Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Even Nick Saban believes stars matter. Not blindly, mind you. He evaluates players himself, aight? But he obviously agrees with the evaluators most of the time. Why else would he keep signing 18 to 20 four and five-star players every February?
So as Saban prepares to embark on another potential national-title-winning season – a task he began about three minutes after he crushed Neutered Dame – it’s no surprise that five of the most likely newcomers to play Alabama football are all highly-ranked.
Derrick Henry. At least one of the freshmen running backs will work his way into the rotation. The guess here is Henry, and not merely because of his exceptional talent. He’s one of only two guys – along with Jalston Fowler – that presents a bruising change of pace at the position. And with Fowler coming off an injury, Henry may give Saban the best option for that role. That, plus Fowler is good enough to play H-back, which could open up even more of an opportunity for Henry to get some carries. Look for the record-breaking runner to play in game one.
O.J. Howard. Unless he gets lost on his way to the Georgia Dome, Howard will play offense against Virginia Tech. The ultra-talented Crimson Tide roster has no one else quite like him. Saban almost never discusses expectations for freshmen, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them. Howard is as close to a lock as a freshman can get to getting meaningful snaps.
Leon Brown. Saban doesn’t mess around when it comes to JUCO transfers. Most, like Jesse Williams, Mount Cody, James Carpenter and Deion Belue, have played immediately and played very well. Brown should be no exception. If he’s not the starting right tackle in game one, it would be a mild shock.
Reuben Foster. Alabama is loaded at every position, and inside linebacker is no exception. Trey Depriest will start. Reggie Ragland, Dillon Lee and a few others are loads of potential. But none of them are quite like Foster, a human wrecking ball that has rare instincts for the position. Whether he starts or not, he will play. And he will bring the pain.
Jonathan Allen. The only reason this kid was so overlooked is that he committed early and never wavered. But he brings a true pass-rushing threat to the defensive end spot, something Alabama hasn’t had much of lately. The guess here is that he will play on passing downs from day one.
That’s four five-star players plus Brown, whose three-star ranking is due largely to his being a JUCO signee. But others, like Robert Foster and Eddie Jackson, will almost certainly play. They missed this list mainly because the Tide is loaded at wide receiver and has two legitimate starting corners returning in Geno Smith and Belue. But those two won’t be kept off the field for long.
As deep and talented as this class is, many others have a chance to make a name for themselves during their first season in Titletown. On paper, this group has a chance to rival the 2008 class as the best in Crimson Tide history. But don’t tell Saban that. He likes to keep his expectations to himself.