SEC's recruiting dominance particularly apparent this year

Alabama coach Nick Saban likes the Crimson Tide's latest signing class despite it being ranked No. 2 nationally behind Georgia. [VASHA HUNT/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

TUSCALOOSA — It may not have been Alabama’s best signing class ever, especially given it failed to top the national recruiting rankings for the second time in the last three years, but that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide’s 2020 recruiting class is lacking in immediate impact players.

The country’s No. 2-ranked class did lead the nation in highest average player grade according to the 247Sports.com national composite rankings.

“I know today y’all talk a lot about rankings and ratings and who did what in recruiting,” head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “(But) I think the key thing for us is we think we got a lot of good players — character, quality people who want to get an education who are good football players. I think if you look at the average rating of the guys that we got it’s pretty high regardless of where they rank us.”

Led by four five-star additions — and six ranked in the Top-50 nationally — Alabama’s 25-member signing class received an average player rating of 93.56, per the 247 composite, eclipsing the average player score of Clemson (93.45) and Georgia (92.96), the latter of which took home the country’s No. 1 team ranking for the second time in the last three years.

Ratings aside, the talent level top-to-bottom of this year’s signing class is unmistakable, but talent isn’t always the greatest indicator of early success. Even future record-setting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sat much of his true freshman season before splashing onto the scene in the 2018 national championship game.

And while Saban might not be able to say it, there are undoubtedly several 2020 signees who will contribute next season in some capacity.

The most obvious is the highest rated player in the class: five-star dual-threat quarterback Bryce Young.

As the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat player and the second-highest rated player overall in the 2020 class, the immensely talented Young is already impressing folks in Tuscaloosa after just a couple of weeks on campus — and he hasn’t even practiced yet.

In a somewhat uncharacteristic move, Saban effusively praised the dual-threat passer even before he arrived, gushing over his leadership qualities and ability to positively affect those around him.

Young’s 0.9994 rating according to the 247Sports.com national composite tied him for the highest ever rating achieved by an Alabama signee, equaling the scores of former offensive linemen Andre Smith in 2006 and Cyrus Kouandjio in 2011. Clemson defensive line signee Bryan Bresee was the nation’s top-ranked player in the 2020 class with a rating of 0.9995, per the 247 composite.

Another early enrollee that could work himself into the mix next season is four-star receiver Thaiu Jones-Bell, the latest in a string of South Florida pass catchers to land in Tuscaloosa. At 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, Jones-Bell has a similar frame and athleticism to outgoing NFL-bound receiver Henry Ruggs III and returning playmaker Jaylen Waddle, Alabama’s most explosive player at 5-10 and 182 pounds. That said, with both rising senior DeVonta Smith and Waddle returning, Jones-Bell will likely start out in a backup role to begin his career.

“We feel good about Smitty (DeVonta Smith) and Jaylen Waddle coming back. We feel like we have a couple young guys that will develop into guys that will play, but we also feel really good about the two guys we got,” Saban of the three receiver signees. “We’ve had other guys play at that position as freshmen. If those guys can develop quick enough maybe they can contribute next year as well.”

Just based on sheer numbers, and what the Tide lost with the departures of starting outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis to the NFL, expect at least one of the trio of five-star early enrollee linebackers in Will Anderson, Chris Braswell and Drew Sanders to work himself into a position to contribute immediately, either as a starter or vital role player on pass rushing situations.

Anderson, the nation’s No. 1 weakside end per the 247 composite, is considered by many to be the most talented pass rusher in the 2020 class and will get plenty of opportunities to step in and immediately contribute. Braswell and Sanders also present elite athleticism and could find roles within the mix as well as key reserves next season.

“I think the biggest thing was we got a significant number of guys in the front seven. I’m talking about outside ‘backer types, defensive line types, guys that are athletic who can rush, inside ‘backer types,” Saban said Wednesday. 

Among the summer enrollees, look for four-star defensive tackle Timothy Smith of Sebastian, Florida, to get an opportunity to work himself into the rotational mix with returning sophomore starter D.J. Dale. At 6-foot-4 and 320, Smith is the largest of Alabama’s three interior linemen signees and a Top-60 player overall, according to 247sports.com’s national composite. He could provide the Tide quality depth and insurance along the defensive line should it find itself ravaged by injuries like it did last season when Alabama lost a pair of starters in junior end LaBryan Ray (foot) and Dale (knee) for multiple games.

During Wednesday’s press confidence, Saban said replenishing the team’s defensive line depth has been of vital importance the past few years.

Alabama doesn’t sign junior college players unless they're going to play immediately, which is why four-star JUCO cornerback Ronald Williams Jr. of Hutchinson Community College is the mostly likely of the Tide’s 2020 signees to not only see the field early but also start at one of the two cornerback spots.

The 6-2 Williams already has an SEC-level frame and has played against SEC-caliber players throughout his time at one of the country’s most premier junior colleges. And with returning junior starter Patrick Surtain II expected to see some time at Star during spring practices, look for Williams to get every opportunity to lock down a starting corner spot before the team breaks for summer.

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