Signing Day is almost here, and the Alabama Crimson Tide is on the cusp of once again signing one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Alabama has 22 guys currently committed to this class, with another in A’Shawn Robinson likely to sign with the Crimson Tide on Wednesday.
Alabama is also in the running for several more highly-regarded prospects, as they look to close strong and reel in the No. 1 class in the country across the major outlets.
Last season, freshmen T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper were big reasons the Crimson Tide were able to win the BCS National Championship. Cooper was Alabama’s leading receiver as he set the freshman record for receiving yards.
Yeldon, alongside Eddie Lacy, provided the Crimson Tide one of the most lethal one-two punches in all of college football. Yeldon rushed for exactly 1,000 yards; becoming the first freshman running back in Alabama history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
Which Alabama freshmen will make the most immediate impact in 2013 for the Crimson Tide. To find out, you must first look at the early enrollees because they have the added benefit of going through spring practice and getting into the strength and conditioning program earlier than the rest.
In this class, Alabama has nine early enrollees. Three of the guys enrolling early are quarterbacks, so unless something happens to AJ McCarron, it’s not likely that they will have much of an impact next season. Of course, each of them will have every opportunity to compete to be McCarron’s backup.
The first guy that comes to mind is record setting high school running back Derrick Henry. Henry is one of the top athletes in the nation, and while he is listed as a running back; it is not yet known what position he will play for the Crimson Tide, but odds are that he will see the field sooner rather than later.
At 6-foot-3 243 pounds, Henry is physically imposing, and he hasn’t even been in Scott Cochran’s strength and conditioning program yet. You could see Henry used as a fullback in certain situations and a running back in others much like Jalston Fowler was used this season before his knee injury. H-back is also an option for Henry on offense.
Henry could also move to the defensive side of the ball as a linebacker, but his ability with the ball in his hands makes it hard for me to see him moved to defense.
Tight end O.J. Howard also figures to have a role in Alabama’s offense next season. Howard is ranked by rivals as the No. 1 tight end in the country, and the 2nd best player in the state of Alabama. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds with soft hands, Howard has all the physical ability in the world to be a game changer at tight end.
Howard could make a run at Alabama’s starting H-back spot, depending on how quickly he can develop as a blocker. Alabama missed having a pass catching threat at H-back last season. Kelly Johnson was a strong blocker, but he didn’t provide much of anything as a receiver. Howard, on the other hand, gives AJ McCarron another weapon on an offense that is already full of them.
Junior college transfer and offensive tackle Leon Brown should compete for the starting right tackle job left vacant by D.J. Fluker’s decision to go pro early. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Brown from Asa College in Brooklyn, New York was a three-star prospect according to rivals.
As you know, Nick Saban doesn’t usually take junior college guys unless he thinks they can make an immediate impact.
As for the guys who didn’t enroll early, it’s going to be tougher for them to make an impact quickly because they haven’t had as much time to learn the system. More often than not, the top recruits who aren’t early enrollees end up factoring in on special teams. Landon Collins last year is an example.
Alabama’s top-rated recruit on Rivals at the moment is five-star defensive end Jonathan Allen from Ashburn, Virginia. Allen, at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, will most likely play the Jack linebacker position for Alabama. With Saban looking to continue using dueling Jack linebackers like last year, there is an opportunity for Allen to see the field in situational packages.
Losing star cornerback and All-American Dee Milliner leaves a void at cornerback for the Crimson Tide next year as well. They have Deion Belue and Geno Smith returning as likely the top two corners, but the depth behind them is a question, which gives defensive back recruits Jonathan Cook and Maurice Smith a chance for early playing time.
The Crimson Tide are also bringing in two highly-recruited wide receivers in Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins. Foster is the more heralded recruit, but Falkins has the added benefit of enrolling early. It figures to be tough for either to see the field as freshmen because Alabama did not lose a single wide receiver from last year’s team.
Of course, as Nick Saban has often said, the best players will play, so they will get every opportunity to get on the field.
Alabama is still recruiting some guys who could make an immediate impact next season like running back Alvin Kamara, and defensive lineman Dee Liner and Eddie Vanderdoes. Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson should also provide some much needed depth at if he indeed signs with the Crimson Tide as expected on Wednesday.
Five-star linebacker Reuben Foster committed to Alabama for the second time on Monday night, but nobody will be comfortable with his commitment until he faxes in his National Letter of Intent on Signing Day. If Foster indeed sticks with his commitment to Alabama, then the Crimson Tide are getting a special player and one of the very best linebackers I’ve seen coming out of high school.
Alabama has a lot of talent at linebacker returning in 2013, but I don’t really see Foster sitting on the sidelines for very long. He is too rare of a talent for that to happen. Look for him to have some kind of role with the Crimson Tide next year.
It’s going to be an interesting week, so make sure you keep checking in as we cover every possible angle of National Signing Day.
Follow John on Twitter.