Alabama finished with the No. 1 recruiting class back in 2016. The group saw players such as Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs and Jonah Williams make an immediate impact. Who will emerge from that 2016 class this season?
1. Quinnen Williams (#92)
Where He Can Help: Williams came to Tuscaloosa weighing somewhere between 265-270 pounds. A lot like current starting DE Da’Shawn Hand, Williams needed to gain more strength and mass to better hold up in the SEC. A year later, Williams looks a lot more ready to make an impact along the defensive line.
The 6’4 285-pound redshirt freshman from Birmingham, Ala., can win in a variety of ways. Coming out of Wenonah, Williams needed development with his hand usage. His motor has never been questioned, however. He has a fairly strong anchor for a player his size, and he consistently showed the ability to hold up against the run in high school.
It remains to be seen if that kind of impact versus the run will continue for him, but he has the ability to win the leverage game consistently. Fans should not expect a Dalvin Tomlinson/A’Shawn Robinson type of impact against the run from Williams, but he shouldn’t be a liability if he earns reps on early downs in 2017.
The main area where Williams is going to be able to contribute this season is against the pass. Williams has a nice burst off the snap that allows him to quickly engage opposing offensive linemen. When you combine this with his motor and determination, you have a player who can create havoc getting after the quarterback.
It remains to be seen what level of impact Williams will have this season, but don’t be surprised if he is a situational pass-rusher who collects anywhere from 4-6 sacks in a limited role.
2. Ben Davis (#1)
Where He Can Help: At this point, most Alabama fans know that Ben Davis is the son of former Alabama star LB Wayne Davis — who is still Alabama’s leader in career tackles. If you don’t anymore about Ben than that, then you are making a mistake.
A lot of people forget that Davis was a top 10 player in last year’s recruiting class. The former 5-star LB from Gordo, Ala., can end up making a significant impact for the Crimson Tide in a variety of ways this season. He was recently moved from inside linebacker — where he took a majority of his snaps on scout team last year — to outside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme.
Here’s what coach Nick Saban had to say about the position change:
“We just felt like Ben, athletically, might have a better chance to contribute there and he’s done a nice job.”
It’ll be interesting to see how he continues his transition, but let’s not forget the type of athlete that Alabama has in Davis. At 6’4 235 pounds, he is a little light for the position — Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson both played at 250+ pounds last season — but that doesn’t mean that he won’t hold up. Davis is the type of guy who can be a valuable asset because of his versatility.
Saban has already said that Davis will continue to see snaps as a nickel linebacker. The more spots that Davis can contribute, the better off both he and the rest of the defense will be.
3. Scott Lashley (#76)
Where He Can Help: Adding Lashley to this list was a difficult decision. As of right now, there is a lot of competition going on at right tackle. The question will be can Lashley emerge and beat out the other candidates?
As of right now, redshirt sophomore Matt Womack is taking the starting reps at right tackle.
“I thought he had a really good offseason,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “His body is starting to develop, starting to show a lot of maturity, balance and body control, better conditioning, better ability to sustain more mental toughness, better idea of what he’s supposed to do. Grasp of the offense, which allows him to play with more confidence. So, we’ve been really pleased with him.”
That’s great news for the offense, but it’s not good for Lashley and the two newcomers Alex Leatherwood and Elliott Baker. Lashley is a former 4-star prospect for West Point, MS. He’s shown above average athleticism since arriving on campus last summer. At 6-7 310 pounds, he also has the size you look for in a starting offensive tackle in the SEC.
Still, Saban and the rest of the coaching staff is going to put the five best offensive linemen out there. If Lashley gives the Tide the best chance to protect Jalen Hurts and create holes in the run game, then he will play. If not, then he won’t. It’s that simple.