With Lane Kiffin in his third year, an offensive line that keeps getting more pass-protection focused, and a lack of depth/experience at running back, this year could possibly be the most wide-open passing offense we've seen under Nick Saban.
Not only does Alabama feature an already elite-level receiver, the other options are all extremely talented playmakers too, rather than the underused supporting casts that we saw during the years ofand Julio Jones. Whoever becomes Alabama's starting quarterback next season is likely in the most enviable position of any quarterback in the nation.
The graduate transfer from Oregon State came into a young Alabama receiving corps and stabilized the group early on with his veteran leadership and consistency. Though not as talented as some of the younger receivers, he manned the slot receiver position throughout the course of the year, and was always one of Jake Coker's most trusted targets on third downs.
Black was actually more highly rated than another receiver in his class, Amari Cooper, and was always an exceptional route-runner from the slot. However, his career was repeatedly derailed by injuries as well as issues with drops, and he never managed to carve out a role for himself. Instead of sticking around for a fifth year in Tuscaloosa, he decided to leave the team as a graduate transfer for Missouri where he hopes to get some more playing time in his final year.
One of the few walk-ons that ever got playing time, Barrinneau was never really a major contributor, but was always considered to be quality and reliable depth. He could play any of the receiver positions and was a key piece on the team in practices.
A five-star freshman and top-10 recruit in 2015, Ridley quickly established himself in Alabama's passing attack as the featured X-receiver. The 6'1" 188-lb sophomore brings blazing speed (supposedly in the mid 4.3 forty range), elite quickness, and exceptional hands to the table. He made most of his impact as a freshman either on receiver screens or on deep bombs, and will look to round out his game to become a more complete receiver on every facet of the route tree.
Perhaps one of the best pure athletes on the team, the redshirt junior was still relatively new to playing receiver last year. After being a high school quarterback, and spending time with the defensive backs his first year on campus, Stewart settled into the Z-receiver position last year. He possesses a sturdier build than Ridley, weighing in at 205 pounds at the same height, and displays elite balance and body control, whether in the air or with the ball in his hands. Stewart can most likely jump higher than anyone on the team, and runs about a 4.42 forty. He had some issues with consistency in his route-running and drops last year, but his growth at the receiver position continues to climb at a steep rate.
Foster was actually the starter at the X-receiver going into 2015, and was the go-to receiver for the first three games of the year before breaking his collarbone against Ole Miss and missing the rest of the season - a situation which allowed Calvin Ridley to break into the starting rotation and become the Tide's top receiver. At 6'2", the former 5-star recruit from Pennsylvania has a little more length than the other two, and is neck-and-neck with Ridley and defensive backs Anthony Averett and Tony Brown for the title of fastest player on the team. Foster has potential to be the most well-rounded and talented receiver on the team, but is still a bit of an unknown, as he missed almost a full year of football.
A towering 6'5" junior, Sims showed a lot of promise in a small amount of playing time his freshman year, but an injury-plagued sophomore year, coupled with the emergence of Ridley and Stewart, had him buried in the depth chart. He was often subbed into the game in running situations, which probably means that the coaches view him as one of the better blocking receivers on the team. With playing time, he could develop into the tall red-zone threat that quarterbacks covet.
Like Cam Sims, Falkins is another 6'4" receiver who's career has been derailed by injuries. Though he's shown glimpses of talent in the spring every year, he's never managed to wiggle his way into any playing time, and missed all of last season with a broken leg he suffered in the summer. Unless he's granted another year of eligibility, this is his last season to make any sort of impact.
The last of the trio of giant receivers, the 6'4" Keif plays a little differently than the other two. He's actually been seen most as a slot receiver thus far, and got a little more playing time in mop-up duty than Sims and Falkins have. He moves fluidly for someone his size, but has not shown a competitive drive to put him over the edge through this point in his career. Only a redshirt sophomore, he still has time to develop his game and potentially crack into the starting lineup in a year or two.
As most of you around here know, Charlot was possibly my favorite player in the freshman class of 2015. With Richard Mullaney holding down the slot receiver role, Charlot saw little playing time last year. However, he was in the game in most blow-out situations, and even rotated in during critical big game moments fairly often, even if he was never the recipient of the ball. He's a natural route-runner with a movement style that metaphorically displays all the grace and fluidity of a running jaguar. Hopefully, we'll see more of him in his second year with the Tide.
The 6'2" 200 pound three-star freshman enrolled in January, and will look to use that experience to get a leg up on the depth chart. He's a versatile possession guy that could factor in at most any position, but will probably redshirt this year due to the depth above him.
Though he could just as likely be on defense this year, I'm listing him as a receiver for now. Diggs has not enrolled yet, but the 4-star athlete has an NFL pedigree and some very high expectations. He'll have his work cut out to break into the rotation with so many talented players already on the team, but it will be difficult to keep him off the field for more than a year or so. (For a more in depth look at these two players, check out my previous Meet the New Guys series.)
Like Mullaney last year, Deiter is a 6'3" graduate transfer that will look to make a starting role for himself in his last year of eligibility. Unlike Mullaney, Deiter is a physical Z-receiver, and not a slot guy. He excels at working past press coverage and winning contested balls down the sidelines and end zone fades (and making SportsCenter-worthy one handed catches with either hand).
The Pecking Order
Obviously, Calvin Ridley will be the top receiver. After that, it gets a little murky. ArDarius Stewart is the returning starter, butreturn from injury could lead to him overtaking Stewart. Those are likely your top three, and Lane Kiffin uses 3WR sets more than any other. The real question will be: who takes the slot? All three of these returners are usually outside receivers, so one will likely have to learn the slot. With his agility, Stewart might be the best candidate of the three.
Deiter is the wild card. He's only here one year, and was a very productive receiver in his time at Bowling Green. If he can learn to play in the slot, he may be able to work his way into the starting lineup, forcing Foster and Stewart to split time at the Z position.
Regardless of how they line up, Alabama has at least four high-quality receivers, and a decent amount of depth behind them.