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Jumbo Package: How the 2019 recruiting class significantly affected Alabama in 2021-2022

Evan Neal was awesome, but some of the other key players from that class were non-factors

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Cincinnati at Alabama Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Rodak with 247 is taking a look back at Alabama’s recruiting classes from 2018 onwards, and I think there’s quite a bit to learn from 2019:

After a relative down year in recruiting — finishing fifth nationally in 2018 — Alabama bounced back in 2019.

As early signing day began to take hold in college football, Alabama was declared a winner of the December 2018 version by securing a pair of five stars in running back Trey Sanders and offensive tackle Evan Neal, and flipping four-star safety Jordan Battle from Ohio State. That helped earn Alabama the No. 1 overall spot in 247 Sports’ team rankings, even as it lost briefly-committed five-star safety Daxton Hill back to Michigan.

But this was also Alabama’s first class extensively affected by the NCAA’s new transfer portal rules implemented in 2021, and almost two-thirds of the signing class has used the portal to leave the Tide.

Here is a look back at Alabama’s 2019 recruiting haul:

Total players enrolled: 27

Transferred out: 17

Remained with Alabama; drafted or signed to NFL: 7

Still playing at Alabama: 3


Five-star DL Antonio Alfano (No. 5 in 247 Sports’ industry composite): After getting one season from top prospect Eyabi Anoma in 2018, Alabama got even less from its top 2019 recruit. Alfano faced internal discipline before the 2019 season and later “disappeared a little bit” according to Nick Saban, entering the transfer portal before playing in a game. “The guy basically quit,” Saban said. Alfano transferred to Colorado but was suspended from that team and later not cleared to play because of seizures caused by epilepsy. He transferred again in 2021 to Independence Community College in Kansas, but did not play and transferred again earlier this year to Lackawanna College, a junior college in Pennsylvania.

The late commitments of Trey Sanders, Evan Neal, and Ishmael Sopsher had us all (me at the forefront) over the moon with the star-power and depth of this recruiting class.

In particular, it was a HUGE class in terms of defensive line depth, but with all of the failures, I think it has been the biggest detriment to Alabama’s program as a whole over the past 4 seasons.

Antonio Alfano was supposed to be a game-changer as inside-out pass rusher. Ishmael Sophser was supposed to be an interior disruptor. And then Byron Young, DJ Dale, Justin Eboigbe, and Braylen Ingraham would round out the rotational depth.

Instead, the top guys busted out, and then Dale, Eboigbe, and Young all got thrust into being starters as true freshmen.

DJ Dale slimmed down from 330 to like 305, and was never quite a true nose tackle or a twitchy defensive tackle. Byron Young had to go through some tough growing pains as a freshman and sophomore before becoming a good, if not a superstar, player. And Eboigbe has dealt with injuries.

All three basically have had to learn the position with little veteran influence, and it also created a glut on the depth chart behind them with the following recruiting classes (Alabama has 15 interior defensive linemen on scholarship, despite it only being 2.5 full-time starting positions).

And even further than the DL, Trey Sanders never panned out (no fault of his own, to be sure), Pierce Quick was bust, Amari Kight was just a depth piece, Shane Lee was a liability and then transferred, Scooby Carter was a bust, Brandon Turnage and Marcus Banks got impatient and transferred. Those were all the top-100 level players in that recruiting class who were all likely viewed guys who were supposed to be part of the future after a MASSIVE wave of departures following the 2018 team.

If even just one or two of those guys don’t bust.... Imagine if Marcus Banks had still been around as a speedy, seasoned veteran for the National Championship against Georgia in 2021. Or if Alfano and Sopsher had been 2-year starters on that defensive line when the Tide needed to get just a single sack on Hendon Hooker, or Pierce Quick had been ready to go instead of Alabama relying on a rotating collection of flailing right tackles in 2021?

And don’t even get me started on Jahleel Billingsley.

The 2018 class had a major bust in Eyabi Anoma, but it was a smaller, weaker class anyway, so the expectations for the future weren’t as high. 2020 was a pretty good rebound, thought the Drew Sanders saga stings. 2021 is shaping up to be a mixed bag with some major hits, but possibly just as many high-profile busts that have already haunted Alabama (that whole group of wide receivers, really).

In any case, the Tide signed an absurd 9 five-star players in 2023. They CANNOT afford to have a bust rate as high as 2019 again.

Moving on, Alabama fans around here may not want to hear this, but some betting folks believe Alabama is going to go 12-0 in the regular season:

Of course, they also picked Louisville to go undefeated. Which...??? I suppose they don’t play Clemson this year, and the ACC is mostly trash. But still. Louisville? Undefeated??

If defensive line recruiting misses was my big rant earlier, my other one is on the wide receiver room:

Behind the presumed two-deep, Alabama has some dark horse talent at the receiver position.

For the sake of this conversation, I considered only returning players. The Crimson Tide welcomed in three freshman wide receivers in Jalen Hale, Jaren Hamilton, and Cole Adams. This trio will likely need a year to learn and develop, but it is always possible that one of these true freshmen insert themselves into the lineup as the season progresses.

As far as returnees, Bama has some talented pass-catchers on its depth chart that have been largely overlooked. Redshirt freshman Shazz Preston is a physical specimen who was highly recruited out of Louisiana two cycles ago.

Sophomore Emmanuel Henderson Jr., who was also a member of the class of 2022, came to Tuscaloosa as a highly-touted running back before making the permanent transition to wideout.

Both Preston and Henderson Jr. were 4-star recruits and top-100 players in that recruiting cycle before seeing limited snaps in year one on campus. Henderson Jr. in particular has developed quickly in his new position, and was impressive throughout the spring.

2020 and 2021’s receiver classes, outside of JaCorey Brooks, were total busts.

In 2022, though, the Tide brought in a whole host of players, all of which have actually contributed in varying degrees through the first year.

While Prentice got the early start and Bond wound up with quite a few catches, I would not count either one as having a rotational spot secured up if someone else jumps up and takes it from them.

Kendrick Law looks like a linebacker playing receiver, and I want to see more. And Emmanual Henderson is still learning the position as a former small school running back, but the guy seems to have a “it” factor on the football field.

Plus, freshman Jalen Hale is a really impressive and well-rounded player, while Cole Adams is a wildcard of a speedster who I heard some rumors about back in spring practice.

There’s a lot of options in this position group, but 1 or 2 of them have to step up to become more than just options if Alabama is going not have a 3rd season in a row doomed by drops.

In case you missed it yesterday, Alabama added one more player to the roster on the MBB team:

At 6’10” 225, Wague brings the size as a pure center kind of player to replace Charles Bediako. Technically, Alabama still has one more scholarship available, but at this point, I would consider the roster to be fully rebuilt.

It’s a totally brand new team outside of Mark Sears now, so don’t be surprised if there are kinks early in the season. But, if all goes well, they could really gel by the time SEC play rolls around and, hopefully, just crush January-March.

Roll Tide!