Alabama Football: All-Time Best Recruits at Each Position
With a tradition of excellence that extends as far back as Alabama's does, trying to pin down the best football recruits of all time is a daunting task.
Just think about them. The Lee Roy Jordans and John Hannahs. The Joe Namaths and Bart Starrs. From Ozzie Newsome to Dixie Howell, the list is endless.
We would have to include Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas in the 1980s and Shawn Alexander from the late 1990s. And don't forget the defensive line tandem of Eric Curry and John Copeland, or defensive backs George Teague and Antonio Langham from the '92 squad.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, knowing where these Alabama legends ranked coming out of high school is practically impossible to find.
The business that is college football recruiting has had explosive growth over the last decade. Most of the major recruiting services were not in business prior to 2002.
So for the purpose of this exercise, we are going to focus primarily on the top recruits of this most recent era.
Moreover, we are looking to find the most hyped recruits, not necessarily the most successful ones. Some of the names you are about to see may surprise you.
The amazing thing is that, upon review, some of the Tide's most recent recruits have garnered more attention at the high school level than most of the recent greats that now roam the sidelines in the NFL.
Quarterback: Phillip Sims, 2010
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Out of Chesapeake, Va., Phillip Sims was ranked by rivals.com as the second-best quarterback and No. 67 player in the 2010 class.
Sims had size, strength and, according to Barry Every of Rivals, "In his second year, he should be pressing for playing time over the upperclassmen."
He was offered by practically every team in the ACC and SEC, but opted to play for Nick Saban and the Tide rather than stay closer to home.
Entering the 2011 season, Sims was slated to share the starting role with current Tide quarterback AJ McCarron. But after a lackluster performance in the opener with Kent State, McCarron got the bulk of the snaps a week later at Penn State.
From that point, the job belonged to McCarron.
Sims transferred after the 2011 season, going home to play for the Virginia Cavaliers. Last season Sims shared the quarterback duties, but did see action in every game, completing 56 percent of his passes for more than 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.
Meanwhile, McCarron will look to lead Alabama to a third consecutive national title this fall. Not bad for a kid who failed to crack the Rivals 100 coming out of high school.
Running Back: Trent Richardson, 2009
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Trent Richardson followed a nice line of Alabama running backs that included Glen Coffee and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. But none came with as much fanfare as Richardson.
Ranked the No. 6 recruit of the 2009 class by Rivals, Richardson passed up offers from home-state schools such as Florida and Florida State to play for the Tide. Scott Kennedy of Scout.com said of Richardson:
An extremely hard runner, Richardson fights for every last inch when he has the ball in his hands. He is extremely hard to knock off his feet and breaks tackles well with his balance. He sees the hole and attacks the second level of defenders, punishing smaller linebackers and defensive backs.
That was a pretty accurate and foretelling assessment.
In three years at Alabama, Richardson ran for 3,100 yards, more than half coming in his junior season when the Heisman finalist had more than 2,000 yards of total offense and scored 24 touchdowns while leading the Tide to their second national title in three years.
Richardson was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the third pick of the 2012 NFL draft. As a rookie, he ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones, 2008
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There may not have been a single player who came to Alabama with as much hype and fanfare as Julio Jones. He was the first big recruit of the Saban era, and his signing laid the groundwork for what is now a recruiting machine.
The Foley, Ala., native was the No. 4 player in the 2008 class, according to Rivals, and was tops among receivers.
With a combination of size, strength and speed to go with his incredibly reliable hands, Jones looked much like the second coming of Terrell Owens from Day 1.
In his first collegiate game, Jones caught a touchdown pass against Clemson and never looked back.
Like Richardson, Jones played just three years at Alabama, but caught 179 passes and scored 15 touchdowns for the Tide while setting numerous school receiving records. A series of minor injuries did hamper his production throughout his 'Bama career.
Jones was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons and already has more than 2,000 receiving yards. At the end of the 2012 season, Jones was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl.
Tight End: O.J. Howard, 2013
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The tight end position is not one that often garners much hype. Rarely is a tight end included on lists of elite players.
New Alabama recruit O.J. Howard did just that, though. Considered to be the top tight end of the 2013 class and the No. 16 player by Rivals, Howard is the most talked-about tight end at Alabama since Howard Cross in the 1980s.
Howard chose the Tide over Auburn and Ole Miss.
As Chad Simmons of Scout stated, "Howard is a very athletic tight end. He can run, he really makes adjustments on the ball well, and he has a lot of room to get better."
Howard enrolled early and played in Alabama's spring game last month. He will likely play behind the more experienced Brian Vogler in 2013, but will no doubt be given a share of the load.
Offensive Line: Andre Smith, 2006
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Possibly the best thing former Alabama head coach Mike Shula left behind after his dismissal was Andre Smith. In the 2006 recruiting class, Smith was ranked as the top offensive lineman and second-best prospect by Rivals.
Smith was offered by schools as far away as USC, but stayed close to home and signed with the Tide.
With brute strength and surprisingly good footwork for a lineman, Smith worked his way into the starting lineup immediately. For three years, he was the anchor of the 'Bama line before leaving early to enter the NFL draft.
His time at Alabama ended abruptly, though, when it was discovered that Smith had signed with an agent prior to the end of the 2008 season. Because of this, he was declared ineligible for the SEC title game and the subsequent Sugar Bowl appearance.
After leaving Alabama, Smith was named to the All-Decade Team by BamaMag.com.
He was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by Cincinnati and has spent the last two seasons as a regular starter for the Bengals.
Defensive Line: A'Shawn Robinson, 2013
In an unexpected move last February, Texas product A'Shawn Robinson spurned offers from Texas and USC to play for Nick Saban and Alabama.
Rated as the No. 33 prospect and fourth-best defensive lineman nationally by Rivals, Robinson is the most highly touted defensive lineman to come to Alabama since bust Kerry Murphy in 2007.
According to Scout, Robinson "could realistically play on either side of the ball in college, which just speaks to his overall athletic ability."
Even though he was unable to enroll early, Robinson is on the short list of players that Tide fans can't wait to see in action next fall.
Linebacker: Reuben Foster, 2013
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The recruitment of Reuben Foster was one for the ages. He first committed to Alabama. Then Auburn. He was so confident of his choice to play on the Plains that he got an Auburn tattoo. But in the end, Foster flipped once again and re-committed to the Tide. That's the short version.
Rivals rated Foster as the top linebacker in the country and the 13th-best prospect of the 2013 class. Chad Simmons of Scout wrote about Foster that, "There are not many weaknesses in Foster's game. He is an elite linebacker that attacks the football and plays with speed from sideline to sideline. He made an early impact in high school and I expect the same in college."
Coming out of high school, Foster was rated higher than former Tide greats Rolando McClain and Nico Johnson, among others.
Not overly large for a linebacker, standing at just 6'1", Foster makes up for it with his quickness and vicious hitting.
If Foster's career at the Capstone is anywhere near as interesting as his recruitment, he will find himself in the headlines with regularity.
Defensive Backfield: HaHa Clinton-Dix, 2011
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Ranked even higher than predecessors Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, HaHa Clinton-Dix was one of the real prizes of the 2011 recruiting class.
Ranked as the top safety in his class and No. 7 prospect by Rivals, Clinton-Dix has already begun to come into his own at Alabama.
After seeing minimal playing time as a freshman, HaHa earned nine starts in his sophomore campaign, compiling four interceptions and 30 tackles.
A Florida native who chose the Tide over Michigan, Clinton-Dix will look to compete for All-SEC honors in 2013.