Alabama lost a quartet of receivers in Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle – all NFL Draft first-round picks – in a span of two years.
Julio Jones (2011), Amari Cooper (2015) and Calvin Ridley (2018) were all first-round selections, too.
So, that’s seven Crimson Tide receivers taken in the first round in 11 years. When did Alabama turn into a wide receiver-producing machine?
Most of that, as with the majority of Alabama’s success, is due to the recruiting prowess of Nick Saban. It’s that simple. Big-time recruits wanted to play for him and it resulted in championships and a high draft status.
Alabama has always been a top school for producing NFL players, but not so much at wide receiver. The one big exception is Don Hutson, arguably the best NFL player of all time. He was elite before anyone. Seriously, check out his numbers and highlights. To do what he did in the 1930s and 40s was astounding.
Other than that? Nothing really. Dennis Homan was a first-round pick in 1968, but he didn’t have a stellar pro career. There have been several Crimson Tide receivers taken in the draft, but not any significant team contributors. In fact, the other biggest pass-catchers in the NFL from Alabama are tight ends (Ozzie Newsome, Howard Cross, O.J. Howard) or running backs (Tony Nathan, Mark Ingram).
You’d think the loss of the star-studded talent at that position the past two years would be worrisome and cause for concern for Saban and the Tide.
Alabama’s big problem is it has an overflowing number of top-ranked receivers, and not all of them will see the field in 2021.
So, which one will be the next big star for Alabama?
Let’s start with what we know. John Metchie III is the obvious choice to take over as the primary receiver. He was the third option behind Smith and Waddle, and stepped up to a fine second option when Waddle was lost for the season with an injury.
Slade Bolden has been a reliable pair of hands for Alabama his first two seasons and will be called upon more in 2021. His big issue last season was holding onto the ball, but with the way he protected the ball the last three games – he shouldn’t have issues in the fall.
It doesn’t matter how much talent the upcoming receivers have, if they can’t block then they won’t play. That’s a must-have attribute Alabama receivers have to have.
Xavier Williams and Javon Baker saw action last season in limited action, but did have some issues making blocks. They did have good showings in A-Day, however.
The future was on display last week in the annual A-Day Game, which featured a young crop of receivers ready to take the mantle from the old guard as big-time playmakers
True freshman and early enrollee Agiye Hall caught the attention of A-Day viewers with his speed, agility and hands with four grabs for 72 yards. All four catches were highlight-reel stuff.
Traeshon Holden was impressive on A-Day was well. He caught nine passes for 89 yards, and at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, the sophomore definitely looks the part of a physical playmaker.
There are three receivers from the 2021 signing class that could have an impact in the fall. Ja’Corey Brooks and Christian Leary didn’t see action in the spring game, but they come to campus with reputations – Brooks (6-3) has been highly praised for his strength, while Leary has been compared to Waddle in terms of speed.
JoJo Earle, who flipped from LSU to Alabama, will be on campus this summer. He could compete for early playing time, too. At 5-foot-9, he’s not biggest player on the field, but he makes up for it with athleticism and quick-twitch moves.
Sophomore Thaiu Jones-Bell is another up-and-coming, high-profile player who had a nice A-Day with three catches for 52 yards. Bell has a nice frame and should fit in well with the physical play of the SEC.