Alabama Football: Best Players of the Saban Era

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIMay 28, 2012

Alabama Football: Best Players of the Saban Era

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    Saban and his cohorts have brought immense talent to the Capstone since 2007.

    However, talent is merely undeveloped skill. Which of the Saban-recruited talents actually turned that gift into something tangible on the field?

    Well, a lot of them did. Here is the cream of the crop from down in Tuscaloosa.

    *Update: Arenas and GMac were split up and given their own slides, and Mt. Cody was added.

Change of Heart: Terrence Cody

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    After originally leaving him off the list because he had to be taken out of the game for frequent rests, a few fans have asked me to rethink that decision. (h/t Debby for bringing it up first.)

    At first, I considered Cody's lack of endurance as a negative. However, that means that he made the All-American first team twice in two years without being on the field as much as other contenders.

    If for nothing else, he is on the list for blocking two field goals in the 12-10 victory over Tennessee in 2009. Without those blocks, 'Bama's national championship appearance (and victory) could very well have been another Sugar Bowl appearance.

    On top of that, he paved the way for Mark Ingram to bring 'Bama its first Heisman.

Javier Arenas

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    Javier Arenas is one of two players on this list that were part of the 2006 recruiting class. Though not recruited by Saban, they were certainly integral to the Tide and Saban's first championship in Tuscaloosa.

    Arenas is third on the list for career all-purpose yards with 4,006 (via 2011 Alabama Record Book). He is the only member of that club that has zero offensive yards. Every single yard he had came from returns.

    He was lethal at anything returnable. Kickoffs, punts, interceptions...all three were his specialty. He was to the return game what Julio Jones was to the passing attack, and it was a joy to watch both of them at work on the same field.

    Perhaps his most memorable moment is included in the video. There's nothing like intercepting Tebow to put Florida to rest in 2009.

Greg McElroy

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    Greg McElroy is the other player hailing from the 2006 class. Though Saban may not have recruited that class, he certainly coached the heck out of them.

    McElroy was a great game manager, but that's not where it stopped. The manager aspect of the job is instantly over when the ball is snapped.

    McElroy had the ability to put Alabama into the right packages to pick defenses apart. However, it seems that his skill to make the plays after they got underway is constantly overlooked. (Not by 'Bama fans, of course.)

    McElroy brought the Tide's 13th national championship home. After waiting since 1992, 'Bama fans were extremely appreciative of that. That will never be forgotten.

Rolando McClain

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    Rolando McClain was one of the best defensive team captains in the history of the Tide. He was a defensive signal-caller who rivaled the knowledge of the offensive on-field mastermind Greg McElroy.

    With McClain calling audibles all night long, the Tide simply rolled over every team but one on the way to the 2009 BCS title roll over Texas.

William Vlachos

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    William Vlachos was one of the best centers to ever snap for the Tide. I wouldn't go so far as to say he's the next Dwight Stephenson, but he had his job on lock.

    He didn't deliver bad snaps. He just didn't do it. He was an excellent blocker, and Barrett Jones has some giant shoes to fill when he takes the center spot this year.

    Hopefully, Vlachos will not be missed too badly this year, as Jones has proved that he can play any front-line position on offense.

    However, that would be a testament to Jones and his talent, not Vlachos and his lack thereof.

Julio Jones

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    Julio Jones was a prototypical wideout. He left nothing on the field at the end of the game...well, except for all those defenders he smashed into the ground while paving the way for Mark Ingram to take home the Heisman.

    Jones posed a ridiculous threat at his position throughout his career at Alabama. Not only was he a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touched it, he was a threat to spring the ball-carrier to the house every time he didn't get the ball.

    Jones is missed already in Tuscaloosa, and there is little reason to believe that a receiver of his caliber is on the horizon. He was special, and he holds a place in the hearts of fans that will not soon be forgotten.

Mark Ingram

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    Mark Ingram brought the University of Alabama its first Heisman trophy winner in the Tide's storied history of over 100 years.

    Ingram was a beast, and Saban and company really knew what they were doing when they recruited him. His ceiling was astronomically high.

    Carrying the ball 572 times in his career for a total of 3,261 yards and 42 touchdowns, Ingram brought the definition of a Tide running back back to Tuscaloosa.

Marcel Dareus

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    Marcell Dareus threw down in every game he played. He was a beast, and had a short-lived nickname of "Quarterback Killer" after he blew up Colt McCoy in the championship game against the Longhorns.

    Dareus was the first Tide player drafted in 2011. He went ahead of Julio Jones, who was one of the best blocking receivers the game has seen in a long time.

Barrett Jones

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    Barrett Jones won the Outland Trophy for the second-straight year in 2011. Tide fans can't wait to see if he can have another trophy-winning performance at yet another offensive line position.

    This guy is listed as an Alabama offensive lineman on his player profile. That's exactly what he is. It doesn't matter what position you put him in, he'll win the award for being the best.

Mark Barron

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    Mark Barron was selected seventh in the 2012 NFL draft behind only one other Alabama player, and that was Trent Richardson.

    Barron entered the 2012 draft as the top safety. He was selected immediately behind lock-down cornerback Morris Claiborne, and there were no defensive players selected before Claiborne at all.

    Barron is a member of the "we're hurting on defense after that draft class" club entering the 2012 college football season.

    He will be missed. Hopefully not too badly, as the Tide have a good chance of earning back-to-back national titles.

Trent Richardson

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    Trent Richardson was a hammering running back who was extremely unlikely to be tackled by just one man.

    In the infamous BCS National Championship rematch of 2012, Richardson became the only member of either LSU or Alabama to score a touchdown against the opponent throughout the entire season.

    Richardson would have been a shoe-in for the Heisman if it hadn't been for the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III race in front of him.

    (The article about all the reasons why Richardson missed out on his Heisman is for another day.)

    Richardson will go down as one of the best running backs ever to don the crimson and white. Of course he's one of the best of the Saban era.

Dre Kirkpatrick

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    Dre Kirkpatrick was the third member of the Tide selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    Kirkpatrick's resume is unbelievably good, and it's incredibly long.

    With Dre out there roaming the deep portions of the field with Mark Barron, there was little to fear from opposing quarterbacks.

    He will be missed in the early part of the 2012 season especially. Michigan and Arkansas are two of the first three games of the season, and his brutal skillset will sadly not be suiting up for the Tide.

On the Radar 1: A.J. McCarron

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    A.J. McCarron became the first sophomore quarterback ever to win a BCS title game when he led the Tide to a 21-0 shutout over the LSU Tigers this past January.

    Does that make him the best quarterback of the Saban era? Well, sort of. Greg McElroy, as you may recall, was on the honorable mention slide since he wasn't recruited by Saban.

    So, technically, McCarron is the only quarterback of the Saban era. He has the opportunity to prove that 2011 wasn't a fluke when he suits up for 2012.

    Tide fans will be there to verify that his greatness was not all due to the defense.

On the Radar 2: T.J. Yeldon

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    T.J. Yeldon falls into the "bold prediction" category. Although he earned Nick Saban" href="http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2012/04/tj_yeldon_the_runaway_star_of.html">high praise from Nick Saban (and the A-Day MVP award) during the final spring scrimmage, he still has to prove himself on the field.

    Based on what has been seen thus far, he could make Ingram and Richardson look like appetizers to his filet mignon.

    The power is his. (So is the speed, actually.)