Saturday, May 25, 2024

Bryce Young, Amari Cooper lead ‘All-Nick Saban Team,’ highlighting legendary coach’s best players at Alabama

Nick Saban leaves Alabama, and college football, as arguably its greatest coach. The seven-time champion deserves plenty of credit for building Alabama and LSU into championship programs, but his unbelievably talented players deserve plenty, too. 

Who were the best at each position? It’s hard to say. Over Saban’s 17 years at Alabama, 26 players have been named unanimous All-Americans. Four were Heisman Trophy winners and three others won the Bednarik Award for Defensive Player of the Year. Whittling the list to 11 starters on each side of the ball leaves out national champions, potential Hall of Famers and first-round draft picks. That’s the bar to stand out on a Saban team. 

Technically, Saban has four stops as a coach, with previous stints at Michigan State, Toledo and LSU. Marcus Spears and Chad Lavalais deserve plenty of credit, but Saban’s 17-year run at Alabama produced an unbeatable treasure trove of talent. A second team of players left off this list might still be better than any other coach’s first team. 

Here is the full “All-Nick Saban Team” as the iconic coach hangs up his whistle for the final time. 


QB: Bryce Young
The only Alabama quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy and the only No. 1 pick of the Saban era is the obvious choice. Young started just two seasons but ranks No. 2 on the all-time Alabama passing list with two of the top five passing seasons. He threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns during his Heisman campaign and dragged a flawed Tide team to Saban’s final national championship game. 

RB: Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram

A number of amazing running backs came through the Alabama program under Saban, but it takes a Heisman Trophy to crack this list. Ingram became the first Alabama player to win a Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,678 yards and 20 touchdowns for Saban’s first title team in 2009. Henry was arguably even better, rushing for nearly 3,600 yards and 42 touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry for his career while winning the 2015 championship. Both players went on to put together fantastic NFL careers after their time in Tuscaloosa was done. 

WR: DeVonta Smith, Amari Cooper

The wide receivers left off this list would all rank among the best in the history of any other program, including Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy and longtime NFL star Julio Jones. But ultimately, the players who made the cut rank No. 1 and 2 in all-time receiving yards at Alabama. Smith became the first wide receiver in 20 years to win the Heisman Trophy after clearing 1,800 yards during a pandemic-shortened season. Cooper caught 228 passes for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns in just three seasons of work to elevate the level of Alabama’s receiver room.  

TE: O.J. Howard

Howard wasn’t a superstar but put up solid stats over a four-year career. His biggest moment was a 208-yard, two-touchdowns performance in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship to win Offensive MVP. 

OL: Andre Smith, Cam Robinson, Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, Ryan Kelly

Plenty of great linemen have come through the program, but Saban’s early work may never be topped. Jones has a case as the greatest collegiate offensive lineman ever, earning consensus All-America honors twice and winning all of the Outland, Wuerffel, Campbell and Rimington Trophies. Tackles Robinson and Smith also won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in America. Warmack added a pair of All-SEC selections inside. At center, Kelly gets the slight edge on fellow Rimington Award winner Landon Dickerson because of longevity. 


DL: Jonathan Allen, Quinnen Williams, Daron Payne

Allen’s 2016 season ranks among the greatest ever by a defensive lineman as he took home nearly every national award. He is a no-brainer after posting 28 sacks in a legendary career. Williams came next and cleared 19.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore before heading to the NFL. Payne edges out A’Shawn Robinson after putting together two of his finest performances in the College Football Playoff to key a 2017 national championship. In some ways, Alabama’s struggle to find these massive, disruptive bodies over the last three years has been their downfall. 

LB: Will Anderson, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster, Rolando McClain

These are four guys I would never want to see charging at me. Anderson stands apart as the best defensive player of the Saban era after winning the Nagurski Trophy twice in three years on campus. Mosley recorded more tackles at Alabama than any other player since 1986, while Foster has a top-10 tackle season all time for the Tide. McClain posted 200 tackles and 26.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus Award as a junior. 

DB: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Patrick Surtain, Landon Collins, Mark Barron

Saban is a defensive backs coach by trade, and it showed with the embarrassment of riches at the position over the past 15 years. Fitzpatrick was probably the best of the group, playing at both corner and safety to completely ruin opposing game plans. Surtain is the newcomer to the group after leading Alabama’s defense to the 2020 national championship. Collins was a hard-hitting safety who terrorized college football, while Barron was one of the first great defenders for a Saban national championship team. 

Specialists: K Will Reichard, P JK Scott, AP Javier Arenas

Fittingly, all three of these players rank among the best at their respective positions over the past 15 years of college football. Reichard was a menace, hitting 99.3% of his extra points and 84% of his kicks in his career despite consistently attempting bombs. Scott cleared 47 yards per punt as a sophomore and started all four years for the Tide. Arenas was a solid defensive back but left Alabama as the all-time leader in both punt and kick return yards with nearly 4,000 combined and seven punt return scores. 

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