It's never too early to look ahead to Alabama football, so we're taking a look at which returning players for the Tide will have the best opportunities to make a splash and hopefully lead the program to its 17th national championship.

Head coach Nick Saban has done a masterful job when it comes to bringing in the best talent and coaching them into national championship contending teams. Even though the Tide lost a few great players to the NFL Draft this season (Reggie Ragland, A'Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry to name a few), they're still loaded on both sides of the ball, so which returning players are ready to make a name for themselves, if they haven't already?

  • 5

    Cam Sims

    Wide Receiver

    He's had injury issues over the past year or so, but if Sims comes into this season 100 percent healthy (and it looks like he will), it could be a monster season for the 6'5" receiver from Monroe, LA. With the quarterback situation still in question, his size and speed could help out whoever is taking the snaps, plus he's a complete match-up problem with most defensive backs he'll see, especially in the red zone.

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  • 4

    Minkah Fitzpatrick

    Corner Back

    Yes, Fitzpatrick had a break-out season last year during his true freshman campaign, but he's got the making of becoming one of the best defensive backs to ever come through Alabama: and that's saying a whole lot. Last season, he "only" had two interceptions, but he returned both for touchdowns. Along with that, he's a shut down corner with ideal size (6'1", 200 lbs). He's got at least two more seasons to keep impressing NFL scouts, and don't be shocked if he's one of the top defensive back picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.

    (Kent Gidley/Alabama Athletics)
  • 3

    Bo Scarbrough

    Running Back

    While he doesn't have the collegiate playing experience, Scarbrough is a reincarnated form of Derrick Henry: 6'2", 230 lbs and can run like a deer. He's also had injury issues over the past few years, but in a Lane Kiffin led offense, you know the lead running back will get plenty of opportunities to shine, even if he has to share the load with sophomore Damien Harris (i.e. Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon in 2014).

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  • 2

    O.J. Howard

    Tight End

    For 14 games last year, most college football fans nearly all but forgot about the Tide tight end and his great freshman season in 2014, and most Alabama fans were wondering where he was hiding in the offense in 2015, but in the national championship game against Clemson, the Tigers had no answer for him. Is he set to be one of the top passing targets in the offense this season? Was that a prelude of things to come in the passing game? With yet another first year starting quarterback taking snaps for Alabama, dumping it out to your tight end is one of the best receivers to take advantage of.

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  • 1

    Da'Shawn Hand

    Defensive Line

    The former #1 recruit in the nation is entering his junior season at The Capstone. A team that's loaded across the board on the defensive line will give him plenty of opportunities in 1 on 1 match-ups, and at 6'4" 278 lbs, Hand has a really good chance of showing NFL scouts he's one of the best players in the entire country.

    (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)