When quarterback Mac Jones signed with Alabama in 2017 as a three-star prospect, he joined a Crimson Tide program that contained Jalen Hurts, the 2016 Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year as a freshman, and fellow signee Tua Tagovailoa, who entered Tuscaloosa with five-star status.
Yet there was Jones on Thursday afternoon, appearing in a news conference via Zoom to announce the redshirt junior's intention to leave early for the NFL, along with former star-studded recruits such as junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II, junior receiver Jaylen Waddle and redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Christian Barmore.
"It's been a great journey," Jones said. "I've played every role you can imagine, from scout team to the starter."
A fifth Tide player, redshirt junior inside linebacker Dylan Moses, also declared for the 2021 NFL draft Thursday but revealed his decision through social media.
Jones is the least-heralded quarterback signee of the Nick Saban era who wound up starting, but he was anything but unheralded this past season. He completed 311 of 402 passes (77.4%) for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
His efficiency rating of 203.1 set an NCAA single-season record, as did his completion percentage, and he capped his Alabama career with Monday night's 464-yard, five-touchdown performance in the 52-24 thrashing of Ohio State that capped a 13-0 season.
"I can't begin to thank enough people for helping me get to where I am today," Jones said. "When I came to Alabama, I set out so many dreams, goals and aspirations, and so many great people have helped me achieve a lot of those goals. I wanted to be made a team captain and was fortunate enough to do that.
"I've been on teams that have won national championships, and I've also been fortunate enough to earn two degrees."
A Pro Football Focus mock draft this week projected Waddle seventh overall to the Detroit Lions, Jones eighth to the Carolina Panthers, Surtain 16th to the Arizona Cardinals and Barmore 27th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Surtain collected 38 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups and an interception this past season. His father was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2002-04) with the Miami Dolphins.
"I've leaned on him a lot," Surtain said Thursday. "He's been through this before."
Barmore was the defensive MVP in the win over Ohio State, while Waddle broke his ankle on the opening kickoff at Tennessee on Oct. 24 but returned to play against the Buckeyes. Waddle said he wasn't nervous about sustaining a setback Monday night, adding that he continues to be ahead of schedule in returning to 100%.
"I'm very proud of the way these four young men have contributed to the program here," Saban said. "Each one has made a promise to me that they will finish their degree program, and Mac already has his master's, but we're very proud that these have been great people in the organization. These guys are always going to be part of the University of Alabama."
Redshirt junior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis announced Thursday that he will return to Tuscaloosa. The 6-foot-4, 312-pounder amassed 31 tackles, five tackles for a loss and a forced fumble this past season.
"The NFL has always been my dream since I started playing football and always will be," Mathis posted on social media, "but after talking to my parents, we think the best decision for me is to take advantage of my redshirt senior year."
Auburn tabs Rocker
Former Auburn defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, who won the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy on the 1988 SEC championship team, is returning to his alma mater as defensive line coach under new head coach Bryan Harsin. Rocker was Auburn's defensive line coach during the 2009-10 seasons, with the 2010 team winning the national title.
Rocker left Auburn for a three-year stint with the NFL's Tennessee Titans before returning to the SEC with stops at Georgia (2014-16), Tennessee (2018-19) and South Carolina (2020).
"Tracy Rocker is one of Auburn's all-time great players and has a wealth of experience coaching and in the Southeastern Conference," Harsin said in a release. "He understands what a championship team looks like and knows what it takes to be successful at the highest level. We're excited to welcome back Tracy to the Auburn family."
Odds and ends
Former Alabama offensive coordinator and new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is reportedly looking to bring offensive line coach Kyle Flood and special teams coordinator Jeff Banks from Tuscaloosa to Austin as well. ... Netori Johnson, the former four-star recruit who played sparingly as a Georgia offensive and defensive lineman, revealed Thursday that Middle Tennessee State would be his transfer destination.