When you’ve coached as many as Nick Saban (this was his 25th season as head coach), won as many games (165), national championships (7) and conference titles (10), and pumped as many guys into the NFL Draft (33 players in the first round and counting), guess what? You have your own star team!
Since Saban won his record seventh national title on Monday night, we’ve scrolled through statistics, flipped through films and pestered sports news directors to identify the greatest college football player in every position invoked by St. Nicholas, the patron saint of malignantly swollen frontal blood vessels. This team’s roster is so ridiculously talented that the team of those who weren’t on the first team can still be better than any coach.
So, who’s there? Read on to learn more about the ESPN.com All-Saban Team. The Gonoreans will receive a trophy in the form of an upside-down sun hat filled with Little Debbie oatmeal.
Error! The file name is not specified. Nick Saban has coached many great QBs, but Tua Tagovailoa leads the way. AP Photo/David Goldman
QB – Tua Tagovailoa
Perhaps the most exciting player in the last 25 years to not win the Heisman Trophy. The Miami Dolphin is now an eponymous superstar like Madonna, Beyonce and Macklemore. Those who follow recruiting and the Crimson Tide closely have known the boy since his high school years in Honolulu. The rest of the world got to know him when he stepped off the bench to throw the best pass in college football postseason history, an EO dagger against Georgia in qualifying for the 2017 college football championship. And who did he throw the pig’s head at?
WR – DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Amari Cooper
He threw it to another rookie, Smith, who we all now know is the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner. If you’re looking for the position that best exemplifies Saban’s genius, this is the group. The coach who once passionately defended rules that would derail the offensive spread of the virus is now the CEO of Wideout Incorporated. Just look at the receivers who didn’t make the top 3, a list that includes Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III from Alabama, not to mention Josh Reed and Michael Clayton from LSU and even Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and Muhsin Muhammad from Saban State, Michigan from 1995 to 1999. You were told these list reductions would be unpleasant.
RB – Derrick Henry
Speaking of unpleasant cuts, we have another Heisman winner in the backfield. Henry won the Strong Man title in 2015, and the 2009 winner was Mark Ingram II. Why? Have you ever seen them side by side? It’s like Ant-Man before and after you push a giant button.
TE – O.J. Howard
Howard doesn’t have perfect stats, at least not in the regular season, but his national championship performance against Clemson in 2016 and ’17 (314 yards, 3 TD) are still scaring the South Carolina boys.
OT – Andre Smith, Alex Leatherwood
OG – Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones
C – Ryan Kelly
The NFL trenches are like the Big and Tall Clothes Warehouse in Alabama, with apparently every professional team, including former lineman Saban O. But this quintet of human mountains spans the entire 14-year Saban tenure in Tuscaloosa, starting with Smith, who led the team in 2007-08, and ending with Leatherwood, who covers the blind side behind this year’s record-setting offense. Collectively, this group has three Outland trophies, four Jacobs Blocking trophies, and they were all first-timers for the All-Americans. Heck, Jones has been an All-American twice and played two different positions! And if our all-Saban team bus ever finds itself in a ditch or snow bank, these five can pull the bus out with their bare hands.
Error! The file name is not specified. Jonathan Allen, from Alabama, was the star of the Crimson Tide team that won the 2016 CFP National Championship. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
D-Line – Jonathan Allen, Quinnen Williams, Marcus Spears
Allen would have made this list if he had only made one match in his career, an airbag of Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight in 2016. It was so amazing to see that Knight asked Allen to sign his picture at this year’s College Football Awards. It was just one of his 28.5 career sacks, second only to Derrick Thomas on Alabama’s all-time list. Allen’s understudy was Q, and Williams, like Allen, won a number of awards and was awarded a number of QBs. The only LSU player on our All-SEC team is Spears, the captain of Saban’s first national team in 2003. Plus, I work with Spears and he knows where I live, so I figured it was best not to have him on the list.
LB – CJ Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Rolando McClain, Reuben Foster
If you’re wondering why we chose a three-man defensive front, it’s to make room for all the linebackers. This room is busier than Saban’s ring box. Mosley made 319 tackles in four seasons, the best for a Bama LB since the mid-1980s. In four years, Hightower made 21 tackles for loss and was a team captain twice. McClain scored 14.5 points in one season for the loss and was on the Dean’s List twice. And Foster… Well, ask Leonard Fournette about Reuben Foster. On the 7th. In November 2015, Foster made 11 tackles, limited the LSU race to 35 yards and ended his Heisman campaign.
BC – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Dr. Kirkpatrick
Now we come to the poor souls of the defensive backs of all of Saban. Nobody catches more heat or hell than these guys. Every day they had to face all these future NFL receivers in practice, all under the burning magnifying glass of Saban, who in his day not only played at Kent State, but was also a DB station coach for a dozen years, from West Virginia to the Houston Oilers. But for that very reason, the Patricks – Fitz and Kirk – will always have a special place in Saban’s heart. Kirkpatrick’s crown jewel will forever be his nine assists against LSU in the 2011 BCS National Championship game. Fitzpatrick’s stated goal was to lead the NCAA in interceptions, but he failed to accomplish that. Why? Because he had so many pick-sixes (four, a career record in Alabama), opponents almost completely stopped throwing in his direction.
S – Mark Barron, Landon Collins
Both guys were put in leadership positions once the Americans who preceded them went to the NFL. Both men answered the call and became All-Americans, not to mention team captains and national champions. Like the coach who gave his name to our team, they are tough, smart, dominant and, yes, a little scary.
Error! The file name is not specified. J.K. Scott won two national championships for Saban, Alabama. Joe Robbins/Getty Images
PK – Paul Edinger
Finally the Spartan is on the list! During his five years at Michigan, Saban coached a handful of All-Americans, but his first big goalie was Edinger, who set a record of 22 goals on the field in 1998.
P – JK Scott
In the middle of Saban’s first season in East Lansing, the big baby right leg was born in Denver, 1200 miles away. His name was J.K. Scott and 20 years later he was an integral part of two national championship teams in Tuscaloosa as a double All-SEC, once All-American and now All-Saban.
KR – Javier Arenas
These two great shoes are thankful they weren’t eliminated from our All-Western team finals. To be fair, Arenas was recruited by Mike Shula, but it was under Saban that he became a legend. He set an SEC record for TD returns (7) and finished just 9 yards from the NCAA career mark for returns (damn Wes Welker!). He is still the only player in the history of college football to return more than 2,000 yards from kickoff and more than 1,500 yards from kickoff. He also had 154 tackles, six INTs and seven sacks to be named All-American as a cornerback, so yes, we managed to sneak another great defense into our All-Saban team through that loophole. Smart guy, huh? Just like Saban himself. Call it part of our process.
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