Recruiting: Measuring 'Bama's Best Classes

Alabama is one of college football’s storied programs, with a deep and successful history. Big names on the coaching front have led to big-time wins, fueled by elite talent. This, of course, means the Crimson Tide has recruited well for decades. But in the Scout era, it has risen to another level. But which group is the best? We examine.

What’s the measure of a good recruiting class?

How about a great one?

Either way, Alabama has plenty of each in its history, even recent history under Nick Saban. The difference between his classes and those of Bear Bryant or Gene Stallings is that has tangibly measured each of the current head coach’s hauls in Tuscaloosa. The network dates back to 2002, five years before Saban was tabbed to lead the Crimson Tide. Not surprisingly, the national champion coach has landed some of the best classes in the history of the industry.

But how does one measure the best?

The first option, of course, is by the data. Scout uses a point system and formula to develop a tangible number for each class. The more points, the higher the program’s recruiting ranking. Take the current class, which is officially one week away from becoming official. It holds 11 of the Scout100, including a handful of five-star prospects to top the nation at 5,222 points.

Believe it or not, it’s the same number UA finished with in the 2014 cycle, when it landed a program record seven five-stars. Between 2008, Saban’s first full cycle, and the current one -- Alabama has finished no worse than seventh in the final tally including a trio of recruiting national titles. By the numbers, Alabama has been somewhere in the 4,100-5,222 range every year he’s had a full cycle to recruit. By those same numbers, 2014 and 2015 are his best ever.

The 2014 class featured star-power, depth and the most overused phrase in today’s recruiting coverage…”instant impact.” Leading the way was five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, who became Saban’s first full-time true freshman starting left tackle. He was America’s No. 2 prospect a year ago, followed by No. 4 Tony Brown, No. 9 Rashaan Evans and 12th-ranked DaShawn Hand. Each saw considerable playing time during their first seasons in Tuscaloosa. Fellow five-stars Dominick Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Bo Scarbrough are still waiting to make a bigger impact.

Robinson in action as a true freshman last fall

But beyond the elites, of course, are names that will become more prominent going forward. Four-stars Cam Sims, Laurence Jones and Josh Frazier, along with three-star Shaun Hamilton also saw the field. And what about some less heralded at the time? Perhaps just as big of an impact as the top 12 players in the country, JUCO transfers Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, as well as three-star JK Scott each made considerable plays during the 2014 season.

The class is Saban’s best, ever, based on the final tally.

The 2015 haul has the same amount of points, with plenty of stars at the top. While the casual fan sees five-star California quarterback Blake Barnett as the headliner, but he’s actually the fourth-highest ranked commitment in the final Scout release. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield is the highest, No. 9 overall, followed by fellow five-stars Daron Payne (No. 14), Calvin Ridley (27), Barnett (30) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (36).

UA has a staggering 16 four-stars on the list, too, bested only by the storied class of 2008, which had 17 blue chippers in addition to the five-star pulls (more on that class later). Among the noted names in the 2015 group just outside of five-star status, running back Damien Harris and interior offensive linemen Lester Cotton and Richie Petitbon have drawn rave reviews in their high school career. The steadiness of safety Deionte Thompson, who is already on campus, or the rise of top-five tight end Hale Hentges shouldn’t be undersold either.

Barnett’s success at the next level may determine how the 2015 class is remembered

But as one would suggest, it may be too early to compare the 2015 class to any of Alabama’s recent hauls. The numbers say it’s as good as 2014, which is also largely unproven, so maybe we need to consult a method used by brown-nosers and horn-tooters everywhere…the name game.

When looking at the top of some of Saban’s best classes, it’s simply gaudy. Crimson Tide mainstays and names like Ingram, Richardson, Lacy, McCarron, Jones, Warmack, Barron and so many others flood two groups.

Scout took a look at the best classes ever and it was even tough for them to separate Alabama’s back-to-back hauls of 2008 and 2009. In the feature, only USC in 2003 compares, with its own stable of names including Bush, White, Smith, Khalil, Baker, David Booty and more. That Trojan haul sits in between UA’s two top groups.

2008 was Saban’s first full recruiting cycle, and he flexed his muscle at the top of the class. Five-stars Julio Jones and Mark Barron led the way by the rankings, but four-stars like Marcell Dareus, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower make it unforgettable. Not to mention supplemental players -- at the time –Mark Ingram and Terrence Cody.

The group, of course, helped Alabama to a trio of national titles and more than 60 wins. It helped the Crimson Tide become a dynasty again, especially once it combined with the following class.

Hightower is set to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday

Believe it or not, the name game may pit the 2009 class even higher on the scale, led by five-stars Trent Richardson, Nico Johnson, Dre Kirkpatrick and four-star names like D.J. Fluker, A.J. McCarron, Eddie Lacy, Kenny Bell and supplemental guys like Chance Warmack, Quinton Dial, Kevin Norwood, Ed Stinson and more.

McCarron led the Tide to two of the three titles, as did Richardson and Lacy after Ingram departed. Kirkpatrick, Fluker, Warmack and Richardson all ended up becoming first round NFL Draft picks while all of the listed names were on NFL rosters at some point in 2014. Best class ever? Not on paper, but certainly in the name game. Scary.

What could be even more terrifying, perhaps for others in the SEC, is that the numbers say that the Saban hauls of 2008-09 are just middle of the road by his standards. The jury is still out on the recent classes by this method, which means this conversation may change drastically in the next few years.

Check out every Alabama class ranking under Nick Saban in the table below, beginning with the class of 2007:

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