season. Perhaps it was yet another attempt to slow down Saban. Guess what. It didn’t work.
I hear some of you fans out there worrying that Alabama won’t close well. They don’t have to! It seems like I say this every year, but this class is already shaping up to be another historically great one. And I am not just being a Gump here. Realize that there are only 28 prospects that get 5-stars by 247sports and Alabama has three of them, including the top quarterback - the most important position on the field! Most teams get none. The Crimson Tide also has ten of the top 101 ranked players according to 247’s composite rankings. It’s all gravy from here on out.
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM
WHO: Class of 2020 high school graduates and juco players who are eligible to transfer to 4-year schools.
WHAT: Prep football players send in a national letter of intent (LOI) to the school of their choice, assuming they have solid offers. In a strange outmoded tradition, these documents are signed by the player and parent or guardian, and faxed to the universities, though some are sent digitally nowadays.
WHERE: Most high schools hold on-campus assemblies for student athletes to announce their decisions and sign. University representatives are not allowed to be present. Most recruits have already announced their commitment but for those who have not, they like to do the timeworn hat switcheroo thing and other silly antics. Don’t expect much of that from this Tide class.
WHEN: Starting Wednesday morning, December 18 and ending Friday, December 20. Those who do not sign during this span must wait until National Signing Day (NSD) on February 5, 2020. A dead period (no in-person contact or on-campus visits but phone calls are allowed) began Monday and lasts through January 16, 2020.
WHY: All other sports have had a collective early signing period for many years. This year it was November 13. For some reason, football never had an ESP - probably because it was in the middle of the season. As mentioned above, the NCAA seemingly on a whim passed legislation to enact this period three years ago. Although it caught Saban off guard in Year 1, he has not only mastered it but he has changed the game. It is now “commit now or go elsewhere.”
The truth of the matter is that the ESP should be reserved for early enrollees only. But that makes too much sense and the NCAA is having none of that.
The Crimson Tide have 25 prospects committed to sign, however a few may not be a part of this class and will be noted below. As of today, thirteen are expected to be Early Enrollees (EE) including the Tide’s top four ranked prospects:
- Bryce Young QB (Santa Ana, CA) 6’0”/180 EE
- Chris Braswell DE/LB (Baltimore, MD) 6’3”/225 EE
- Drew Sanders LB (Denton, TX) 6’5”/212 EE
- Demouy Kennedy ILB (Theodore, AL) 6’2”/215 EE
- William Anderson DE (Hampton, GA) 6’4”/235 EE
- Roydell Williams RB (Hueytown, AL) 5’10”/210 EE
- Thaiu Jones-Bell WR (Carol City, FL) 5’11”/190 EE
- Jackson Bratton ILB (Muscle Shoals, AL) 6’3”/226 EE
- Malachi Moore S (Trussville, AL) 6’0”/175 EE
- Traeshon Holden WR (Harbor City, CA) 6’3”/200 EE
- Jahquez Robinson CB (Jacksonville, FL) 6’2”/180 EE
- Ronald Williams CB (Ferriday, LA) 6’2”/190 EE
- Seth McLaughlin OC (Buford, GA) 6’4”/275 EE
* Saban stated in his Monday press conference that one early enrollee may be joining the team for bowl practice later in the week. However, the coaching staff is not allowed to comment on a recruit until after that player signs. It is speculated that one player is cornerback Jahquez Robinson of Jacksonville, FL. This sort of player is not eligible to play in the bowl game.
The following are expected to sign early (ESP) but not enroll early:
- Quandarrius Robinson OLB (Birmingham, AL) 6’5”/217
- Brian Branch S (Tyrone, GA) 6’1”/178
- Timothy Smith DT (Sebastian, FL) 6’4”/315
- Jah-Marien Latham DT (Pickens County, AL) 6’3”/290
- Kristian Story QB/S (Lanett, AL) 6’2”/198
- Javion Cohen OL (Phenix City, AL) 6’5”/296
- Kyle Edwards RB (Destrehan, LA) 6’0”/210
- Damieon George OL (Houston, TX) 6’7”/345
- Caden Clark TE (Akron, OH) 6’4”/230
The following prospects are committed to Alabama but for various reasons, do not plan to sign early and may not be a part of this class:
- Javon Baker WR (Powder Springs, GA) 6’1”/183 - Speculation has it that he will have trouble qualifying.
- Jamil Burroughs DT (Powder Springs, GA) 6’3”/320 - Same situation of possible academic issue.
- Jayson Jones DT (Calera, AL) 6’5”/322 - Not exactly sure what is going on here but his ranking has been sinking like rock.
- Every prospect appears to be solid to Alabama. Some watchers are a little nervous about Demouy Kennedy flirting with LSU, but my gut says he sticks with the Tide.
- Tim Smith is another one Bama fans have been wringing their hands over with Florida making a hard charge. I am not as confident about this one. I’d say 60-40 Alabama. But that is just me.
TOP UNCOMMITTED TARGETS SIGNING EARLY
If the above 22 sign as expected, Bama could add as many as six more players during one of the two signing periods. The total number that seems to be floating around is 28. [This does not include potential blueshirts.] Will they reach that number? Maybe so, maybe not. Alabama may not get another commitment this cycle for all we know. It doesn’t take away from what brilliant class this is.
A few of the top targets who have yet to announce their pledge will be signing tomorrow. Below is a reported schedule of the announcements for some of them.
- TE Jeremiah Pegues (Oxford, MS) 8am CT - Alabama has been pushing for 5-star TE Darnell Washington at tight end but he is not signing early. Reports have said that he will give the Tide staff an answer before Wednesday. If he opts to sign with another team or he hasn’t decided, 4-star Pegues appears to be Plan B - that is if he hasn’t moved on to another school himself.
- OLB Phillip Webb (Buford, GA) 11am CT - Alabama and LSU have both been giving the nation’s No. 42 player the full-court press. It will come down to these two programs but the Tigers may have the edge.
- WR Arian Smith 12:05-12:15pm CT on ESPN - Bama has a good shot at the Lakeland, FL 4-star. They will have to beat longtime favorite UGA for his signature.
- RB Jase McClellan TBD - This Oklahoma commit had 5,200 rushing yards and 95 TDs in three high school seasons. Bama will take him if he flips. I’d say 70-30 he sticks with Okie.
- DE Jordan Burch signing Thursday, time TBD - I am not holding my breath on this one.
- Five-star LSU commit WR Rakim Jarrett will wait until February to sign. If Alabama signs Arian Smith, they may be done at the position, but a lot can happen between ESP and NSD.
- Georgia Tech commit RB and fan favorite Jahmry Gibbs won’t be a part of this class. The numbers just don’t work out. #BlameHoustonNutt
- DT McKinnley Jackson (Lucedale, MS) will wait to sign on NSD. Bama will find a way to take him if he wants to commit.
- Grad-transfers will likely factor in and fill in any holes the Tide may have. However, the UA staff will not investigate that option until after every letter-of-intent is finalized in February. There is not much use in speculating at this point but tight end may be a position of need. Grad-transfers do not count against the signing number but certainly count against the 85-man roster limit. We may see more than a few current Tide players queue up for the transfer portal or “retire” from football.