The Crimson Tide will have to replace two starters in ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan, who is bypassing his senior season for the draft.
Similar to the offensive line, the Tide is expected to bring in six defensive linemen Wednesday on National Signing Day. Also like the offensive linemen, the collection is filled with potential early contributors.
Five-star defensive end Da’Shawn Hand headlines this group. The Woodbridge, Va., prospect surprised many when he picked the Crimson Tide over Michigan and Florida, as he was long considered a Michigan lean. Hand is the nation’s top strongside defensive end and the No. 5 overall prospect, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.
“They don’t lie to you. They tell you how it is,” Hand said during his televised commitment ceremony. “I know when I go in, I’m not going to be No. 1 on the depth chart. They had the most freshmen playing this year, so anything is possible.”
Regarding the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hand, 247Sports national recruiting director JC Shurburtt said he is “physically ready to play.” Hand could provide an immediate upgrade to the Tide’s pass rush.
From the junior college ranks comes Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway. Both are ranked among the top 15 junior college players for this cycles. Reed and Pettway were teammates at East Mississippi Community College, where they won a junior college national championship this past season.
EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said both players are ready to contribute and both should “bring an amount of physicality to the defensive front.”
Reed finished his season at EMCC with 66 tackles and 3.5 sacks. At 6-4 and 320 pounds, he is the nation’s No. 2 ranked junior college defensive tackle, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The 247Composite rankings put Pettway as the No. 3 junior college strongside defensive end prospect. He is a versatile player who can play defensive end and linebacker with a specialty in rushing the passer. Pettway had 47 tackles, including 11.5 sacks last season and was named a junior college All-American.
In his first stint with Alabama, he saw time in 12 games as a redshirt freshman. He had seven tackles, including three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The Tide missed on one of its top targets in nose tackle Matt Elam, who chose home-state Kentucky over Alabama. But Shurburtt feels there may be a better fit already in this class in Josh Frazier, a four-star prospect from Springdale, Ark. At 6-3, 335 pounds, he is the No. 6 defensive tackle, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.
Elam is considered to be a work-in-progress, and Shurburtt said Frazier will make a bigger impact early in their careers.
“Frazier is a guy that’s closer to being ready to play than Elam,” Shurburtt said. “Elam has all of the upside in the world and by Year Two at Kentucky, you think they’ll be able to get a lot out of him. But Frazier is much more polished. Frazier was dominant at the Under Armour All-American game. Nobody could block him.”
At 6-2, 303 pounds, Johnny Dwight has the versatility to play against the run as a 3-4 defensive end or play inside in a 4-3 defense. Dwight, who is from Rochelle, Ga., is a three-star prospect, according to 247Sports Composite rankings.
As of Tuesday night, it is uncertain whether the sixth defensive linemen commitment, O.J. Smith, will sign with the Tide today, according to multiple reports. At 6-2, 320 pounds, Smith is a three-star prospect from Bossier City, La. Smith has been committed to Alabama since May 2013, but his status with the Tide became unclear after a conversation with Tide assistant coach Billy Napier, according to multiple reports.
Alabama has shown it isn’t opposed to playing talented freshmen along the defensive line as A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen played significant snaps as freshmen this past season.
Shurburtt said defensive line is a place where a team can never have too much depth.
“Overall adding these guys is big because they’re all somewhat college ready,” Shurburtt said. “That just increases the depth. In the SEC, one of the greatest advantages you can have is quality depth on the defensive line. Alabama definitely added to that with some guys who can come in and play right away and with a few guys that can help them down the road.”