Oh special teams. At Alabama, they really are quite special. While the Tide has put forth a string of elite returners over the years, the kicking positions have routinely been a subject of much fan angst. Despite that, there have been some major bright spots, and we will still have to have some first team special teamers.
The rules for this voting process are fairly simple, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.
Go ahead and take your antacid, because we’re starting with the kickers.
Josh on Adam Griffith:
In my opinion, Adam Griffith is the most unfairly maligned player of the Saban era. Perhaps it was because he was considered the top kicker in his class, perhaps because he took over the starting job as the same time that the incomparable JK Scott took over the punting duties, or perhaps it was the Kick Six and Daniel Carlson’s emergence in Auburn, but for whatever reason Griffith never got a fair shake from Alabama fans.
Griffith suffered through a painful 2014 season with a stress fracture in his back, an injury that has to be excruciating for a kicker, but showed significant improvement over his last two campaigns. During his junior and senior seasons he made a respectable 73%, including 81% inside of 40 yards. He also performed well on kickoffs, putting better than half into the end zone and likely could have had more if not for Saban’s penchant for “sky kicks.”
Adam had some memorable moments, too. Remember this bomb just before the half against LSU?
That was a fantastic kick, but we all know when Adam truly writ his name in Crimson flame.
That last play is easily enough to cement this thing for Griffith. Do the right thing, folks.
Roger on Leigh Tiffin:
Leigh Tiffin, the Arkansas debacle in his freshman year notwithstanding- is the best choice for kicker on the all Saban team. Tiffin came to the Tide as a legacy kicker, his dad being the great Van Tiffin.
Tiffin the younger started his freshman year of 2006 when Jamie Christianson went down with an injury. The Red Bay native hit a game winning 47 yard field goal to beat Vanderbilt 13-10 early in the season, but later lost his job when he missed three field goals and shanked an extra point that would have tied the game in a 24-23 overtime loss to Arkansas.
In 2007 won the job back from Christinson and had a solid season, hitting 36-36 extra points and 25-34 field goals. Tiffing Jr. made 4-4 kicks against Mississippi State including two field goals of over 50 yards, joining his dad as the only Tide player to hit multiple 50 yards kicks in Alabama history.
The 2008 season started with Tiffin nailing a 54 yard kick versus Clemson as the Tide under Saban started their record breaking run of dominance. Tiffin finished the year making 20-29 field goals and was a semi finalist for the Lou Groza award.
In the Crimson Tides run to the National Championship in 2019 Tiffin hit 30 of 35 kicks for 88% and was named All American by the Associated Press. With a made kick against LSU Tiffin became the schools all time leading scorer.
Tiffin signed a free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns, but was cut after an injury and returned home to work in the family business.
Alabama’s all time leading scorer deserves a spot n the All Saban team! Vote Tiffin!
Roll Tide. Believe in the process
Who was the Tide’s best kicker?
0 votes total
In the punting game, we have JK Scott, and then there was everyone else. The man with the legendary trebuchet for a right leg was a fan favorite from the first punt he boomed as a freshman and went on to give the Tide not just a formidable punting game, but a downright weapon for 4 years.
He was snubbed of winning the Ray Guy award twice, and doesn’t get the credit he deserved his senior season, when he changed his philosophy and shortened his kick distance while increasing hang time, so as to totally eliminate return yardage. And by “shorten,” he was still averaging 43 yards per kick, and only allowed a total of 36 return yards on the whole season. Scott booted the ball over 11,000 yards in his career at Alabama for an average of 46 yards per punt while downing nearly 50% inside the the opponents 20 yard line. He was one of the rare punters to get drafted in the NFL, and was named an All-Pro for the Green Bay Packers last season.
JK Scott is your All-Saban punter. No argument.
Next, we have the return men. There have been a plethora of great options here, but three really stand out. Javier Arenas has the records, Eddie Jackson was unstoppable until his leg broke, and Jaylen Waddle is on his way to beating them both out.
I considered Cyrus Jones and Christion Jones, but the first had a lot of issues before figuring things out as a senior, and the second had flashes (like that VT game in 2013), but was a non-impact more often than not.
And before someone goes to arguing for Kenyan Drake, that championship kick return against Clemson was legendary, but he returned very few kicks or punts in his entire career.
Brent on Javier Arenas:
In 2006, Javier Arenas joined the Alabama football team as a return specialist, and was immediately an impact return man for the next 4 years. He was a decent returner as a freshman, but averaged under 9 yards per return, though two touchdowns really raised expectations for him.
The next three years were the transition years for the Alabama football team as Nick Saban changed the culture from mediocrity and wistfulness to a stone-cold killer and and winning a national championship. Arenas was a major part of that culture shift as his infectious attitude and limitless energy often sparked drives for an otherwise listless offense. In his sophomore year, teams started punting away from him so his attempts went down, but he made a major leap forward to an outstanding 15 yards per punt return (and 24 yards per kick return).
But, like the rest of the team, 2008 was when Javy really broke out. On top of increasing his punt return yardage to 16/return, he returned three of them for touchdowns. He set a school punt return record against Tulane. In fact, his monumental efforts that day saved the Tide from a loss that would have derailed their first “elite” season under Nick Saban. If Alabama had lost there, might it have hurt the entire program and stunted the growth of what became the decade-long dynasty we know today?
In 2009, Arenas had totally cemented his reputation as a return man and, though his punt return average stayed the same and his kick returns continued to jump to 29 yards per return, he got a significantly reduced workload as teams kicked away from him. He passed the SEC mark in career punt return yardage, and would have broken the NCAA record before Texas decided to punt every ball out of bounds.
His 1752 career punt return yards still leads the SEC and is 2nd to only Wes Welker all-time. He’s also the all-time SEC leader in career punt return touchdowns, and is 4th in the NCAA.
For four years, I looked forward to the opposing punts more than any other play in an Alabama football game. You just knew Javy was going to make some magic happen. And nobody has done it more consistently for longer than Arenas did.
DrWhosOnFirst on Eddie Jackson:
When it comes to the best returner under Nick Saban, I want you to look beyond the total stats. The other two candidates here both had multiple seasons as returners. Arenas had four seasons, and Waddle has had two with at least one more. Jackson didn’t even get one
I briefly touched on Jackson’s return prowess in the voting on the best safety. The staff didn’t have him returning punts until his senior year, and he didn’t even start doing it until the third game of the season. He proceeded to take the very first punt he fielded 85 yards for a touchdown (it was part of the epic comeback against Ole Miss in 2016). The team needed some help, and Jackson immediately came through.
A few weeks later, he took another punt 79 yards to the house against Tennessee.
Both of those rank in the top 10 longest punt returns in school history.
In the end, we only got to see Jackson return punts in six games. In those six games, however, he scored 2 touchdowns in just 11 returns; and he averaged 23 yards per return. If he had the same volume as the other two, it wouldn’t even be a debate. Pick Jackson.
CB969 on Jaylen Waddle:
GAME CHANGER: It takes a special kind of player to leave the state of Texas to play for a team that would be returning the likes of rising sophomores Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and DeVonta Smith. He had to know that there would be a logjam at the wide receiver spot. Yet, Jaylen Waddle had something those others did not – game-changing return skills.
Waddle introduced himself to the world in his very first collegiate game. In the second quarter, he returned a punt for 31 yards to the Louisville 25 with 27 seconds left in the half – just enough time to punch in a fourth touchdown and break the Cardinals’ will as the teams headed to the locker room. Waddle had another return in that game that he brought back to the house but had it negated because of a stupid and unnecessary penalty.
In games 3, 4 and 5 (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, ULL), he racked up 125 return yards on just four returns including a 63 yard return for a score.
Bon, ça va mieux pour #1 Alabama. Retour de punt pour un TD de 63 yards du freshman WR Jaylen Waddle.
6:58 de jeu et le Crimson Tide a déjà marqué 3 TD. Ce n’est pas possible cette équipe. Injouable. ♂️
Alabama 21, Louisiana-Lafayette 0 pic.twitter.com/e1wtn5iJqr
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) September 29, 2018
After that, teams wised up and starter kicking the ball out of bounds or sending it high and short to force a fair catch. Even without returning a kick, just the threat of a big return affected field position for the Crimson Tide in a positive way.
As a true freshman, Waddle totaled 233 return yards for a 14.56 yard average and was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Even with teams kicking away from him during his sophomore season of 2019, Waddle managed to still lead the nation in total punt return yardage at 487 yards – a full 121 yards more than the next closest return man. He also led the nation in average return yards per punt at 24.35 and an astonishing average of 37.5 return yards per game – an average nine yards more than the next closest competitor.
But that is not all. Waddle can also return kickoffs. With Ruggs and Trevon Diggs dinged up near the end of the season, Nick Saban turned to Waddle to bring back kickoffs in the final two games.
Did you watch the 2019 Iron Bowl? Waddle almost single-handedly brought Alabama back to victory in this game. His four touchdown performance was highlighted by a kickoff return of 98 yards that helped rally the troops after the Tigers scored on a pick-6.
On the season, he had 175 KO return yards on just five returns. His 35.0 yard average would have been highest in the nation had he had enough returns to qualify for national stats.
Waddle was named first team All-SEC as a return specialist and SEC Special Teams Player of the Year. He probably would have been All-American return specialist, but the AP does not award that position. The FWAA listed him their first team as a return man.
The frustration from our dear friends at GoodBullHunting probably summed it up best after the Tide stomped the Aggies 47-28 this past season:
“We gave up 159 yards on kick returns. WE gave up 152 on punt returns. That’s 311 yards of free offense. Alabama’s average starting field position was the A&M 48. Our starting field position was the our own 23. Tua and his offense are too good for us to constantly give them a short field and have a prayer of winning the game. If you want to place blame anywhere, it’s on special teams. I have no idea why you keep kicking to Jaylen Waddle when he’s averaging 32 yards a return. Just no dang clue.”
These other guys you are considering were certainly fine return men. However, they had four seasons to hone their craft. Jaylen Waddle was All-Saban from Day 1 and he is only a sophomore. In an era in which the NCAA is trying their darnedest to eliminate returns from the game, Waddle might just be the best Alabama return man EVER.
Which return man would you trust to get you a game-winning touchdown?
0 votes total
Finally, we have the forgotten position. Alabama has quietly had a string of elite longsnappers that have literally never flubbed a snap.
First up, Carson Tinker manned the position from 2009-2012, starting for three different national championship squads, earning a scholarship his senior season and becoming rated as the top long-snapper prospect in the nation heading to the NFL. He signed as a free agent with the Jaguars and started for five years before a torn ACL effectively ended his career.
Tinker was nominated to receive the Disney Spirit award for his efforts in helping with rebuilding Tuscaloosa after the 2011 tornado, and his personal tragedy due to that disaster led to him writing a book and starting a non-profit.
Next, Cole Mazza was the top rated long-snapper in the country out of California, and Saban burned a scholarship to make sure he was on the team. Mazza was a day 1 starter after Tinker left, and didn’t botch a single snap (583 of them) in his entire career, while being a part of the Tide’s 2015 National Championship.
He went undrafted and actually didn’t make an NFL team in 2017, but latched on with the Birmingham Iron for that fateful AAF season. He then joined the Chargers two years later and beat out their incumbent starter for the entirety of the 2019 season, and has made himself $1.8 million.
Following their good fortune, the Tide signed another top rated long-snapper recruit in 2017 in Thomas Fletcher. They had also taken a preferred walk-on from Scott Meyer the year before, and Fletcher took over punt snapping while Meyer was the field goal snapper in the season following Mazza’s departure. Fletcher didn’t miss a snap in his freshman season, and then beat out Meyer to take over all the snapping duties in 2018.
Two years later, Fletcher has yet to miss a snap, and even has a couple of tackles.
It’s hard to pick between three perfect players, but who you got for long-snapper?
0 votes total