Matt Elam Commits to Kentucky: Where Does Alabama Turn After Missing on 4-Star?

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

Credit: 247Sports

Defensive tackle Matt Elam (John Hardin) announced his decision to attend the University of Kentucky on Thursday, rejecting an offer from Nick Saban so he could stay home and play for Mark Stoops' Wildcats.

Brett Dawson of Rivals tweeted the news:

Dawson also quoted Elam, who said it was hard to turn down the "mecca of football" in Alabama:

So how'd he come to the decision? Per Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal, Elam's coach said that last year's hiring of Stoops made a very big difference, and that Elam would have been at Alabama under the Wildcats' old regime:

A 4-star recruit and the No. 164 overall player on the 247Sports composite, Elam checks in remarkably higher on the site's subjective rankings, which give him five stars and call him the No. 21 overall player in the class. At 6'5'', 372 pounds, he becomes one of the most anticipated recruits in the history of Kentucky football.

So where does Alabama go from here? Fortunately, it doesn't have to be very far.

The Tide already have four defensive tackles in the class of 2014, including 4-star JUCO transfer Jarran Reed and two true freshman—Josh Frazier and Johnny Dwight—that 247Sports ranks among the 15 best players at the position.

Reed has already enrolled, so Saban's attention might now shift to locking down Frazier, Dwight and fellow tackle commit O.J. Smith. Frazier visited USC on Jan. 24 and Smith is scheduled to visit Mississippi State on Friday, so neither is a lock to end up at Alabama.

Also in the fold is Elisha Shaw, an umcommitted 3-star tackle from Tucker, Ga., who took an official visit to Tuscaloosa on Jan. 24. He could be used as insurance.

However, it's not like Saban needs to land another tackle. He wanted Elam because Elam has a chance to be special—a Terrance Cody-type up the middle. With those four players already committed on top of last year's haul, which included freshman standout/starter A'Shawn Robinson and 4-star tackle Dee Liner, the Tide do not lack for big, young bodies in the A-gap.

A'Shawn Robinson was a revelation for 'Bama's defense in 2013.
A'Shawn Robinson was a revelation for 'Bama's defense in 2013.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This saga was actually supposed to be over a long time ago, as Elam was scheduled to announce his intentions at the Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4. He bowed out at the last second, though, so Alabama and Kentucky had to spend an extra month chasing him.

Now that Elam is officially elsewhere, Saban and his staff can also turn more attention to their biggest remaining targets, chief among them 5-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans. He is choosing between Alabama and hometown Auburn, and he's one of the biggest fish left in the pond.

Still, after Wednesday's commitment from 5-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey, even losing out on Elam and Evans won't be enough to sully this class.

It will almost definitely finish No. 1 in the country.


Follow Brian Leigh: @BLeighDAT