In the last few recruiting classes, Nick Saban heavily emphasized the defensive line, to the point of Alabama now being 5-deep at three starting spots in 2022. So for this class, the Tide seems to have backed off a little, signing only three new players who are true interior linemen.
With Byron Young, D.J. Dale, and Justin Eboigbe all returning as senior starters, there won’t be much room for any newcomers in 2022. However, that also means that the 2023 season will be wide open for three new starters, and the battle for those spots will be an intense one.
With that, let’s take a look at each of the three incoming freshmen and how they will ultimately fit in to the Alabama roster.
For all of these players, I’ll be using the rankings from the 247Sports Composite, though I may mention any noteworthy differences that another recruiting site may have.
Originally from Toronto, Hastings moved to the U.S. to play for Clearwater Academy in the highest level of high school football competition. Rather than taking time to acclimate to the American game, Hastings just went out and racked up 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in only 8 games.
At 6’4” 290, Hastings has the prototypical build for the interior lineman/defensive end in Saban’s base 3-4 scheme.
As a player with only a single season of American football under his belt, Hastings has a wide spread of recruiting rankings. He’s 139th for 247Sports, 246th for Rivals, 53rd for On3, and somewhere below 300 for ESPN.
When it comes to energy, effort, explosiveness, raw power, and pure potential, Hastings is the kind of player that could very easily become a superstar-level player as the extremely rare interior pass rusher. It’s rare you’ll see someone at his size be so consistently in the backfield immediately after a snap. If an offensive linemen gives him some space, he’ll blow by them. If they try to get up in front of him, he just forklifts them into the QB.
Much of his damage is done on pure explosion off the snap, but he does display a nice little sidestep and swim move on offensive linemen that oversell on making sure they don’t get bullrushed.
As a run defender, he’s got a tremendous amount of power for a 290-lb guy, and can fend off a lineman to make a tackle on a running back trying to slip through a gap.
He’s also got a lot of hustle in him, and will make a good many clean-up plays on QBs scrambling too much and will chase down wide receivers who dance around too much on screen passes.
As a fairly inexperienced player, Hastings obviously has a lot to learn still. His tackling technique is mostly just grabbing and holding on to the guy with the ball and hoping they go down. He lacks refinement in his pass rush moves and doesn’t use a lot of hand fighting to keep linemen off of him. And he doesn’t have too much tape in the way of holding up on double teams or sealing off running lanes. Those are all very teachable things, though, and he has the innate ability to be a dominant player.
Hastings is pretty much a perfect fit for the Saban/Golding defense. In base downs, he can play defensive end and blow up offensive tackles, hold his own in the run game, and even speed rush the edge on occasion. When Golding shifts to his more favored 2-4-5 alignment, then Hastings can act as an interior gap-shooter on passing downs that can wreck an opposing passing game.
With so much senior depth on the defensive line and Hastings needing some time to polish, don’t be surprised if he redshirts in 2022. But down the road? I think this is a multi-year starter and a first-round draft pick kind of player.
In three seasons playing 6A and 5A ball in central Alabama, Perry racked up 50 sacks and north of 400 tackles while playing all over the defensive line. He had 24 sacks in his senior year alone, and as a junior, he had a ridiculous 58 tackles for loss.
I’ll put it this way: if Perry was about 2 inches taller, he’d a be a five-star, top-ten prospect.
Instead, he’s stuck with a weird frame and body type that plays more like a elite edge rusher while being shaped more like small defensive tackle, and I think the recruiting services likely dropped him due to that frame.
That said, he just put together probably the most productive high school career for a Tide defensive lineman recruit since Jonathan Allen. He was utterly dominant as an edge rusher, interior rusher, linebacker, etc. Just put him somewhere, say “go get the ball,” and he’d wreck everything.
On the edge, Perry displays an elite ability to bend around tackles and close the distance on the QB, and he combined that with extremely active hands that throw linemen off balance and quick, choppy steps that allow him to dance circles around bigger blockers. He’s got scary fast closing speed once he has an open path the the QB, and his quick feet help him to not miss out on tackles on quicker QBs that try to dodge him in the pocket.
He’s got an uncanny ability to time snaps, and that, plus his speed and hand/feet quickness make him a dangerous interior rusher on passing downs, as he can slip around a hapless center for a quick, easy sack.
This is where things get a little dicey. Perry likely isn’t an every-down lineman, as he probably doesn’t have the frame to add any more weight that would be needed to hold up in the run game.
At the same time, he’s not really built like a rangy edge rusher, and I’m not sure he has the ability to be able to drop into coverage like a linebacker.
Of course, Anfernee Jennings was a very similarly shaped player, and he became a multi-year starter for the Tide as an edge player that was technically an outside linebacker, but was generally protected from doing much actual linebacker work.
I expect similar for Perry. He can be a pass rush specialist in rabbit packages and can eventually grow into a edge/linebacker role with the right conditioning.
His combination of energy, attitude, and speed will make him an instant hit on special teams. And despite Will Anderson and Dallas Turner having the edge rusher spots locked up this year, I think Perry finds his way onto the field every so often this year, even if it’s just in 4th quarter situations where an opposing team is trying to mount a desperate (futile) comeback attempt at the last second.
He’s the kind of guy who will be a 4-year contributor and possible multi-year starter with quite a few sacks to his name at the end of his career, and still be underrated in the media.
Oatis is a top-40 player by ESPN’s rankings, and right around 100 overall from the other three recruiting services. At 6’4” 370, Oatis will immediately be the biggest player on Alabama’s roster this spring. He has posted recently that he’s already down 15 pounds, which is a positive for a guy that big.
Oatis is actually a surprisingly nimble guy for someone his size. As a sophomore (when he was only 320 pounds), he actually played a good bit of edge rusher, and could hold his own in open space, getting some 1v1 tackles on running backs in the open field.
That said, he’s north of 350 now, and nose tackle is the place for him. He’s a huge player who, by sheer size, can overwhelm double teams. But if a team leaves him 1v1 against a lineman, he’s totally capable of giving them a quick little sidestep and slipping into the backfield. And if you’re a running back, good luck figuring out how to get all the way around that mountain.
Oatis is a pure nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, and there’s really no doubt about that. If he managed to drop all the way back down to under 320, then I actually thing he’s got the quickness to play some defensive end too, but I’m not sure he’ll ever go that low.
Oatis is going to have a tough road ahead of him to balance his strength, speed, and stamina with the body weight that best suits him. It will likely take him a few years in Alabama’s S&C program to figure that out, and even then, nose tackle isn’t truly a full-time starting position for the Tide anymore, though he can develop into an impactful role player there down the road.