The Saban 250: No. 111-120 Includes Crimson Tide Player Known as 'Nudie'

BamaCentral marks the end of the Nick Saban coaching era with the definitive rankings of his top 250 players with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Nov 26, 2011; Auburn, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jalston Fowler (45) pushes Auburn Tigers linebacker Jawara White (38) out of the way and scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  The Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 42-14.
Nov 26, 2011; Auburn, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jalston Fowler (45) pushes Auburn Tigers linebacker Jawara White (38) out of the way and scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 42-14. / John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you know the story, and the football player, it was one of those situations in which one could only resolve that he should be called whatever he wanted.

Yes, former University of Alabama player Jalston Fowler was known as "Nudie." It became common knowledge during a Nick Saban press conference when the coach casually referred to his fullback that way, and everyone in the room perked up all at once as if to say, "Excuse me, what?"

Fowler was listed as 6 foot 1, 246 pounds, but was thicker than thick. If he hit you, especially while carrying the ball, he wasn't just trying to move you, but go through you.

“Ooooh, yeah. It’s like tackling a moving train," cornerback Dee Milliner described.

Fowler loved everything about the position, including scoring the occasional touchdown on a catch or carry. When Alabama would put Fowler and running back Eddie Lacy in the backfield together, everyone knew the Crimson Tide was bringing the locomotives from the backfield. Good luck trying to derail them.

“I love blocking. I've been doing it all my life, ever since I was a little kid. So it's nothing major for me. Been knockin' helmets off.”

Jalston Fowler

As for the nickname, it originated with his father. If Fowler had it his way, "Nudie" would have been the name on the back of his jersey.

"When I was a baby, my dad said he used to walk around and say, 'This my Nudie baby. Can't nobody have him. This my Nudie baby,'" the Alabama running back said. "He'd say that all the time.

"Everybody asks me about that, and I tell them the same story."

The Saban 250: 111-120

The Saban 250 ranks the players who made the biggest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007-23).

111. Cyrus Jones, DB/RS, 2012-15

• Second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft
• Went from playing wide receiver as a freshman to cornerback as a sophomore. Started 11 games that season
• Had 46 tackles and three interceptions in 2014, and 37 tackles and two interceptions as a senior
• Jones was the Defensive MVP of the 2015 Cotton Bowl, and returned a punt for a touchdown in the victory.
• Is the only player in Crimson Tide history to record two punt returns for a touchdown in one game, against Charleston Southern in 2015.
• His four punt returns for touchdowns in a single season set an Alabama record.
• Made 106 career tackles, including 7.5 for a loss and one sack.

112. Tyler Booker, G, 2022-23*

• 2023 second-team All-SEC
• Was named a Freshman All-American by Pro Football Focus after playing in 12 games at both guard spots and starting the Sugar Bowl at left guard in 2022. Booker took 420 snaps and had 30 knockdown blocks with one sack yielded, three pressures and one quarterback hit allowed
• Made 12 starts as a sophomore and was credited with 41 knockdown blocks to average a team-high 3.4 per game in 2023. Yielded only 2.5 total sacks and 4.5 pressures on 676 snaps, while missing just three assignments

113. Marquis Maze, WR, 2008-11

• 2011 second-team All-SEC
• During his four seasons in Tuscaloosa, tallied 136 catches for 1,844 yards, and eight touchdowns
• Returned 56 punts for 711 yards (12.7 average) and one touchdown, plus had 21 kick returns for 550 yards (26.2)
• During 2010 regular-season game against Florida, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams.
• Had 253 all-purpose yards against Nick Saban’s alma mater Ken State in the 2011 season opener

114. Anthony Averett, DB, 2015-17

• Fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft
• Moved into starting role at cornerback during junior year. Had a team-leading eight pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles
• As a senior had 48 tackles, including four for a loss, and tied for second on the team with eight pass breakups.
• Finished with 98 career tackles, including seven for a loss and two sacks. Had one interception

115. Jalston Fowler, FB, 2011-14

• Fourth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft
• Team captain
• Finished career with 738 rushing yards and 150 receiving, with 12 touchdowns

116. Kevin Norwood, WR, 2010-13

• Fourth-round selection in in the 2014 NFL Draft
• Team captain
• As a senior had 568 yards and seven touchdowns
• Finished his career with 81 receptions for 1,275 yards and 12 touchdowns

117. Jalyn Armour-Davis, CB, 2019-21

• 2021 second-team All-SEC
• Fourth-round selection in 2022 NFL Draft
• Finished career with 36 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes defended, but part of that was due to suffering a knee injury before freshman season and then being part of a deep, talented secondary.
• Earned starting role in 2021 and tied for the team lead with three interceptions despite missing two games. Nearly all of his stats were from that season

118. Ed Stinson, DE, 2011-13

• 2013 second-team All-SEC
• Fifth-round selection in 2014 NFL Draft
• Two-year starter who played in 48 games
• Had 101 career tackles, including 15.5 for a loss

119. Tyler Steen, T, 2022

• 2022 second-team All-SEC
• Third-round selection in 2023 NFL Draft
• Transferred from Vanderbilt as a graduate student and made 13 starts at left tackle.
• Was credited with 25 knockdown blocks

120. Deionte Thompson, S, 2016-18

• 2017 second-team All-SEC
• 2018 consensus All-American
• Fifth-round selection in 2019 NFL Draft
• During final season had a team-high four fumbles forced to tie for second all-time at Alabama. Also had 79 tackles, including a team-high 48 solo stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, two interceptions and a fumble recovery
• Made 112 career tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, and three interceptions

A Longer Look at Cyrus Jones

The key to understanding Cyrus Jones as a football player was to first examine the massive chip on his shoulder.

You know, the one that loomed as big as Bryant-Denny Stadium. It’s had essentially always been there, even with he was at Gilman High School in Maryland, and Jones used it as motivation during every step of his career.

Tell him he can’t do something, tell him he’s too small to compete effectively at that level and then watch him prove you wrong. He did it over and over again, including with the Crimson Tide.

"He feels like he's overlooked sometimes,” said teammate Geno Matias-Smith after Jones wasn’t named to the preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award for best defensive back. “But he's definitely not overlooked by us."

Once you get that part down, putting Smith’s success into perspective is pretty easy, as it made him not only a standout cornerback but the leader of the Alabama secondary. It also made him understand that true respect doesn’t come from an awards committee or even his coaches during practices.

“You can't really expect to get praise for doing well,” he learned. That's pretty much expected. If you take pride in your performance you shouldn't need someone to kind of validate what you're doing. You know if you're doing well or if you're doing poorly. It's all about taking the right steps to keep doing that, being consistent or to step your game up.

“The [coaches] really don't have to praise me for what I'm doing. I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do.”

Go back to the beginning of his collegiate career and it’s easy to see how that perspective developed, plus Jones had already cleared a hurdle in high school when naysayers claimed he was too small to considered a prize prospect.

Aided by the chip he beat out other freshmen for playing time and participated in 11 games during the 2012 season. As a wide receiver Jones caught four passes for 51 yards and returned 10 kicks for 250 yards and eight punts for 61 yards.

After winning the national championship Alabama’s growing hole at cornerback was glaring, so coaches asked him to make the switch to the defensive side. He had played the position in high school but the transition wasn’t easy, and Jones wouldn’t have the benefit of having a year to learn his new position.

During Alabama’s second game of the 2013 season, he was thrown into the fire, which in this case was an accurate description considering the brutal heat and the even hotter Texas A&M passing combination of Johnny Manziel to Mike Evans. Jones was inserted off the bench and then he and cornerback Deion Belue swapped spots to try and slow the Aggies down.

Alabama won 49-42, but gave up a program record 628 total yards, while Manziel and Evans set Aggies records with 464 passing yards and 279 receiving.

“I grew up a lot that day, let's just put it that way,” Jones said. “It was just a great game, back and forth. That was my first time really being out there in that type of atmosphere. It was definitely a learning experience.”

The chip grew bigger even though Jones had reacted to Manziel’s overthrow of a fade into the end zone for a crucial interception. Nick Saban called it a “Huge play” after saying that Evans “had his way with our corners pretty much all day.”

Fast-forward to the start of the 2014 season and this time the wide receiver torching the secondary was West Virginia’s Kevin White. He had seven receptions for 133 yards when Alabama’s coaches switched Jones on him even though he had almost exclusively been playing the other cornerback position since training camp opened.

“I knew what they were going to do,” said Jones, who broke up the up the next attempt to the tall receiver and finally nullified the threat. From that point on White only had two receptions, one for 7 yards and the other for 3, with Jones making the tackle both times.

“He had a really good camp and really matured as a player, much more confident this year than a year ago – and has played really well,” Saban said after the 33-23 victory, while singling out Jones out as the player who had improved the most over the previous year. “I think he has a good understanding, and is a smart guy, has the poise to adjust.”

Jones ended up with 46 tackles, three interceptions, a team-high 13 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while establishing himself as Alabama’s most consistent cornerback. He was also named second-team All-SEC. Now here’s the really impressive part: He played the entire season with a torn hip labrum.

The injury had been diagnosed during the summer and required surgery that would normally take months of recovery. Instead of spending the entire fall on the sideline he opted to undergo the procedure in January.

"Right when I made the transition my sophomore year I was trying to feel my way around, like I was playing unconfident, still not sure what I was supposed to be doing as far as the defense goes," Jones said. "It definitely hindered me as far as being able to just go out there and play fast and with confidence.

"If you don't have confidence playing corner, you just can't do it. It's impossible. Now I know what I can do, and I know my abilities, and I know the defense. Now it's just up to me to just go out there and play and prove everyone wrong who has something bad to say about it."

He did just that. With Alabama benefitting with the emergence of redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey, true freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, plus Eddie Jackson’s successful transition to safety, the secondary developed into a real strength.

Aided by an outstanding front seven, Alabama made 12 interceptions in its first eight games and returned four for touchdowns. Jones had only one pickoff, with four passes broken up, as opposing offenses opted not to throw in his direction very often.

That’s the ultimate compliment for a cornerback, and far better than anything anyone might have said at the time. The real measure of how far Jones had come as a player came when anyone imagined where Alabama would have been without him in the secondary.

“I just think we have to be hungry at all times,” Jones said about his focus. “I think we’re going to be one of the most well-prepared teams and secondary in the country week-in and week-out. I just think as long as we get our personal attitude under control and knowing what we’re going out there to do, coming out there with that chip on our shoulder, I think the sky is the limit for us.”


Jones Update: In May 2019, Jones was rushed to the hospital after being short of breath during a workout and diagnosed with a blood clot. Roughly six months later he underwent surgery to repair an artery that developed on the wrong side of his heart. He did attempt an NFL comeback but never signed with another team after

Cyrus Jones celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown.
Dec 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Cyrus Jones (5) celebrates with teammates after returning a punt for a touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans in the third quarter in the 2015 CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. / Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

See Also: No. 121-130 Includes the Most Unique Crimson Tide Player on This Side of the World

Next up: No. 101-110


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Christopher Walsh

CHRISTOPHER WALSH

Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.