TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — They were called possibly the best receiving group, not only in college football this past season, but in history.
Regardless, they were impressive and imposing.
Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle were like nothing anyone had seen before, and a nightmare matchup. Should teams focus on one or two, and they often did especially with Jeudy, the others would have advantageous matchups.
Only now two are gone, with Jeudy and Ruggs having declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. However, Alabama still has a lot at the position.
Jeudy may have won the 2018 Biletnikoff Award and been just the second receiver in Alabama history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Smith actually led the Crimson Tide in receiving yards (1,256) and touchdown catches (14) this past season.
Ruggs was especially known for his speed, although he was a better overall receiver than most give credit. He might be a hair faster than Waddle, but the latter still inherits the speed-demon title on the team.
The question now is who steps up into the open roles.
If Alabama goes strictly by its depth chart, Waddle will step up into the slot, where Jeudy had primarily lined up, and, freshman Josh Metchie will move up into the Z role where Ruggs had been.
The other candidates are redshirt sophomore Tyrell Shavers, and redshirt freshmen Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams. At minimum, all appear poised to be regular parts of the rotation.
Special teams are always a strong indicator for who might be next to get significant playing time and Shavers and Bolden were staples in 2019. Both participated in 12 games.
“They’re just mature,” Rugg said at the Citrus Bowl.
Shavers, though, could add a different dimension to the passing game because as he’s listed as 6-foot-6. Perhaps the lone criticism of the fab four was that each was considered a little undersized at 5-10 (Waddle), 6-0 (Ruggs) or 6-1 (Jeudy and Smith) – which they used as motivation.
"The passion that we have for it and just the will to want to go out there and dominate," Smith said was the key to their success. "We always try to be we're one of the smaller receiver groups and we always try to be physical and try to play bigger than what we are. So I just feel like just the will to want to do"
You may also remember that when safety Jared Mayden told the story about Nick Saban getting upset at Mac Jones after he kept throwing bombs for the scout team against the first-team defense, and the quarterback responded “Well tell your defense to stop it,” it was Shavers he kept connecting with.
Barring something surprising, Jones will head into the spring running the first-team offense. He’s already comfortable with both the starters and reserves.
On third downs alone, he completed passes to 15 different players this past season. Jones looked to Ruggs the most in that situation, yet had the most completions to Jeudy.
Regardless, avoiding any kind of drop-off will be the goal moving forward.
“Not only are they physically gifted, not only are they really great competitors, they’re tough – their football IQ is really high,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said about the receiving group at the Citrus Bowl. “It all starts with guys like [Smith] and Ruggs and Jerry, but it works its way down throughout the entire group with Waddle, Shavers, Slade Bolden, Metchie, you know, [Xavier]. All these guys have started to embrace this.”
Alabama Wide receivers
Name, Recruiting Class, Stars, Rank
Jaylen Waddle, 2018, 4, 39
Devonta Smith, 2017, 4, 62
Tyrell Shavers, 2017, 4, 88
Xavier Williams, 2018, 4, 143
John Metchie, 2019, 4, 275
Slade Bolden, 2018, 3, 495*
Jerry Jeudy, 2017, 5, 21
Henry Ruggs III, 2017, 4, 75
Thaiu Jones-Bell, 2020, 4, 101
Traeshon Holden, 2020, 4, 197
Javon Baker, 2020, 4, 137
* Rankings are 247composite; *-indicates ranking was at another position
This is the third story in a series that will appear over the next couple of weeks on BamaCentral