Alabama is nowhere to be found in the 2018 recruiting class rankings.
This time last year, Alabama had the No. 2 recruiting class, and it was on top by signing day. This year, the Tide have two total commitments and are outside the top 25 of ESPN’s recruiting class rankings for the first time since 2009.
Before this year, the lowest ranking Alabama had this late in the spring was No. 11 in 2016. At the time, that was Alabama's only class ranked outside the top 10.
Should Alabama fans be worried? Not yet, but there are some things to be concerned about.
For recruits, Alabama is one of a few schools that can afford to lose an assistant coach every now and then as long as head coach Nick Saban is still around. Saban carries so much weight with recruits that they are rarely impacted by an assistant coaching change here or there.
But there have been quite a few recent, high-profile changes on the Tide staff. Offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are both gone. Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, one of the staff’s best recruiters, is now at Oregon, and wide receivers coach Billy Napier is at Arizona State.
Although the recruits trust Saban’s ability to build a new staff, the recruiting process is predicated on relationships built over a long period of time. ESPN 300 athlete Joshua Moore said that staff changes mean starting over.
“Some people might have had close relationships with some of the coaches that got let go and changed jobs,” Moore said. “If you’re planning on committing to a school, you wouldn’t want to commit to school when the whole coaching staff is new. You hardly have any time to get to know the guys, and I think recruits want to get to know those coaches and make the right decision.”
That is one part of why Alabama has so few commits compared to some of the other schools near the top of the rankings. Alabama tends to recruit the higher-ranked, more-sought-after prospects, who usually wait longer to make their commitments, but having only two commitments at this point is not the normal, especially compared to 2018’s top classes.
Miami has 17 total commitments, Ohio State has 10, LSU has 16 and Penn State has 13. At this time last year, Alabama had nine total commitments, and it had eight in 2016 and 16 in 2015.
Typically, one year of down recruiting wouldn’t be too much cause for concern. But at Alabama, where the Tide have not finished with a recruiting class ranked lower than No. 2 since 2009, any departure from that level seems jarring.
Furthermore, the enormous success of Saban and his recruiters is having a negative effect on some prospects in this class. Having landed 76 ESPN 300 prospects over the past four recruiting classes, Alabama has built up a tremendous amount of elite depth across the team.
That depth has former five-star prospects such as Da’Shawn Hand waiting longer than expected for starting jobs. Most prospects say they don’t shy away from competition, but at some point, it can be daunting, considering that they have only four to five years to make their mark.
The Tide recently lost a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Dameon Pierce, who had started to visit other programs. Pierce, ranked No. 100 overall, had been committed since last July, but he mentioned that Alabama’s depth was part of his decision to explore other options. Pierce would arrive on campus with two former five-stars and two former top-35 recruits fighting for carries.
“When you go to college, you want to have an equal opportunity to play,” Pierce said. “Of course there’s going to be competition everywhere, but sometimes too much competition can be overwhelming.”
It’s crazy to think that one school could have stockpiled so much talent that elite recruits have second thoughts. That isn't to say depth will impact every recruit, but it is something prospects are taking into consideration.
While these factors are cause for concern right now, there are still plenty of top-ranked prospects considering Alabama. As odd as it sounds right now, this class could end up as one of the country’s best if things go as planned for the Tide.
ESPN 300 defensive back Jalyn Armour-Davis is one of those recruits still considering Alabama, and he knows it’s a long way to national signing day.
“I think they’re going to finish strong, like they usually do,” Armour-Davis said. “I could see why people might be a little shocked with schools like Miami and Penn State getting recruits early, but who’s to say those prospects will stay committed? If I’m an Alabama fan, I wouldn’t be worried.”