College football recruiting isn’t just about piling up 5-star recruits, pointing them toward the field and sizing them up for championship rings. If that were the case, Texas would win every year.

On the contrary, the trick in recruiting is completely ignoring the “star rankings” and deciding which players project to mature from 17-year-old man-children into championship-caliber athletes. In other words, exactly what Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide do year after year.

Don’t misunderstand: Alabama still piles up 5-stars. Consider those players 1st-round draft picks that are virtually can’t-miss talents. But where Saban and his small army of recruiting analysts stand out from the rest of college football is in taking the more moldable football clay and forming that into beautiful sculptures.

That’s what 3-star athletes are … moldable clay. And Saban practically has enough sculptures on his mantle to open a museum. Here are Alabama’s top 10 3-star recruits in the Saban Era:

10. Anthony Steen, 2009 recruiting class

As part of a 26-player class that ranked No. 3 in 2009, Steen was considered a tad short at 6-3 and thus awarded just 3 stars. He would mature into a 2 1/2 years in Tuscaloosa — playing on the 2011 and 2012 national title teams and being named as a 2nd-team All-SEC pick as a senior in 2013. Steen went on to make the NFL as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals, but would not make his formal NFL debut until 2016 with the Dolphins.

9. Chance Warmack, 2009

An inch shorter than Steen, the Tide’s bookend guard from the 2009 class played 5 games as a true freshman before replacing All-American Mike Johnson at left guard in 2010. Warmack played on 3 national title teams (2009, 2011, 2012) before being drafted by the Titans with the No. 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Warmack played for Tennessee from 2013-16, then with the Eagles for 2017-18, and signed with the Seahawks in 2020 before opting out due to COVID-19 precautions.

8. Bradley Bozeman, 2013

The third 3-star guard that blossomed into a Tide big-timer, Bozeman came from tiny Roanoke, Ala., with far less accolades than classmates like Dee Liner and the late Altee Tenpenny. Bozeman started his final 2 seasons at Alabama and was a 2017 Rimington Award finalist but didn’t earn an NFL Draft Combine invitation. Taken in the 6th round with the 215th overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens, Bozeman earned the starting left guard spot heading into 2019 and hasn’t looked back.

7. Josh Jacobs, 2016

Jacobs’ class included Jalen Hurts and fellow 3-star Irv Smith Jr., and he played well as a freshman behind Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough despite a broken ankle for much of the season. Jacobs earned MVP honors in the 2018 SEC Championship Game and was taken 24th overall by the Raiders in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jacobs was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team in 2019, and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020.

6. Will Reichard, 2019

Kickers don’t typically earn more than 3 stars, but it could be argued that Reichard should have all the stars. After an injury-shortened freshman season that caused Alabama to become the goal-post-hittingest team in college football history, Reichard returned fully healthy and didn’t miss in 2020. Literally. Reichard made all 14 field-goal attempts and all 84 point-after attempts in the 2020 national championship season.

5. J.K. Scott, 2014

Ditto with Scott, who was lured from Mullen High School in Denver to come punt for Alabama in 2014. A field-position machine, Scott was a consensus 1st-team All-SEC selection in 2014 and was chosen as an All-American by Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and USA Today. Scott’s ability at the college level was confirmed by the Packers, who took him in the 5th round with the 172nd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

4. Kareem Jackson, 2007

Originally from Macon, Ga., Jackson attended Fork Union Military Academy — where he converted from running back to defensive back. Brought in just weeks after Saban was hired in his inaugural class, Jackson started 12 of 13 games in 2007 and was an integral part of the 2009 national championship team before foregoing his senior season for the NFL. Taken by the Texans by the 20th overall pick in 2010, Jackson played 8 seasons in Houston (earning 2nd-team All-Pro honors in 2018) before moving to Denver in 2019.

3. Eddie Jackson, 2013

Another 3-star along with Bozeman in 2013, Jackson (pictured above) was a wiry athlete at Boyd Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale before Saban brought him in. Jackson switched from cornerback to safety in 2015 and blossomed into a superstar. Jackson was named the Defensive MVP of the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, but broke his leg halfway through the 2016 season. Taken in the 4th round with the 112th overall pick by the Bears in 2017, Jackson was named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019, a 1st-team All-Pro in 2018, and one of the 100 Greatest Bears Of All Time.

2. Terrence Cody, 2008

One of the more beloved Crimson Tide players of Saban’s early years, Cody was a roly-poly 3-star junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College. Cody pushed 400 pounds before coming to Tuscaloosa but left it as a 2-time consensus All-American and the undisputed anchor of the Tide’s 2008 and 2009 defenses. Cody is one of the few football players to win a championship at Junior College, NCAA Division I College and in the NFL, having been taken 57th overall by the Ravens in 2010 and anchoring Baltimore’s defensive line en route to winning the Super Bowl in 2012.

1. Mac Jones, 2017

The legend of Michael McCorkle Jones has been well-chronicled here and beyond, but it began as a tack-on player in a class that included 5-stars like Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris and Jerry Jeudy. Jones waited his turn behind Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts before earning his first starts in 2019 due to Tagovailoa injuries, but shined in 2020 en route to a 13-0 record, the Tide’s 18th national championship and finishing 3rd in the Heisman Trophy voting.