Alabama needs to replace several key players for the 2018 season.
Among those are WR Calvin Ridley and S Minkah Fitzpatrick, who have been considered faces of the program for the last couple of years but are leaving early for the NFL.
So, who are some guys who could step up and become the team’s well-known faces in 2018?
Honorable mentions: Jalen Hurts, Deionte Thompson, Najee Harris, Anfernee Jennings, Jerry Jeudy
Why they didn’t make the list: We can’t completely rule out Jalen Hurts starting at quarterback in ’18. But based off his performance in the national championship, Tua Tagovailoa should be considered the heavy favorite. Najee Harris would’ve made the list if it weren’t for the older Harris (Damien) choosing to return for his senior year.
Jeudy will be in a battle with DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III for Alabama’s top receiver spot. But he does bring a lot of talent to the table. Jennings and Thompson will be leaders of the defense, but a lot of what they do goes unnoticed or under-appreciated — making it hard to list them as strong candidates.
So, with that explanation out of the way, let’s take a look at the top five candidates to be the face of Alabama’s program this upcoming season.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback
There are two kinds of people out there right now: 1) those who believe this is an obvious pick; 2) those who believe it’s way too premature.
The views for both parties are valid, but Tagovailoa needs to be on this list. Sure, it’s possible that Hurts could find his way back into the starting quarterback role. It’s just not likely.
Nick Saban has known all along what he has in Tagovailoa. He isn’t just a standard prospect. He’s a generational talent. No, that isn’t an exaggeration, either.
The will-be sophomore doesn’t quite have the speed or arm strength of Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson yet. But he does have similar size — Tagovailoa is listed at 6-1, but that seems like a stretch. He also shows similar ability to move within the pocket and create outside of it.
The point is that he’s a special player, and he showed that against Georgia on Monday night. If he’s the starter in 2018, he’ll instantly become the most recognizable name and face for the Crimson Tide.
2. Damien Harris, running back
Harris’s return is huge for Alabama’s backfield. He’s the first running back to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since T.J. Yeldon did it in ’12 and ’13.
The older Harris was also a key source of big plays for the Tide’s offense. He finished with three rushes of 60-plus yards, which tied him at No. 7 in the country.
The most crucial part of having the senior from Berea, Ky., is his leadership. He brings a “team first” mentality to the locker room that plays a pivotal role in the squad’s overall chemistry.
3. Mack Wilson, linebacker
Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans were an underrated duo at inside linebacker this season. No, they weren’t on the level of Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower, but they complemented each other well.
Both players are now gone.
So, who is the most likely candidate to step up in their place? Sure, Dylan Moses had an impressive freshman season — and he should be a starter.
But how about the guy who led the team in tackles in the national championship game (12) and interceptions on the season (4)?
Wilson is a balanced linebacker who can do everything from covering tight ends and running backs to creating turnovers with jarring hits. He is the perfect candidate to step up to help lead a defense that is losing a lot of talent to the NFL.
4. Jonah Williams, offensive tackle
There’s no question that Jonah Williams was Alabama’s best offensive lineman in 2017. It also could be argued that he was the best in 2016 when he was a true freshman as well.
It’s rare for an offensive lineman to be considered one of the leading candidates to be the face of a football program, but Williams isn’t your typical blocker, either.
The only question that remains is whether he’ll stay at left tackle or make the move back to the right side where he excelled as a freshman. Considering Tagovailoa is left-handed, the move back to right tackle makes sense.
5. Raekwon Davis, defensive end
Whether it was A’Shawn Robinson in ’15, Jonathan Allen in ’16 or Da’Ron Payne this past season, Alabama usually has a defensive lineman step up and become a face of the program. It makes sense when you consider that the program has been built from the trenches out.
Now, there is the possibility that Isaiah Buggs could step up and become that guy following an excellent debut season for the Crimson Tide. My money is on Davis, however.
The upcoming junior is a freak physically — standing 6-7 and weighing 306 pounds. What’s more impressive than his sheer size is the production he brought to the table this season.
Davis was third on the team in tackles (69), second in tackles for loss (10) and first in sacks (8.5). That’s not a bad statline at all for an interior defensive lineman. Combine that with the fact that he’s a “first guy off the bus” type player, and you can see why he is a leading candidate to be a face of the program.
Source: Saturday Down South