The Alabama Crimson Tide have dominated early this season thanks to a talented roster. Head coach Nick Saban had to replace 12 players from last year’s team that were drafted in the NFL. That includes eight just from the defense. From seniors to freshmen, Saban demands excellence from returners and those replacing those lost to graduation or the NFL. So far this season, there have been six Alabama impact freshmen. These six freshmen are creating an immediate impact for Alabama this season with their performance and role.
Six Alabama Impact Freshmen
All six of these players are either in a specific role or generating on special teams. Some of these players are not only becoming stars for the future but are currently making a key impacts. This shows the incredible recruiting and teaching from Saban and his staff. These players may just be freshman, but have found playing time as the Tide continue to blow out opponents. And that’s how the Tide will get another batch of NFL Draft picks ready for prime time against tougher SEC opposition.
Wide Receiver Jaylen Waddle
It’s no secret that Alabama has an incredible set of receivers. They’re currently the 11th best passing offense in the nation (335.8 passing yards per game). The top wideouts are sophomores DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III. The biggest surprise of this unit comes in the form of the young, electrifying, and incredibly fast Jaylen Waddle. He first came on to the national spotlight with a three reception, 66-yard performance against the Louisville Cardinals in the opening weekend. Since then, Waddle generated a consistent burst of receptions and yards. Last week, Waddle accounted for three receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Waddle also returned a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown.
So far this season, Waddle has accounted for 11 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns and a punt return touchdown in five games. He is listed as a backup but is used consistently in multiple sets and formations on the Tide’s high-power offense. Waddle was the fifth rated wide receiver and 39th ranked overall player by 247Sports in the 2018 recruiting class. Athlon Sports rated Waddle as the Tide’s third rated recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. Waddle has now joined the ranks of Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley in their freshman year with Alabama. Watch for Waddle to create more of an impact for the Crimson Tide as the season continues along against more aggressive defenses.
Cornerback Patrick Surtain II
The Crimson Tide’s defense had to adjust with eight new starters, which came with growing pains. This includes all four of the defensive backs. Many of the new starters or role players hit some rough strides but have made the Tide defense efficient. One of the most surprising impact coverage players is cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who is a true freshman. Surtain has been one of the most consistent man coverage players for the Tide’s defense that ranks 36th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (190.8). Surtain’s level of impact is certainly surprising if you see how well he is performing as compared to Saivion Smith and Shyheim Carter. So far this season, Surtain has accounted for nine total tackles, seven solo tackles, four pass deflections, and an interception.
Surtain is listed as the second string cornerback on the depth chart but he is the first corner on deck. In a multiple receiver set from the opposing offense, Surtain is the deep coverage player on the outside. Surtain and Trevon Diggs are the Tide’s main deep route outside corners. Surtain was the sixth overall rated player and top overall corner in the recruiting class of 2018. Athlon Sports ranked Surtain as the second rated prospect for the Crimson Tide in the 2018 recruiting class. Surtain could be a starter in the near future for the Tide if he maintains his level of play. Regardless, his impact on the Tide’s defense has been a huge upside for an inexperienced defensive back squad.
Usually, Saban will have older, more experienced players on special teams. Cornerback Josh Jobe, Linebacker Jaylen Moody, and Linebacker Ale Kaho are all playing early for the Tide defense. Jobe, Moody, and Kaho, though, have no problem contributing early as backups on defense and making an impact on special teams. So far this season, Jobe has accounted for six total tackles (five solo tackles) in just three games played. He was the seventh rated prospect acquired by Alabama according to Athlon Sports. Moody has played in five games where he has accounted one solo in special teams.
Kaho is a player that came to the Crimson Tide late in the off season due to academic issues with the University of Washington. Kaho was a four-star inside linebacker in Seattle when he was declared academically ineligible going into his freshman season. Washington granted Kaho permission to transfer from the school on August 6th. Two days later, Kaho came to Alabama. Kaho is currently listed as the second string weak-side linebacker behind Dylan Moses. As Kaho continues to gain more experience in the playbook, he will certainly fit into the system more at Alabama and play more often.
Outside Linebacker Eyabi Anoma
It is uncommon for Saban to play a younger and inexperienced linebacker, but Eyabi Anoma is showing his worth. Anoma is making strides on the field despite being listed at the third string outside linebacker position. Anoma accounted for six total tackles (four solo) and two tackles for loss on defense so far this season. 247Sports ranked Anoma as the fourth-rated prospect overall in the 2018 recruiting class. Athlon Sports rated Anoma as the top overall prospect for Alabama this year. His incredible size, strength, and speed will be a huge force for the Crimson Tide defense in the future. Playing this early gets Anoma great experience as the two players listed above him are seniors. Watch for him to insert into more aggressive formations to get to the quarterback more often.
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