Over the years, Nick Saban’s 3- variant of the 3-4 defense has made a pretty significant transition (starting in 2012 with the loss to Texas A&M, and really kicking into overdrive after the 2014 loss to Ole Miss) in the role and play style of the big men lining up on the line of scrimmage.
In the early years, these defensive linemen were all massive space eaters whose jobs were to occupy blockers and free up holes for the linebackers to come charging through. As college football offenses have changed, Saban has put much more of an emphasis on these players being able to create the havoc for the quarterbacks and force running backs out wide. This has meant finding much more athletic and faster players, even if at the expense of pure size (though often enough he’s managed to find freaks of nature who can do both).
Williams entered the 2018 season as a fairly anonymous former backup that had drawn some nice reviews over the last couple of offseasons. He exited the 2018 season as probably the most dominant nose tackle seen in college football since Ndamakong Suh and a possibility at being a #1 NFL Draft pick in a month.
Williams single-handedly covered up a myriad of defensive issues for the Tide last year by blowing up so many offensive plays before they ever really got started. That kind of impact will likely never be replaced.
A top JUCO recruit a couple of years ago, Buggs was actually a linebacker in high school before hitting a major growth spurt at his junior college and beefing up to a lineman. He started at defensive end for the Tide for two years. While never great at creating his own pressure, Buggs was a relentless player who excelled at cleaning up broken plays and not letting people get past him.
He took a nasty cheap shot to the knee against Auburn last year and was limited for the playoffs, but still played in every game and made 6 tackles against Clemson. He wound up with 102 tackles and 11 sacks in his two years with the Tide.
A fifth year senior, Dwight spent time at both defensive tackle and tight end over his career and was a key piece of depth along the defensive line in his final season. Though never a major player in his time at Alabama, he was still someone who was a consistent leadership presence in the background.
The monstrous senior from Mississippi is a towering 6’7” specimen and will be a 3rd year starter in 2019. After racking up 8.5 sacks and 10 TFL in 2017, he was poised to really break out and tabbed as a potential 1st round draft pick in 2018. That never really materialized as he hit a bit of a slump, and he only managed 1.5 sacks in all of last season.
Despite his lack of statistical production, Davis was still very much a vocal and enthusiastic presence on the field all year. And that kind of energy mixed in with his massive frame is a major intimidation factor. He will be the unquestioned leader of the position group in 2019.
A five star prospect a couple of seasons ago, Ray has been one of the first guys to sub in the last two years. He’s a little lighter than the usual Alabama defensive lineman, but is known to be a tremendously athletic player who can actually drop into coverage and play linebacker in a pinch. He’s racked up 44 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss over the last two years, and should be a front runner for one starting job.
From the same recruiting class as Ray, Mathis was a little less heralded and known more as a traditional nose tackle than an explosive rusher. After redshirting his first year, Mathis got quite a bit of playing time as Q’s backup as the season wore on and he played quite well whenever he got the chance, even catching our eyes chasing wide receivers down the sidelines a couple of times. He wound up winning Freshman All-SEC honors and is likely the top candidate to take over at nose tackle.
A redshirt freshman out of IMG Academy, Wynn played in a few games last year during mop up duty and wound up with 3 tackles on the season. A bigger, more technical player than a havoc-wreaker, Wynn would have been a prototype at defensive end in the 2011 Alabama defense, but will be facing an uphill climb against some of his more athletic counterparts.
A fellow classmate of Wynn, Barmore also took a redshirt, but did not play at all last season. At 6’5” 310, Barmore was an explosive-but-raw prospect coming out of high school who needed a season in college to learn how to do more than just overpower everyone with his pure size and athleticism. How he’s developed is a total unknown to us outsiders at this point, but he has a lot of potential.
The 340-pound mountain of a nose tackle transferred in from the JUCO ranks late last offseason. He played in five games in 2018, either in blowouts or occasionally in short yardage situations where his bulk was a, dare I say, big advantage. He recorded 3 tackles on the year and will be a senior in 2019.
The crown jewel of the 2019 recruiting class, the uber-athletic phenom out of New Jersey is already on campus and took the jersey #56. The #1 overall recruit by 247’s rankings is an explosive 288-pound player who can speed rush around the end just as well as he can bull rush a center and take down a running back. Alfano will be making his push for playing time from day one, and the older players will be hard pressed to hold him off.
Wearing #94, Dale is a big 315-pound nose tackle with much more speed than he’s given credit for. Though still a 4-star prospect, Dale was one of the lower rated members of the 2019 recruiting class, but will be getting a leg up on some of the other defensive linemen coming in because he’s enrolling early.
A four-star defensive end out of Georgia, Eboigbe was a top 100 prospect who, despite his size, is an excellent edge rusher with surprising speed and ferocity. Again, enrolling early will give him as good of a chance as anyone else to carving out some playing time for himself.
Projected A-Day Depth Chart
DE- Raekwon Davis, Antonio Alfano, Justin Eboigbe
NT- Phidarian Mathis, Tevita Musika, DJ Dale
DE- Labryan Ray, Christian Barmore, Stephon Wynn
Davis is an unquestioned starter, and Mathis and Ray are likely your other two starters— though their jobs are not a certainty for the 2019 season. Alfano will definitely push for a contributing role. The rest is pretty much a big mashup of depth.