Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Alabama Crimson Tide [Print without images]

Friday, May 17, 2013
Revisiting UA's No. 1 recruiting class

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Not every tree sprouts overnight. Some roots take time to grab hold.

Alabama signed a total 26 prospects in 2012, and not everyone made an impact right away. Some didn't make it at all, as Eddie Williams, Tyler Hayes and Travell Dixon flamed out. Still, UA saw plenty of return on its investment, as two signees made the SEC All-Freshman team. Here's how we see the rest of the class shaping up.

Top of the class

CB Deion Belue: The juco transfer wasn't always consistent last season, but there's a reason Belue won the starting job right away. And after a year of growing pains, it looks like he's ready to truly take off, playing with a new confidence.

Amari Cooper
Wide receiver Amari Cooper burst onto the college football scene as a freshman who provided highlight-reel plays for the Tide.
WR Amari Cooper: He wasn't just one of the best freshmen in the country. Cooper was also one of the best receivers in the SEC. He finished the year with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, surpassing rookie records set by Julio Jones.

LB Denzel Devall: The Louisiana native didn't get the hype of his fellow defensive signees, but he may have out-performed all of them. He finished with the season with 18 tackles and two sacks as a reserve and could see increased reps as a sophomore.

RB Kenyan Drake: Don't say Drake is "on the cusp" because he wasn't first or second on the depth chart. Despite being the third running back, he got plenty of work, rushing for 285 yards and four touchdowns. At 6.7 yards per carry, he was the most explosive back on the roster.

CB Geno Smith: He took time to come along, but when he did he proved himself capable. Smith vaulted all the way to starting nickelback late in the year and put himself in the hunt for the starting job this season.

RB T.J. Yeldon: You couldn't have asked for more from Yeldon, who was an equal to starting tailback Eddie Lacy. The former four-star prospect ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and will be the feature back now that Lacy is gone.

On the cusp

WR Chris Black: He didn't play at all last season, but Black is expected to be a contributor in 2013. Had it not been for a season-ending injury, he might have been the rookie receiver setting records, not Cooper.

S Landon Collins: The former five-star prospect and No. 1 safety in his class was brought along slowly this past season, working primarily on special teams. And with starter Robert Lester gone, Collins has an opportunity to earn significant reps.

CB Cyrus Jones: Six months ago Jones' name was prefaced with "wide receiver," but after a position change he's now on the defensive side of the ball where he thrived during the spring.

NG Darren Lake: He's raw, but he's talented. The transition from a small high school to the Division-I level takes time, and every day Lake is closer to fulfilling the promise scouts saw in him in high school.

Reggie Ragland
Rising sophomore LB Reggie Ragland made an impression on special teams in 2012, and looks to do so on defense in 2013.
LB Reggie Ragland: Ragland didn't play much last season. Rather he learned from the likes of Nico Johnson, who is now gone. And in his absence, Ragland has the chance to see the field a lot in 2013.

Waiting their turn

LB Ryan Anderson and Dillon Lee: Their stint in the doghouse is over after being sent packing from the national championship game for missing curfew, Saban says they've learned their lesson and will have the opportunity to see the field in certain packages this season.

DL Dakota Ball and Dalvin Tomlinson: Alabama needs more athletic pass-rushers on the line, and Ball and Tomlinson have the right traits to lend a hand. Tomlinson in particular has drawn rave reviews and could be a part of the starting rotation at defensive end.

OL Brandon Greene: He's still a year or so off, but when starters Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen graduate, Greene will have his opportunity. For now, he provides valuable depth to the Tide.

K Adam Griffith: The big-legged kicker from Georgia didn't have his name called at all last season. But with short-range specialist Jeremy Shelley gone, it's safe to say Griffith will have a shot to make an impression this fall.

TE/H Kurt Freitag: There wasn't much of a need for Freitag on the field, so the staff went the route of redshirting the versatile prospect last season. Now that tight end Michael Williams is gone and the depth chart loosened up, he could see time late in games at H-back.

DL Korren Kirven: Much in the same way that Greene must wait, so shall Kirven. Alabama likes to rotate in seven or even eight defensive linemen, so he could have his name called with a solid pre-season camp.

QB Alec Morris: The strong-armed Texan has made an impression this spring, prompting many to wonder whether the formerly under-the-radar prospect could be AJ McCarron's heir apparent at quarterback.

OL Alphonse Taylor: Transitioning form nose guard on defense to offensive guard was a process that required a redshirt season, and after a year of learning the position Taylor is making progress. He's always had the look of a Chance Warmack. Now he needs to play like one.