Alabama has had a plethora of talented players come through the program in the Nick Saban era. Players who had been top high school recruits and who then went on to have success in the NFL.

Saban believes that “one of the most important” players to play for him was wide receiver Julio Jones.

The Crimson Tide had gone 7-6 in their first year under Saban in 2007. Jones joined the team the next year and helped get the program back on track, as it went 12-2. It hasn’t won fewer than 10 games in a season since.

During his Wednesday press conference, Saban stressed the importance of Jones and the 2008 recruiting class to that sustained success.

“They all came here when we weren’t any good. We were just coming off a 6-6 season or something like that,” Saban told the media. “So they came here and they believed and trusted in what we were trying to do to create a program, and they came here to prove something.”

Saban also named Mark Barron and Dont’a Hightower among the other key players from that time. But Jones may have been on a different level.

“There’s nobody that we’ve had that was a better leader or did more to enhance the culture of toughness, giving effort, finishing plays, being a great competitor than Julio Jones did,” Saban said. “I mean, he used to run down on kickoffs and wouldn’t come off the kickoff team during the games, and he’s one of the best receivers in the nation.

“So from a culture standpoint, from an impact standpoint in the early years, there were a lot of guys that made a great impact, but Julio was one that probably led the way as much as anyone.”

Over his 3 seasons at Alabama, Jones played in 40 games and had 179 receptions for 2,653 yards and 17 total touchdowns.

Jones has gone on to have a successful NFL career. He was a 7-time Pro Bowler and 2-time All-Pro selection over his first 10 years with the Atlanta Falcons, and now he’s on the Tennessee Titans heading into the 2021 season.