The Saban Top 100: No. 26-30

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season
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26] Terrence Cody, DT

  • 2008 Consensus All-American; 2009 Consensus All-American
  • 2008-09 All-SEC
  • Selected in the second round of the 2010 Draft
  • The junior-college transfer was credited with 51 tackles over two seasons, including 10.5 for a loss
  • His two career blocked field goals came in the 2009 rivalry game against Tennessee, known as “Rocky Block”

The Crimson Tide had won the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in early December and the accolades were coming fast and furious.

Running back Mark Ingram Jr. landed the first Heisman Trophy in program history and gave one of its most passionate acceptance speeches. The Dick Butkus Award went to middle linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart won the Broyles Award for assistant coach of the year.

But in the middle of that hardware storm Alabama made history in a way that was overlooked by some, yet fully reflective of the team’s success during the epic 13th national title run. On December 15, six players were named first-team All-Americans by the Associated Press, which was not only a school record but more than any team since 1964 when the AP started selecting both an offensive and defensive team.

“You aren’t going to have six guys make first-team All-American unless your team is playing at a high level week in and week out,” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “It’s a credit to our entire team and our coaching staff.”

Joining Arenas were Ingram, McClain, guard Mike Johnson, nose guard Terrance Cody and kicker Leigh Tiffin – who were subsequently together on the cover of Alabama’s bowl media guide above the caption: “The Gold Standard of College Football.”

Alabama also had a third-team selection, Mark Barron, who led the SEC in interceptions with seven during his first season as a starting safety.

It was the second straight year the massive Cody was a consensus pick.

“I think when you’ve got a guy like him up front it changes everything for everybody, for the opponents, you’ve got to go to different things, and for us, it makes it a little bit easier for us,” Arenas said about the player dubbed “Mt.” Cody. “You know, just him being there week in and week out, you kind of get used to it and you kind of get used to everybody else adjusting instead of trying to run up the middle and shove it down your throat. So it’s good to have him up there. I don't know what it would be like without him, honestly.”

Similar sentiments could be said about any of the All-Americans as each played a pivotal role in his own way. From Cody blocking the last-second field-goal attempt against Tennessee, his second of the game, to Arenas finishing second in NCAA history in career punt-return yards, they did their part.

27] Calvin Ridley, WR

  • 2017 All-SEC
  • First-round pick 2018 NFL Draft
  • Set Alabama freshman records with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards
  • Finished second in Alabama history for receptions with 224 and receiving touchdowns (19) while ranking third in receiving yards with 2,781
  • Totaled eight career 100-yard receiving games to tie for third in the Alabama record books
  • Caught at least one pass in all 44 games of his Alabama career to rank third among active receivers in the FBS in 2017

There’s a simple honesty about wide receiver Calvin Ridley that was both unusual and refreshing, and something one doesn’t see very often in college football these days.

Ask him who the best blocker was among the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers in 2016 and he wouldn’t hesitate in saying “ArDarius Stewart.”

When talking about teammate Tony Brown, he’d readily admit that if they raced, he’d lose: “Tony’s faster.”

While that might surprise some, Ridley pointed out that Brown was an All-American for the Crimson Tide men’s track team, while he quit the sport at a pretty young age because “practice was too hard” considering his level of interest.

“I just love football,” Ridley said. “I didn’t have the passion for [track] that much to go out there and kill myself every day. The sun I didn’t really like that much.”

Yes, he’s from Florida. Plus he also conceded that when he and Brown joked around off the field, it’s the other guy who was coming up with the most laughs.

“Tony’s funny,” he says.

If you aren’t scratching your head yet remember that Ridley played wide receiver, perceived by many to be the most attention-demanding position in football nowadays, at least in terms of selfishness. From sideline antics to diva personalities, especially at the NFL level, it’s often associated with lack of maturity.

But that wasn’t Ridley, who during his second year of eligibility was already 21 years old, and turned 22 during the 2016 season in December. He was actually almost a month older than then-senior tight end O.J. Howard.

"Calvin Ridley, he's one of those guys that we talk about mature competitors, young guys, he showed that last year and was very, very productive,” Nick Saban said. “Made great improvement throughout the season and ended up having great production. Made a lot of big plays. He's a hard guy to cover. He's gotten a little bigger and stronger and he certainly has big-play potential.”

That’s actually an understatement. Despite not being a starter at the beginning of the 2015 season, Ridley ended up taking Robert Foster’s spot after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at Ole Miss. Before long, things started to click with quarterback Jake Coker and he had touchdown receptions of 50 and 45 yards during his breakout game at Georgia.

Ridley ended up setting Alabama’s single-season record for receiving yards by a freshman with 1,045, topping Amari Cooper’s 1,000 in 2012. His 89 catches set both an Alabama and Southeastern Conference freshman record, topped nationally only Antonio Brown’s 102 at Central Michigan in 2007.

Not surprisingly, Ridley was selected to the Sporting News and SEC All-Freshman teams, and named second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press.

"Playmaker,” Howard said was the term that best described Ridley. “He's a guy who's a team player who does a great job for us, even when he doesn't have the ball. He plays well without the ball, which makes him a great team player.”

Saban would concur, noting that the first offensive snap against Texas A&M in 2016 was a good example of how Ridley had become more of a complete player.

“He's going cross-field blocking point on Damien Harris' run and you'd say this guy was shot out of a cannon, trying to get over there and block somebody,” the coach said. “He's actually doing the things that he needs to do to help the team try to be successful.

"I think he's having a great year.”

If games like the season opener against Southern California, when Alabama split time between its quarterbacks, and Ridley only had two receptions for 9 yards, were frustrating he didn’t show it or say anything (publicly or in the locker room). That he simply praised Alabama’s 52-6 victory and simply went back to work was definitely noticed by teammates.

“For him to show that and continue to come out and work kind of reminds me of Amari Cooper – just works in silent and just does a really good job,” offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said about former Crimson Tide player who was known for his impressive work ethic.

Plus his other traits were impressive as well. Like he was a good blocker. Ridley was also fast, very fast.

And yes, he’s funny.

“He’s just goofy,” Pierschbacher said).

28] Javier Arenas, DB/RS

  • 2008 All-American; 2009 Consensus All-American
  • 2009 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year; 2009 All-SEC CB/RS
  • Second-round selection in 2010 NFL Draft
  • Set SEC record for career punt returns for touchdowns (seven)
  • His 1,752 career punt return yards was nine yards shy of the NCAA record
  • Holds the school records for punt-return yards and kick-return yards (2,166)
  • Team captain

Five things to know about Javier Arenas:

- Raised in Tampa, Fla., Arenas was a highly regarded defensive back and returner, but went almost completely unnoticed in recruiting due to his 5-9 size. Outside of Mike Shula and Alabama, his next best scholarship offer was from Florida Atlantic.

- From 2006-09, Arenas played in 52 games and scored eight touchdowns on returns — seven punts, one interception — to finish one shy of the NCAA record set by Notre Dame’s Allen Rossum (1994-97).

- He returned 125 punts for 1,752 yards, second in NCAA history behind Texas Tech’s Wes Welker (2000-3). Combined with his 90 career kick returns for 2,166 yards (24.1 avg.), Arenas was the only college football player to ever amass over 1,500 punt return yards and 2,000 kickoff return yards during his career.

- As a cornerback, Arenas notched 154 tackles, including 17.5 for a loss and seven sacks, and six interceptions. He was named a consensus All-American as a cornerback, not as a return specialist.

- Arenas was on the May 23, 2011 cover of “Sports Illustrated” as part of a feature story by Lars Anderson about the Tuscaloosa tornado.

An excerpt:

"You couldn't have made a tornado that big even in the movies," says Arenas, standing in front of what remains of his house 10 days after the tornado, the putrid smell of dead animal and rotten food heavy in the air. "Afterward everyone was walking around like zombies. It's hard. I'm trying to get my head together. It's going to take time."

A day after the tornado struck, Arenas drove 11 hours to his home in Kansas City, wanting to leave the destruction and heartache behind. But he couldn't. So he steered his 2008 black Denali to a Sam's Club, purchased $1,600 worth of necessities—bottled water, baby food, toothpaste—and returned the next day to Tuscaloosa. He tweeted that he would be giving away his supplies outside of a mall on McFarland Boulevard, and within minutes, hundreds of homeless tornado victims surrounded his SUV.

"I never realized that as a former Alabama football player, I can bring a smile to someone's face just by hugging them," says Arenas. "That's why I've been going to see the National Guard guys. I'm just trying to brighten their days."

29] Reggie Ragland, LB

  • 2015 Unanimous All-American
  • 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2015 All-SEC
  • Second-round selection in 2016 NFL Draft
  • Notched 95 tackles his only year as a starter, to go with 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a team-high three fumble recoveries
  • Had after a career-high 13 tackles against LSU
  • Team captain

Let there be no doubt, years from now when people look back at the 2015 Alabama football team they should say that it was Reggie Ragland’s defense.

In addition to improving his overall game, it’s what he came back for this final year; that and to try and win another ring.

But even though there were scores of talented players on the Crimson Tide roster, and other senior starters on the defense, he’s the guy everyone looked to.

“Everybody really counts on him," linebacker Dillon Lee said.

Ragland was the primary one to relay the play calls and responsible for the pre-snap adjustments among the front seven. He led that group in tackles and was one of the few guys remaining who could say that he contributed to crushing Notre Dame in the 2012 title game.

Even the offensive players recognize his status.

“He’s a great guy,” wide receiver Chris Black said. “He’s definitely a role model for all the younger guys on the team. He sets a great example for the team, on and off the field.”

When Nick Saban had to choose who would represent the Crimson Tide during SEC Media Days in July, two of his selections were fairly easy: Ragland and third-year starting center Ryan Kelly. Both embraced that role because they just didn’t represent the team that day but became spokesmen for the offense and defense.

What Reggie said during that hot July afternoon was definitely heard by his teammates. For example:

“Guys aren’t scared to play us anymore. Guys come in very happy, excited to play us. I used to see teams break down in the first half and just give up playing, so we've got to get that back.

“We have to get that back.”

Ragland was referring to how Alabama was fourth nationally in rushing defense, sixth in scoring defense, No. 12 in total defense, and 30th in pass-efficiency defense in 2014, which on face value was pretty good. However it wasn’t by the Crimson Tide’s high standards, especially since Alabama was minus-two in turnover ratio (turnovers gained minus turnovers lost) and 41st in third-down defense, its worst showing in that statistical category since Saban’s first season at the Capstone, 2007.

“Third down is all about will and want-to,” Ragland said. “It's all about effort. You just can't get to the quarterback just by going through somebody like that. You have to want to get to the quarterback. You have to do the necessary things.”

He also mentioned that some of his teammates had “talked the talk, but didn’t walk to walk” when it came to paying attention to detail and putting the team before themselves during the 2014 season. He wasn’t necessarily calling anyone out, but sending notice that he was taking ownership of the defense and had the highest expectations.

That’s being the leader of the defense from a player standpoint. There’s no doubt about who really guided the Crimson Tide.

“I felt in the past we had the guys, but it’s all about work ethic; a guy’s got to want to,” Ragland explained. “When you’re facing teams like that you have to want to. I think this year we have guys who want to do it. It’s all about everyone having the right mindset and I think we’re going to get the job done. You’ve got to run to the ball. You’ve got to want to do something.

“You don’t want to go to school, your mom is going to make you go to school, turn the light on. So you’ve got to want to go to school so your mom doesn’t get on your tail. And that’s how it is. That’s how Coach Saban is. We’ve got to do it. You don’t want him on your tail, you’ve got to want to do it, and after a while and we do it Coach Saban backs off.”

Wait, so Saban is like the Crimson Tide’s mom?

“I wouldn’t say that,” Ragland said with a laugh. “Coach Saban is the ruler.”

Ragland’s comfort in challenging his teammates on a regular basis spoke volumes to how far he had come as a player. Recruited out of Ben Jones High School in Madison, Ala., he was considered a prize in-state prospect, yet seemed pretty content with his reserve role on the team during his first couple of years.

Granted, he was behind some pretty good interior linebackers like C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson. However, Ragland started to question if he could really play at this level.

That changed when he moved into the starting lineup and gave the defense a strong physical presence it hadn’t really enjoyed since Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower were helping win national championships.

Ragland finished second on the Crimson Tide with 95 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks, which made him a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. As a senior, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

“He practices hard, he plays hard, it’s important to Reggie,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “Reggie wants to please you as a coach. He wants to lead the group as a unit. So he’s gotten more confident this year. He’ll talk to the freshmen. He’ll talk to [freshman Reuben Foster]. He’s making more calls. Maybe he’s really a natural leader, but now he has the experience and confidence and accolades to be that guy we need him to be — that bell-cow guy.”

So when Reggie said something or heaped praise on this teammates it really carried weight, like how the defensive line was looking so good during the spring that he was getting frustrated by how they frequently beat him to the ball carrier. He called Foster a “monster” (in a good way) and freshman defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne a “man-child” before he even took a regular season snap.

“I think one of the things that sometimes gets overlooked is when guys don't play the same position when they come here as what they played in high school, it takes them a little bit more time to develop,” Saban said. “Reggie was more of an outside backer/defensive end type guy in high school and moved to inside backer. Each year he's gotten better and better, and now he's one of the most effective players or ranks up there with the most effective players we've ever had here.

“He's certainly taking a responsibility to be more assertive and be more of a leader, which I think is really, really important to the team's success.”

30] Jedrick Wills Jr., T

  • 2019 All-American
  • All-SEC
  • 10th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft
  • Graded out at over 91 percent for the Crimson Tide in 2019 while protecting left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blind side. He allowed one sack and 3.5 quarterback hurries while missing only seven assignments in 771 snaps for a success rate of 99.0 percent

They talked about it once, and that was the only time it was mentioned.

At least officially.

When it comes to the 2019 season, the Alabama football team had numerous goals, many of which don’t need to be mentioned. They included winning another Southeastern Conference title, making the College Football Playoff for the sixth straight year and capturing the national championship.

However, an additional one for the offensive line was to win the Joe Moore Award. The Crimson Tide had the first ever given out in 2015, all 350 pounds of it, making it easily the heaviest non-team trophy in collegiate sports.

This group wanted another and for Alabama to be the first repeat winner of the most outstanding offensive line honor.

“You always want to be the best, but after last season we kind of feel that we fell off,” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “It’s a big motivator for us.”

Although Alabama lost a four-year starter and a unanimous All-American at left tackle, it made a valiant effort. Not only did the unit have size, talent and a chip on their collective shoulders, but depth.

Willis and Alex Leatherwood, who stepped in at left tackle, were the anchors on the ends.

The former led the team with 50 knockdown blocks and allowed just one hit on the quarterback in 2018. Meanwhile, in order to get in the field as a sophomore, Leatherwood played away from his natural position at right guard and ended up voted second-team All-SEC by league coaches.

As for the interior spots, the Crimson Tide had so many options during fall camp that one seldom saw the same combination lining up together on consecutive days.

Winning the jobs were, from left to right, massive true freshman Evan Neal (6-7, 360 pounds), redshirt junior Landon Dickerson (6-6, 308), and redshirt junior Deonte Brown (6-4, 338).

It may have been the biggest line in Crimson Tide history.

“It’s crazy,” Wills said. “It’s like we have a great wall. It’s amazing.”

It’s not just that the players were tall, thick and could move well, but the unit had some big-time personalities as well.

While Leatherwood described Wills as “Mr. Personality” (and Wills said Brown was in that club as well), off the field the players were as different as their home states of Alabama Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina.

“We have a pretty diverse group of people,” Leatherwood said. “You have the super-serious [casual], you have the goofy cats. You’ve got the group that mixed with everyone. You have the mutes. You have all of them.”

Leatherwood described it as a “super-cohesive” group, but not clicky, to which Wills agreed — even though he said his fellow tackle liked Japanese anime cartoons

“Weird,” Wills said with a laugh. 


The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season, with the top players unveiled one a day as BamaCentral's 25 Days of Christmas celebration. 

The series thus far:

Introduction

31-35: Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, Marlon Humphrey, Rashad Evans, A'Shawn Robinson

36-40: Rashaan Evans, Dre Kirkpatrick, Marcell Dareus, Eddie Jackson, O.J. Howard

41-45: Courtney Upshaw, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Henry Ruggs III, Jarran Reed, Xavier McKinney

46-50: Dalvin Tomlinson, Antoine Caldwell, Kareem Jackson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Trevon Diggs

51-55: Mike Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, Ronnie Harrison, Damien Harris, JK Scott

56-60: Ross Pierschbacher, Eddie Lacy, Bradley Bozeman, Ryan Anderson, Glen Coffee

61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake

66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr,, Tim Williams

71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler

76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker

81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille