5 most important returning Alabama players in 2020
In addition to raking in the No. 2 overall recruiting class in 2020, Alabama is — as usual — poised to do big things in the short term.
Why? Because the 5 players below are returning for another go-round with the Crimson Tide.
They aren’t the only 5 returners, of course. Alabama has double-digit returners all over the field for the coming year.
But these 5? They will make a difference…
5. LB Josh McMillon
Along with Dylan Moses (see below), Josh McMillon was expected to anchor the middle of the Crimson Tide defense in 2019. Instead, he tore his ACL in fall camp and missed his entire senior season. It appeared his Alabama career was over, but McMillon applied for and was granted a hardship medical waiver, giving him a sixth year of eligibility, by the NCAA.
At 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds, McMillon has played in 18 career games, and was credited with 14 tackles, including 1 for a loss, in 2018.
4. OT Alex Leatherwood
Alex Leatherwood was a 1st-team All-SEC selection, and ranked No. 21 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board for the 2020 NFL Draft. But instead of grabbing the big bucks, Leatherwood — who made no secret of his desire to finish his education at Alabama — opted to return for his senior season.
Leatherwood moved to left tackle in 2019 after previously starting at right guard, where he earned 2nd-team All-SEC honors in 2018. The Pensacola, Fla., native has started 28 games for the Tide.
“This season did not go the way we planned,” Leatherwood wrote on his Twitter account, “but this is not the end for us. We have unfinished business to take care of. ROLL TIDE!”
3. LB Dylan Moses
The other half of the inside linebacker duo along with Joshua McMillon that was supposed to haunt Alabama opponents in 2019, Dylan Moses also went down with a knee injury before the regular season even started — leaving a gigantic hole that the Crimson Tide struggled to fill.
Moses announced on Instagram the day after the Citrus Bowl that “[a]fter much thought and prayer, my family and I have decided that the best decision is for me to return to Alabama and finish my college education.” Just 3 days later, also on Instagram, Moses released a statement attributed to his father and attorney Edward Moses, indicating his final decision wouldn’t be made until Jan. 20 and saying “We are aware that Mr. Moses has recently given an unadvised commitment to return to the University of Alabama. However, under the provisions of the trust, his majesty is not allowed to make unilateral decisions.”
Just a day later, on Twitter this time, Moses reiterated his desire to return to Alabama — releasing the same statement he sent out on Instagram and scrubbing the bizarre post about trusts and royalty. It said, in part “the 2020 season will be very personal to me, and I want nothing more than to finish my Alabama career in style. The program’s goal is to compete for championships and next year will be no different. Next season isn’t about draft stock or money — it’s about grinding with my brothers and winning another national title.”
As a true sophomore in 2018, Moses earned 2nd-team Walter Camp All-American honors at Alabama and was named 2nd-team All-SEC by the conference’s coaches. The 5-star 2017 signee was also a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
2. WR DeVonta Smith
Among the handful of potential 1st-round draftees in 2020, DeVonta Smith would have certainly been excused had he chosen the NFL instead of his senior year at Alabama. Instead, just hours after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa announced his decision to turn pro, Smith released a statement on Instagram affirming his desire to return in 2020.
“There’s a lot I have left to accomplish as a player and as a student, and I feel that my time is not up at Alabama,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “I have unfinished business to take care of and the only way to do that is to stay one more year.”
Smith led Alabama in both receiving yards (1,256) and receiving touchdowns (14), while ranking second behind NFL-bound Jerry Jeudy in receptions (77). He also set the Alabama single-game records for receptions (11), receiving yards (274) and receiving TDs (5) against Ole Miss.
Smith will certainly be the primary target for quarterback Mac Jones in 2020, though speedster Jaylen Waddle will offer the Tide passing game another deep threat.
1. RB Najee Harris
Sometimes, recruiting the proverbial hallway is just as important as recruiting nationwide.
Such was the case for coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian with Najee Harris, who had every right to capitalize on his 1,224-yard, 13-touchdown season in 2019 and turn it into NFL millions.
Instead, Harris opted to low-key decide to return to Alabama for his senior season. No social media postings. No seeming retractions from law firms/fathers. No hype or fuss. More or less just a nod and wink from Harris to Saban and Sarkisian that 2020 is a go.
Harris also caught 27 passes for 304 yards and 7 TDs in 2019, even though he wasn’t the Crimson Tide’s clear RB1 until a few games into the season. In his three-year tenure at Alabama, Harris has accounted for 2,377 rushing yards and 20 rushing TDs. And that has come after 2 seasons of getting reserve carries behind Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs.
Harris is just 1,214 yards behind former Tide RB Derrick Henry as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher. Henry finished his tenure at Alabama with 3,591 yards.