TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Like just about every other position on the University of Alabama offense, the coaching staff doesn’t have to worry about who’s going to be starting at wide receiver as the top four pass catchers are all back.
Alabama’s had outstanding wide receivers before including Julio Jones, Amari Coper and Calvin Ridley, but probably never a collection this good before.
Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle all last year had at least 42 receptions, and averaged at least 16 yards per catch.
They’re all talented, all fast and all block downfield, which is a Nick Saban staple at the position. They're all very familiar with quarterback Tau Tagovailoa as well.
The more experience they have the more coaches will be comfortable moving them around to try and exploit mismatches. Even with tight end Irv Smith Jr. moving on to the NFL, and having a new position coach with Holmon Wiggins for the third straight year, Alabama’s passing game will be a nightmare to try and defend.
The only drawback to having so many quality players who are established is that it was extremely difficult to recruit players at the position in the Class of 2019. Alabama will be shorthanded in terms of overall depth, with little experience behind the top four.
Consequently, restocking the receiving corps will be a priority in the coming months — maybe the first concern regarding the Class of 2020.
Jerry Jeudy: He won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football, and was named a consensus All-American. He’ll draw more attention this season, but with Alabama’s other quality receivers there’s only so much defenses can do without compromising themselves somewhere else. His 1,315 yards were the second most in Alabama history for a single season, and his19.3 yards per catch is a Crimson Tide single-season record (minimum 50 catches). His 16 career touchdown receptions tied Ozzie Newsome (1974-77) for fifth all-time.
DeVonta Smith: He’ll forever be known for the game-winning overtime touchdown catch in the 2017 title game. Smith was slowed by a hamstring injury last season, but still had 693 yards on 42 catches for a 16.5 yards per catch average, and six touchdowns. He had 26 catches for a first down, with 14 for 20-plus yards.
Henry Ruggs III: With 46 catches for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns he ranked among the league leaders in nearly every receiving category. The touchdowns were tied for second behind teammate Jeudy. Largely overlooked was that he was also in on eight tackles on special teams. The biggest question with Ruggs is if he’s the fastest player on the team. We may not get an answer until he and Waddle run the 40 at the NFL combine.
Jaylen Waddle: Even though he had yet to earn a regular spot in the receiving rotation, Waddle turned heads during the season opener against Louisville when the then-freshman returned a punt for a touchdown only to have it nullified by a penalty. He caught 45 passes for 848 yards with seven touchdown receptions. Waddle averaged 18.8 yards per catch, good for sixth in the SEC and 18th nationally, and 30 of his receptions went for a first down or touchdown. As for the punts, he eventually did get a touchdown, and his 14.6 yards per return average ranked second in the SEC and was fifth nationally.
Tyrell Shavers: He played in all 15 games, but didn’t register a reception last season. Alabama will be looking to get the 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore more in the mix, although he’s spending part of the spring playing baseball as well.
Xavier Williams: Williams played in one game last season, but didn’t have a catch. He and Shavers are going to be the first off the bench at the outside receiver spots, and figure to have the inside lane on stepping into starting roles in 2020.
Slade Bolden: He could play on both sides of the ball and physically is built a little more like a running back. Bolden’s so versatile that he helped out the scout team prepare for dual-threat quarterbacks and the option last season. He was a quarterback at West Monroe High in Louisiana, throwing for 1,622 yards and rushing for 1,460 as a senior.
“He played a similar kind of offense in high school," Saban said. "That's one of the most difficult things about playing against this — it happens so much faster in a game than whatever you can duplicate in practice. The fullback hits it so much faster than you can duplicate in practice, and the quarterback is so much quicker at getting the ball to the perimeter.”
John Metchie: The consensus 4-star talent who enrolled early might be the most interesting player in the signing class, who nearly fell through the cracks in terms of the recruiting world. After spending most of his life in Canada he first attended St. James School in Hagerstown, Md., before transferring to The Peddie School for his final year of high school. He tallied more than 1,300 rushing yards, 2,500 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns across his four seasons at St. James.
This is the third story in a series on BamaCentral: