Alabama head coach Nick Saban is one of the most successful coaches in college football history. When he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 to take over the Alabama Crimson Tide, it changed the NCAA landscape. After winning a national championship with LSU, Saban tried his hand in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. It didn’t work out, but it was to the gain of Alabama football.
Saban has won six national titles with the Tide and has made Alabama a staple in championship games and the college football playoff. He’s turned the Tide into a conveyor belt for first-round NFL Draft picks and made the careers of many coaches. However, he also owes a ton of his success to his incredible skills as a recruiter.
When National Signing Day rolls around, Alabama always has one of the top recruiting classes. Once again, the Tide topped the recruiting rankings over at 247sports for 2021, and it’s not the first time. Saban has racked up dozens of four-star and five-star high school football players at ‘Bama. He gets signees on a national level, from California to Florida to Texas, and then turns them into All-Americans and Heisman winners.
Sure, schools like Clemson, Ohio State and SEC rival Georgia threaten to knock Saban and Alabama off the recruiting throne. It hasn’t happened yet, though.
Below are the 10 highest-ranked recruits of the Nick Saban era, at least the ones who have taken the field so far for the Tide. Two 2021 recruits, offensive linemen JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer, are listed as top recruits according to 247sports, and if we had to guess someday they will be stars like so many Saban recruits.
10. Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson played running back at the same high school as Emmitt Smith, which definitely didn’t help the hype train. In college, the bruising back lived up to the hype, making the All-SEC freshman team in 2009 and becoming an All-American in 2011. Then, Richardson was taken third overall in the 2012 NFL Draft and turned into kind of a bust.
9. Patrick Surtain II
Surtain had a lot to live up to, given that his father was a Pro Bowl cornerback in the NFL. He was also the No. 1 cornerback in the 2018 class. He started locking dudes down as a freshman and was a unanimous All-American in 2020. Surtain has followed his dad into the NFL, getting drafted ninth overall by the Denver Broncos.
8. Da’Shawn Hand
Hand was considered pretty clearly the best defensive lineman in the recruiting class of 2014. After all, he was a two-time All-American in high school. He didn’t rack up a lot of sacks at Alabama but he still was a part of three SEC Championship teams. Hand chose Alabama over Michigan for college, but he ended up in Michigan anyway after the Detroit Lions made him a fourth-round pick in 2018.
7. Cam Robinson
Robinson became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Crimson Tide since Andre Smith in 2006 and never relinquished his spot on the offensive line. While he had a great college career, Robinson fell to the top of the second round in the NFL Draft. It may have been because of a run-in with the law in 2016, but he’s played in 47 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars so far.
6. Alex Leatherwood
Back-to-back offensive linemen. Leatherwood was the No. 4 overall recruit in 2017, and every coach with a brain was vying for his services. He had a ton of success in college, making the All-SEC first team twice and winning the Outland in his last year with the team. For the Tide, he was definitely a successful recruit. The NFL Draft analysts weren’t quite as high on Leatherwood, projecting him as a second-round pick. Then, the Las Vegas Raiders took him 17th overall in a classic Raiders move.
5. Najee Harris
So far on this list we’ve had two members of the 2017 class and one of the 2018 class already, if you’re wondering how the Tide won the title in 2020. Because of the running-back talent Bama has had, it took until 2019 for Harris to get the bulk of the carries. In 2020, he rushed for 1,466 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns. He won the Doak Walker, and then was a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
4. Eyabi Anoma
So far, every single one of these players has been a big success at the college level. Anoma is the first top recruit that didn’t pay off. The defensive lineman was the No. 1 defensive lineman recruit in 2018 but ended up transferring to Houston after being booted by Alabama. He couldn’t even find his footing there. In fact, Anoma doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page.
3. Julio Jones
Saban has recruited some fine wide receivers like Amari Cooper and Heisman winner Devonta Smith, but none was as vaunted as Jones. Jones was an incredible mix of size and athleticism, which is why he was the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2008 class coming out of Foley, Alabama. He’s been an even bigger force in the NFL since the Atlanta Falcons drafted him sixth overall. He’s made seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams and led the NFL in receiving yards twice. After making the 2010s All-Decade team with the Falcons, Jones was dealt to the Tennessee Titans.
2. Cyrus Kouandjio
Yes, of all the offensive linemen Saban has recruited, none was a bigger get than Kouandjio. He was considered the second-best recruit in the nation by 247sports, which is what happens when you are 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds coming out of high school. He actually first committed to Auburn but was a late switch, which surely went down well on The Plains. Kouandjio did start for two title teams and make an All-American squad, but his NFL career was a bust. He ended up in the CFL and retired in 2021.
1. Bryce Young
Think of all the quarterbacks that have played for Alabama under Saban like AJ McCarron, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Young was a higher-rated recruit than all of them. He’s the highest-rated quarterback recruit in the history of recruiting rankings at Bama, and he tied Kouandjio for the highest-rated recruit at the school. Young served as the backup for the Tide’s title-winning team in 2020 and is expected to be the starter in 2021. Can he live up to his high school reputation? We’re about to find out.