Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick and 15 other Alabama starters were four- or five-star recruits ranked among the best players in their respective high school recruiting classes. There are also three Tide starters who were overlooked three-star prospects and two who, unfathomably, were unranked walk-ons.
Jamey Mosley was an unranked linebacker from Theodore, Ala., who had four Group of Five offers on National Signing Day in 2014: Old Dominion, Tulane, UAB and Western Kentucky. He passed on all four and instead took a walk-on, pay-your-way opportunity at Alabama. Levi Wallace, a skinny cornerback from Tucson, Ariz., had zero scholarship offers and joined Mosley as an unnoticed walk-on three years ago.
“We’ve had a lot of walk-ons through the years that have done a really good job of becoming contributors to the team,” Nick Saban said this fall. “Levi’s probably done it as well as any of them.”
Wallace and Mosley earned playing time by performing well alongside Fitzpatrick and against Ridley, both of whom were five-star recruits ranked 12th and 30th overall, respectively, in the 2015 class. The latter two highly touted players are among the Tide's nine five-star starters. Fellow defenders Raekwon Davis and Anthony Averett are among eight four-star starters, and offensive linemen Bradley Bozeman and Matt Womack are among three three-star starters.
When including Wallace and Mosley's non-existent 247Sports Composite ratings and star ratings, Alabama's 22 starters have an average Composite rating of 0.8680 and average star rating of 3.9. When excluding the pair, the numbers skyrocket to .9548 and 4.3, respectively.
Alabama's championship foe, Georgia, does not feature any former walk-on starters (or unranked players). All 11 offensive starters were four- or five-star prospects, but the Bulldogs' defense is laced with former low-rated prospects. Three of their four starters in the secondary were three-star recruits, including safety J.R. Reed. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Texan was the 1,856th-ranked player in the 2014 class and had three FBS offers. He played at Tulsa for two seasons (redshirt in 2014) before transferring to Georgia.
“I always believed in myself and I knew I was a good player,” Reed said in August. “I always knew I had a chance and coaches told me that if I work hard, I always have a chance. That’s what I came in with that mindset.”
He was more than a "good player" in 2017, making an immediate impact with 76 tackles, five tackles for loss and two interceptions in a defensive backfield that also features former three-star prospects Deandre Baker (No. 657 player, 2015) and Dominick Sanders (No. 822, 2015). Defensive tackle John Atkins gives Georgia three former three-star recruits, all on defense.
Kirby Smart's team, like Alabama, has a ton of four- and five-star prospects — 18 to be exact. Running back Nick Chubb and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson are two of their five five-star starters, and Jake Fromm and Roquan Smith are two of their 13 four-star starters.
Reed is one of only seven starters who had a 247Sports Composite rating below .9000. Their 22-starter average is .9357, which is significantly higher than Alabama's Wallace-and-Mosley-included rating (0.8680) but much lower than their Wallace-and-Mosley-excluded rating (.9548). Georgia's average star rating is 4.04, which, again sits in the middle of the Tide's two numbers.
When Alabama and Georgia battle for the national championship on Monday, most of the key contributors, namely the starters, are former highly touted prospects that recruiting pundits expected to be playing big roles in a game like that. However, guys like Levi Wallace, Jamey Mosley and J.R. Reed — ones who most believed would be toiling in obscurity by now — cannot be missed.