Re-Evaluating Alabama's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2014

USA Today

According to the 247Sports team rankings, Alabama has had the top recruiting class in the country in each of the past four seasons, and it's out to the pole position once again in 2015.

That was made clear last week at Nike's The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, which was attended by 10 of the Tide's 19 committed players. More than half of their current class was deemed good enough to join the most prestigious camp in America.

But it wasn't just committed Alabama players in attendance in the Beaver State. A small group of top Alabama targets was there as well.

Even though they're staked out to a pretty substantial lead, the Tide cannot hold onto their No. 1 ranking by resting on their laurels. They don't have a current commitment from any of the top 30 players in the country. For context, they had five in the top 15 last cycle.

Here's a post-Opening look at the state of Alabama's 2015 class, including both targets and current commitments.

How did everyone fare during their week in Beaverton?


Top Targets

Alabama's top uncommitted targets at The Opening included a pair of 5-star defensive linemen and a 4-star (but top-100) offensive tackle.

Here's a quick look at all of them:


DE Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida)

Florida native Byron Cowart is the No. 15 overall player in the class, and he showed why in Beaverton. He earned rave reviews throughout the week, prompting a flurry of praiseful tweets from analysts:

The videos that came out do not belie those reviews:

Cowart is enamored with Oregon and is also fond of nearby Florida. Of the top three Alabama targets at The Opening, he is probably the longest shot to end up in Tuscaloosa.

But he did have some nice things to say about the Crimson Tide in March, per Mike Herndon of, and after the showing he just had in Beaverton, Saban should prioritize his recruitment.


DT Daron Payne (Birmingham, Alabama)

Daron Payne from nearby Birmingham, Alabama, is the No. 16 overall player in the class, and even though he didn't perform as well as Cowart did, he definitely didn't look poor up in Beaverton.

At 348 pounds, Payne has the size and frame to become a nose guard in Alabama's 3-4 defense. He could be an anchor against the run.

His bullrush already looked SEC-capable:

Payne also got a stuff test (and perhaps future practice preview?) against Alabama offensive line commit Lester Cotton:

Payne was once a strong Auburn lean on the 247Sports Crystal Ball, but he has since skewed heavily toward Alabama. He is currently listed as a 96 percent favorite to land in Tuscaloosa.


OT Drew Richmond (Memphis, Tennessee)

Offensive tackle Drew Richmond made an impact on and off the practice field in Beaverton, stepping up as one of the best blockers but also one of the most affable, well-liked players in the camp.

Here he is chiming in on No. 2 overall prospect Josh Sweat:

Richmond is the No. 78 overall player in the class and would fill a need for the Tide, who do not have a big-time 2015 offensive tackle.

He spoke with Charles Power of 247Sports (subscription required) during the event to give an update on his recruitment, listing Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio State, Memphis (yes, Memphis), North Carolina and UCLA as teams that are after him the hardest.

"[The May visit] was cool getting to know [the Alabama offensive linemen], because I had one type of perception that I thought they were and they are way cooler than I thought," Richmond said of his official visit to Tuscaloosa. "I still talk to Josh Casher sometimes and Cam [Robinson] and I Tweet from time to time."

Richmond will announce his decision on September 9.


Current Alabama Commits

Alabama sent 10 already committed players to The Opening, and, especially toward the top of the class, those players showed very well.

I went into further depth on the subject here, but three of the Tide's highest-rated players—cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, receiver Calvin Ridley and quarterback Blake Barnett—all received some sort of tangible accolade during the week in Beaverton. Fitzpatrick made the SPARQ National Championship with a preliminary score of 130.41, Ridley was named the overall MVP of The Opening and Barnett was named the MVP of the seven-on-seven tournament and the Elite 11.

Cotton, who was shown blocking Payne in the previous section, also showed well, and fellow offensive line commit Richie Petitbon caught the eye of Bleacher Report's on-site analyst, Michael Felder:

Athlete Shawn Burgess-Becker didn't flash as often as 'Bama fans might have hoped, but he did show some nice instincts and had a few impressive pass breakups during the seven-on-seven games:

He could be the next in the line of physical, athletic safeties.

The most important takeaway from The Opening, though, might have been the cohesion between the Alabama recruits.

The players all got along with one another—or at least it seemed that way to an outside observer who was following along from the opposite end of the country—and no one was talking about seriously reopening their recruitment to other schools this coming season.

Here's a group of former Tide players with Barnett's family:

There's a reason this class ranks No. 1 on the 247Sports team rankings. And there's a reason it will probably stay there.


Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.