Alabama Football: Defensive roster weaknesses and failures defined 2019 season

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama football success is driven by more than the roster’s elite players.

Most of the attention paid to the Alabama football roster is garnered by the Tide’s elite players. Every season the Crimson Tide has many of the nation’s elite players.  But no team in college football fields first-teams, filled only with elite players.

The passions of college football fans are driven by tales of gridiron heroics. The most vivid memories are of great, game-changing plays, made by great players. The reality is games are most frequently won or lost by more than a few plays. Football demands team performance more than individual excellence. In basketball, Michael Jordan and Kobie Bryant were so good, they willed supporting casts to championship success. Football is different. Weak links make elite teammates vulnerable to failure.

Saying most important in a roster are not ‘the top five, but the next twenty’ is perhaps too narrow. An old saying is team success is driven not by a roster’s top 25, but its next 25. Whatever set of numbers is chosen, the point is games are won by teams, not individual stars.

Between two teams with comparable talent, the team making the fewest mistakes prevails more often than the team that makes a few great plays. Instead of elite players rising above their competition, it is each player doing their job that allows elite players to make great plays.

No one can argue LSU was loaded with talent last season. Talent matters. It just receives disproportionate attention. Consider some examples from National Championship rosters. Nick Saban’s 2003 LSU National Champions had one consensus All-American and zero players earning one of the 23, post-season national awards. The same was true for Florida in 2006 and Ohio State in 2014. In 2016, Clemson had one player win a post-season, national award and zero, consensus All-Americans.

Even among teams with highly talented rosters, some seasons are shaped by extreme events. The 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide fell short of CFB Playoff aspirations after injuries to Dylan Moses and Tua Tagovailoa. But weakness in the Alabama football roster was another contributing factor.

In 2019, the Alabama football roster was mostly players from the 2016-2019 signing classes. In those four classes, the Alabama Crimson Tide added 22, Top 100 defenders. The results from the four classes explain why Nick Saban’s recruiting has evolved.

Of those 22, ‘elite’ recruits, only three, Xavier McKinney, Raekwon Davis and Shyheim Carter were significant contributors in 2019. Mack Wilson was in the NFL.  Dylan Moses, LaBryan Ray, Terrell Lewis and Jaylen Armour-Davis were injured or not fully healthy. Three more, Antonio Alfano, Eyabi Anoma and Van Darius Cowan, never played for the Tide or transferred after one season. Nigel Knott, Scooby Carter and Markail Benton eventually transferred, never making a contribution. So far, four others have been disappointments; Ben Davis, Jarez Parks, Stephon Wynn and Ishmael Sopsher. One more, Shane Lee tried hard to fill a linebacking void as a true freshman.

Alabama football fans like to believe full season health for Tua and Dylan Moses would have meant a 2019 Championship. Both were or would have been in the Top 5 players on the Crimson Tide roster. More likely, last season’s disappointment came from roster failures in the next 20 or 45 other players.

The return of a healthy Dylan Moses and LaBryan Ray automatically improves the 2020 Crimson Tide defensive roster. More help will be needed, possibly including some of these summer-arrival players.

Next. Tide No. 1 over 3, 5 and 10 seasons.. dark

All the signing class data in this post cams from the 247Sports Composite. The 2020 signing class had seven Top 100 defenders.