With national signing day nearly upon us, we’re going back one year and taking a look at each SEC team’s 2016 signing class.
Who were perceived as the most important players then, and did they actually pan out? Was the class as good or bad as we thought a year ago? And what should we expect from each overall class moving forward? We now turn our attention to the signees who entered the fold at Alabama a year ago.
Player who made the biggest instant impact: When you become the first true freshman quarterback in more than 30 years to lead your team to a national championship game, you know you’re doing something right. Such was the case with Jalen Hurts, the athletic, stoic son of a high school football coach from Texas. He threw for 23 touchdowns, scored 13 times on the ground and helped Alabama to a 14-0 record before ultimately falling in the title game to Clemson.
Most pleasant surprise: Jonah Williams was one of those blue-chip recruits who fans and coaches expected to play all along. But no one could have seen his freshman season coming. The former Folsom High (Folsom, California) player started from Day 1 at right tackle and never looked back, landing on the staff's Players of the Week list on a routine basis. He was an easy SEC All-Freshman selection and actually played better on a more consistent basis than left tackle Cam Robinson, whom many expect to go in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft.
Player to watch for in 2017: Mack Wilson showed up on the tape every now and then in 2016, but when he did there was no mistaking it. The way he delivered big hits on opposing return men was eerily reminiscent of fellow linebacker Reuben Foster's early days at Alabama (see: Foster’s annihilation of LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Wilson’s destruction of Texas A&M’s Speedy Noil). And the hope for Tide fans is that he’s following that same path. Wilson, like Foster, had to bide his time and make a name for himself on special teams as a true freshman, playing sparingly on defense. But now that Foster is on his way to the NFL, Wilson could take that closing speed to inside linebacker where he can chase running backs instead of return specialists.
Position where the class will make the biggest difference: Though there is a lot to like about the offensive linemen in this class, linebacker could be the position where we see the most impact players. You already read about Wilson, but in fact he wasn’t the highest rated linebacker in Alabama’s signing class. That honor belonged to Ben Davis, ESPN’s No. 1-rated inside linebacker. If not for an injury, he might not have redshirted last season. And, again, with Foster gone, he could have an opportunity to play this coming season.
One year later: Nick Saban has to be pleased with this group, especially on offense. In Hurts and Williams, he has the cornerstones for the program’s future in place. And that’s not counting running backs Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons, who played well as true freshman, or Miller Forristall, who seemed to show enough to indicate that he might be ready to take over for O.J. Howard at tight end. Even Trevon Diggs, who had some growing pains as a return man, provided plenty of spark on special teams and at receiver.