It isn't easy to deliver a condensed list of the best players in the storied history of Alabama football. We did it anyway. Listed in chronological order, here are our 25 greatest football players to ever suit up for the Crimson Tide. (All statistics and all-time leaders are accurate through the 2021-22 season.)
One of the earliest Alabama football stars. Brown was the star of Alabama's first recognized national championship team from 1925. Known for his blistering speed, Brown scored twice during the Crimson Tide's upset victory over Washington in the Rose Bowl that season. The win secured Alabama's national title and essentially opened the door for college football teams from the South to be taken seriously. Though Brown earned a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, he might be best known as one of Hollywood's most prominent western film stars of the time.
Not only was Sington a standout performer on the football field at Alabama, but he was also a star baseball player who eventually played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Washington Senators. On the gridiron, Sington was an All-American in both 1929 and '30. During the 1930 season, he helped the Crimson Tide win their third NCAA-recognized national championship. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.
Before Hutson earned legendary status with the Green Bay Packers, he got the ball rolling at Alabama. Considered the first modern wide receiver, Hutson earned All-American status twice while playing for the Crimson Tide. Perhaps Hutson's shining moment as an Alabama football player came during the Rose Bowl to conclude the 1934 season when he caught six passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns in the 29-13 win over Stanford.
It would be a severe understatement to say Gilmer did it all for the Crimson Tide. Listed as a quarterback, Gilmer was actually a single-wing halfback; he was both the Crimson Tide's primary passer and ball carrier. His 216 rushing yards versus Kentucky in 1945 are still a school record for a quarterback. As a freshman, Gilmer recorded 1,457 total yards, then in '45, he passed for 2,894 yards, ran for 1,673, and posted 50 total touchdowns. Also, Gilmer's 13.4 average yards per pun return ranks third in school history, and his 16 interceptions are second-most by any Alabama player.
Jordan was an All-American selection and fourth-place Heisman Trophy finisher in 1962. He has been considered one of the most fierce defenders in college football history. According to the University of Alabama, legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant said of Jordan: "If they stay inside the boundaries, Lee Roy will get 'em." During Alabama's Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma to conclude the '62 season, Jordan was credited with a remarkable 31 tackles.
Namath's college statistics (2,713 career passing yards, 25 touchdowns, 19 interceptions; 655 rushing yards) were far from jaw-dropping, but when "Bear" Bryant calls you the "the greatest athlete I ever coached," then there's a spot on this list. Before Namath became "Broadway Joe" and an improbable Super Bowl champion with the New York Jets, he posted a 29-4 record in three collegiate seasons. He helped lead Alabama to the 1964 national championship.
The 1971 All-American is still among the greatest running backs in Alabama history, which is a big deal considering three of the school's four Heisman Trophy Award winners were running backs. Musso ran for 2,741 yards (the first in school history to reach 2,000), averaged nearly 4.8 per carry, and scored 34 touchdowns during his three-year collegiate career. Musso also caught 61 passes for 495 yards with four receiving touchdowns.
One of the most versatile and celebrated players in Alabama football history, Hannah could very well be the greatest offensive lineman to ever suit up for the Tide. Hannah was a two-All-American who played both tackle and guard. In 1973, Hannah was selected fourth overall by the New England Patriots and enjoyed a stellar NFL career featuring nine Pro Bowl nods and seven appearances on the league All-Pro first-team list.
A first-team All-American in 1974 and consensus pick one year later, Cook enjoyed a stellar career at Alabama. There is also an underrated element that is associated with Cook on a national level. During his time with the Crimson Tide, Cook recorded 15 sacks and forced 10 fumbles. He recorded 200 tackles, including 27 for loss, but his post-Alabama playing career was overshadowed by the NFL success of former Tide teammates like E.J. Junior, Barry Krauss, Bob Baumhower, Woodrow Lowe, and Marty Lyons.
Lowe is one of two Alabama players to be named a three-time All-American during their college career. The College Football Hall of Famer ranks among the program's leaders with 315 career tackles, and his 134 from the Crimson Tide's 1973 national championship season still rank No. 1 in school history. In addition to being a key member of that national title team, Lowe was part of four SEC championship teams while at Alabama.
A member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, Newsome was one of the great college receivers during the 1970s. He was a standout tight end in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns. During his four seasons with the Crimson Tide, though, Newsome totaled 102 receptions for 2,070 yards (averaging 20.3 yards per catch) with 16 touchdowns. He made a career-best 36 of those catches during the 1977 season.
In terms of individual and team success at Alabama, Stephenson enjoyed plenty of good times while starting all three years of his college career. Not only was Stephenson twice named a second-team All-American, but he was a stalwart of the Crimson Tide's back-to-back national championship teams in 1978 and '79. Known for his perfect combination of strength and speed, Stephenson won the Jacobs Trophy (1979) as the SEC’s best blocker before enjoying a Hall of Fame career with the Miami Dolphins.
Among the school's all-time leaders in tackles for loss (41) and total tackles (287), Bennett was named an All-American three times while at Alabama (joining Woodrow Lowe as the only two Crimson Tide players to accomplish such a feat). That includes his unanimous selection in 1986 when he recorded 10 of his career 15 sacks and was named SEC Player of the Year and won the Lombardi Trophy. Bennett is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas could very well be the greatest defensive player in the history of the Alabama football program. There's at least no argument when claiming Thomas as the Crimson Tide's all-time greatest pass rusher. In his four college seasons, Thomas set school records with 52 sacks and 68 tackles for loss. His 27 sacks in 1988 (when the All-American won the Butkus Award) and 18 from '89 rank Nos. 1 and 2 at Alabama for a single season.
Talk about a presence. The 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody only played two seasons at Alabama after winning a national title at the junior-college level. However, he certainly made the most of his brief time with Crimson Tide, totaling 52 tackles and earning All-SEC first-team and unanimous All-American recognition during his two seasons.
It's rather hard to believe that Ingram is the first Heisman Trophy winner in the history of the storied Alabama program. During that Heisman season of 2009, Ingram ran for 1,658 (third-most for a Crimson Tide season), averaged 6.1 per carry, and scored 17 touchdowns on the ground to help Alabama win its first national championship since 1992. Ingram finished his Alabama career with 3,261 rushing yards (ranked seventh in school history) and 42 touchdowns (second-most by a Crimson Tide player). He also caught 60 career passes for 670 yards with four touchdowns.
Jones' NFL career didn't turn out to be nearly as successful as his time at Alabama, which was truly special. After redshirting in 2008, Jones started all 14 games during the Tide's run to the 2009 national title. In 2011, after moving from guard to left tackle, he won the Outland Trophy for another squad that won it all. Finally, in 2012, now playing center, Jones helped Alabama win its third national championship in four seasons while also winning the Rimington Trophy. Jones earned All-American status at each of those positions.
Cooper is still going strong in the NFL, and that foundation was successfully laid with the Crimson Tide. In three seasons at Alabama, Cooper amassed 228 receptions, 3,463 yards, and 31 touchdowns — each ranking second all-time in school history. In 2014, Cooper was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, unanimous All-American, and Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's best receiver.
Many Crimson Tide historians and fans believe Henry is the greatest player in Alabama football history. There's a strong argument to be made when it comes to that competition. Henry ranks second all-time on the school's rushing list with 3,591 yards. His 2,219 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns from 2015, when he became the second Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy, are the most for a single season in program history. Henry won the Maxwell, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp Awards in 2015.
Fitzpatrick didn't waste any time making an impact at Alabama. As a true freshman, he returned both interceptions for touchdowns while recording 45 tackles. In 2016, Fitzpatrick ranked among the national leaders with six interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Those four interceptions returned for touchdowns are a school record. He finished his collegiate career with nine interceptions and 171 total tackles, with 26 passes defended. A two-time consensus All-American, Fitzpatrick won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards in 2017.
Surrounded by plenty of hype, Tagovailoa solidified his special place in Alabama football lore when he completed that national championship-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime on Jan. 8, 2018. Tagovailoa won the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards with the Tide. His 7,782 career total yards of offense rank third in school history, and his average of 235.7 is the best by any Alabama quarterback. His 96 total touchdowns and 87 passing TDs are both school records, while his 7,442 career passing yards rank third all time.
Of all the legendary running backs that have carried the ball for the Crimson Tide, it's Harris who is the program's all-time leading rusher. It took 55 career games for Harris to post a school-best 3,843 rushing yards. His 46 career rushing touchdowns are also the most at Alabama. In 2020, Harris was part of his second national championship squad for the Tide, and he rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also caught 43 passes for 425 yards en route to winning the Doak Walker Award.
Najee Harris was a Heisman candidate in 2020, but teammate DeVonta Smith became Alabama's third player — and first receiver — in school history to win the award. Smith is the school's all-time leader in receptions (235), yards (3,965), and touchdowns (46). Smith, whose only catch during the national championship contest to conclude the 2017 season was the game-winner, enjoyed arguably the best receiving season in Alabama history in 2020 with 117 catches, 1,856 yards, and 23 touchdowns. In addition to the Heisman, Smith won the Maxwell, Walter Camp, and Biletnikoff Awards in 2020.
Anderson has made his presence felt in just two seasons with the Crimson Tide. In 2021, Anderson recorded 17.5 sacks, good for third all-time in school history. His 24.5 career sacks rank fourth within the program. Not only is Anderson one of the school's best edge rushers, but he's also got a serious nose for the football. His 34.5 tackles for loss from 2021 are the second-most in a season by a Crimson Tide player, and they were a major reason the All-American was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and won the Nagurski Trophy.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Young looks to become the first player since Ohio State's Archie Griffin (1974, '75) to repeat that feat. It's a tall order, but heading into the 2022 season, Young is currently the best quarterback in the game. He has a rightful place on this list based on only one full season as the Alabama starter. Young's 4,872 passing yards and 47 touchdowns are both the most in a single season by an Alabama quarterback. His 559 passing yards against Arkansas from Nov. 20, 2021, is also the highest single-game total in school history.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.