2018 Crimson Tide position preview: Wide receivers and tight ends

Alabama's young receiving corps poised to have a big season

Wide receivers

Starters:Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III

Backups: Tyrell Shavers, Derek Kief, Chadarius Townsend,Xavian Marks, Slade Bolden

New arrivals: Jaylen Waddle, Xavier Williams

Tight ends

Starter: Hale Hentges

Backups: Irvin Smith Jr., Miller Forristall, Major Tennison, Kendrick James

New arrivals: Michael Parker

When it comes to Alabama’s receivers, the question isn’t so much who or how Alabama will try and replace Calvin Ridley, a first-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons.

The real question is who will end up leading the Crimson Tide in catches and receiving yards.

In addition to the team having a quarterback competition, which will likely determine a lot about what kind of offense the Crimson Tide will have in 2018, there’s also a trio of sophomore receivers ready to step in at the three starting spots.

Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Devonta Smith won’t be quite like their predecessors, of Ridley, Robert Foster and Cam Sims, yet no one doubts their potential.

"I think they bring a lot of athleticism and explosiveness,” senior center Ross Pierschbacher said.

None have made a start yet, but all made an impact last season and played a part in Alabama’s comeback against Georgia in the National Championship Game.

Jeudy, who may be the most like Ridley in terms of style, led them statistically with 14 receptions for 264 yards.

“Really fast, surprisingly strong, and he kind of brings that same attitude and swagger that Calvin brings,” senior tight end Hale Hentges said. “That South Florida attitude that I feel like is really infectious and really great to have in a teammate.”

Ruggs had 12 catches for 229 yards, but his first five catches were all for touchdowns

“That's big time,” Pierschbacher said.

As for Smith, he merely made the play of the year, catching the 41-yard overtime pass to win the national title. He also had the game-winning touchdown at Mississippi State.

“I remember one time he caught one, I think, behind his head over me,” former cornerback Levi Wallace said. “I'm going back to the huddle like, he dropped that. They're like, 'Dang Smitty, good catch.' I'm like, what are y'all talking about? You know he dropped it.' Then I went back and looked at the film and I was like, 'Dang.' He's a great receiver.

“I got Mossed.”

Wallace had his own telling nicknames for the trio, calling Jeudy “Shake’em off the line,” Ruggs “Touchdown City,” and Smith (or Smitty) “Stick’em.”

Smith also spent some time in the spring helping out with the cornerbacks, where Alabama was short-handed. The idea was that he learn the position well enough to be an emergency option should the group suffer numerous injuries.

Those plans had to be scrapped when Jeudy was sidelined by a knee injury that required a scope and Tyrell Shavers was out with a toe injury, but he still left an impression.

“When you get to this level you very rarely see guys play both sides of the ball, but seeing him practice and do things on both sides is pretty impressive,” senior running back Damien Harris said.

Coming off a redshirt, Shavers will be looking to make his mark as a regular contributor, while Derek Kief heads into his senior season with 36 games of experience. Chadarius Townsend and Xavian Marks both had long touchdown receptions during the Crimson Tide’s A-Day game, and true freshman Slade Bolden will line at wide receiver after spending the spring at safety due to depth concerns.

Ideally, Alabama wants to go three wide at the X, Z and H spots and it’ll have enough to do so should no one get hurt, yet due to the lack of veteran experience it’s a position where an incoming freshman like Jaylen Waddle could quickly earn playing time.

“Jaylen is an outstanding young man, I mean really a good person,” Nick Saban said. “He's got great quickness on change of direction and run after catch. Really an outstanding overall receiver, but would work really well for us in the slot. Has really good run after catch speed, sweep type of ability. Maybe a little different than some of the guys we have right now, which is a really good thing.

“I think receivers are a little bit like a basketball team. You have a point guard, you got a shooting guard, you got a power forward. I mean all those different types of guys really make a good receiving corps.”

In contrast, Alabama may have more depth at tight end than any other position, with at least five players who will contribute, maybe six.

Hentges and Irv Smith Jr. were regular fixtures last year and Miller Forristall was a regular part of the offense before suffering a torn ACL. Hentges has 43 games of experience, Smith 23 and Forristall 18, but there’s also Major Tennison, Kendrick James and incoming freshman Michael Parker.

Alabama’s tight ends combined for 24 receptions in 2017 and they’re capable of more, but no one’s quite sure how they might be utilized in the passing game, especially with the Crimson Tide having its third offensive coordinator in as many years with Mike Locksley.

“We're always looking forward to contributing more to our offense,” Hentges said. “Obviously, run blocking has been something we like to hang our hat on but that's as a tight end unit, we want to do more than that. As a tight end unit, we want to help out in every aspect that we can. For us, it's a bigger role in special teams and ultimately getting more involved in the pass-catching game.

“I think with Coach Locksley, we're really seeing more opportunities to do that. More opportunities where we're playing more two-tight end sets and overall more balls targeted at us. That's something we're really excited about and we're really going to have to show we're reliant in that area."

This is the second story in a series previewing every Alabama position group for the 2018 season.