For what might be the first time since Nick Saban has been here, the entire starting cast of wide receivers is a strength for this Alabama team, and they just might even be the best unit in 2016.
Calvin Ridley (So.)
2015 stats: 89 catches, 1045 yards (11.74 YPC), 7 touchdowns
Ridley made waves over the internet through high school with his jaw-dropping talent and ridiculously viral catches. He was the unanimous top receiver in the nation and widely regarded as one of the top five to ten players overall. It didn't take long in college, and he even surpassed those lofty expectations. Ridley quickly established himself as the Tide's top target and an electric playmaker.
With 4.35 forty speed and powerful hands, Ridley is an elite player at almost any facet of the passing game. He's a phenomenal deep threat, similarly dangerous after the catch, runs precise route across the middle, and can go up and over multiple defenders to win jump balls he should not be able to. Calvin Ridley has it all.
After Ridley spent most of his time as the Z-receiver as a freshman, Lane Kiffin seems to be quite keen on seeing what kind of havoc Ridley can wreak on defenses from the slot this upcoming season.
The Other Returning Starters
ArDarius Stewart (Jr.)
2015 stats: 63 catches, 700 yards (11.11 YPC), 4 touchdowns
A quarterback and defensive back in high school, Stewart only began learning to play receiver once arriving at Alabama. Though already an elite athlete (sub 4.40 forty) with a powerful, muscular frame and tremendous balance, he lacked much of the knowledge of feel of the intricacies of the position over the last few years as a backup. In his first year as a starter, Stewart continued to grow throughout the season, becoming a very reliable option by the end of the season.
He showed a penchant for leaping seemingly inhuman heights to catch overthrown balls, and came away with some of the most impressive and acrobatic catches you'll see from a college football player. He was also used extensively on screens and jet sweeps, as his solid build, speed, and balance made him almost a de facto running back along the perimeter.
With his size and pure athleticism, Stewart has the potential to become an even more dangerous receiver than Calvin Ridley, but he still has work to do on his route running and consistency with his hands.
Stewart was the starter as the X-receiver for most of 2015, and will look to hold onto that spot again this year.
Robert Foster (Jr.)
2015 stats: 10 catches, 116 yards (11.6 YPC), 2 touchdowns
A five star receiver from Pennsylvania, Robert Foster actually started ahead of Calvin Ridley last season. Foster was easily and obviously the top receiving target for QB Jake Coker to start the season, but a nasty broken collarbone against Ole Miss in game 3 ended his 2015 campaign before it really began.
Though Ridley and Stewart are both blazingly fast, word around the team is that Robert Foster is the fastest... not just of the receivers, but on the entire team. At 6'2" he's also a little taller than the other two. Though supremely talented and athletic, Alabama fans have seen very little of Foster so far in his career. All signs indicate that he should be ready to go again by the start of the season, and will be aiming to make the field at the same time as Ridley and Stewart.
Check out this article from DoctorWhosonFirst for a film breakdown of Foster's limited action last season.
The Top Back Ups
Cam Sims (Jr)
2015 Stats:6 catches, 46 yards (7.7 YPC), 0 TD
A towering 6'5" monster, Cam Sims has been on the verge of starting the last two years, but has been derailed by severe knee injuries and other breakout starts like Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.
Despite his size, Sims has always had tremendous speed and surprising ability to change directions. He excels around the sideline and endzone, using his height to pluck balls out of the air from over shorter corners and keeping his feet in bounds. Sims will look to get time as one of the first subs as an X receiver for the Tide.
Daylon Charlot (So)
2015 Stats: 2 catches, 9 yards
Any of you that have spent much time around RBR for the last year know that Charlot was my favorite player in Alabama's 2015 class. A lightning-fast speedster with cat-like grace and fluidity, I thought that Charlot was one of the most well-versed route runners I've seen in high school in a long time.
Though a supremely talented receiver, his skill-set mirrors that of Calvin Ridley, minus the wow factor and spectacular catches. Because of this, it will be tough for him to carve out a role for himself other than to just be depth.
Derek Kief (So.)
2015 Stats: 1 catch, -3 yards.
Part of the "Twin Towers" duo with Cam Sims, Kief was best known for being tall and having his own website as a high schooler. Like Sims, he has done little more over the last few years than just run dummy routes while back-up running backs do the dirty work to close out a blowout game. However, Kief did get some meaningful snaps in relief of Richard Mullaney last year, even if he was never really targeted.
Though mostly unknown, Kief is a bit of a unique player, a trait that could benefit him if Kiffin finds a role for him. Despite being a towering 6'4" receiver, Kief excels as a slot player. Some Alabama defensive backs have stated to the media that Kief is a sneaky route-runner, and is one of the hardest receivers on the team to cover.
Though he'll likely continue to do little more than sub in during blowout duty, Kief will be one of the top options if someone goes down with injury.
Raheem Falkins (Sr.)
One of the longest tenured players on the roster, Alabama fans have been wanting to see a role for the 6'4" Falkins for the last four years. After showing potential early on, it seems as though he disappears further and further down the depth chart every year. With yet another leg injury this offseason, it seems unlikely that we'll ever see Raheem Falkins on the field again, unless near the end of a game against an FCS cupcake.
Gehrig Dieter (Sr.)
2015 Stats: 94 catches, 1033 yards (11.0 YPC), 10 TD
Though Ridley, Stewart, and Foster are expected to be the top three in the rotation, graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter from Bowling Green is the wild card to that. After a season to get him on the Biletnikoff Award list, Dieter is transferring to Alabama to win a starting job, a championship, and a higher draft status.
Let's get this out of the way now. Yes, he is a white receiver. No, he's not a scrappy, slot player that's quicker-than-fast. So get that stereotype out of your head right now. In fact, watch this video first, then read on.
Amazing, huh? He's Odell Beckham in the redzone and Anquan Boldin near the sidelines. I mean, two one-handed touchdown catches in one season? Crazy.
Dieter excels and using his size to break a defensive back's press coverage and then getting down the sideline for a big play. He again is adept at using his size and length to ward off defenders with the ball in the air and extend to make tough catches near the sidelines and over defenders. Not only is he big, but fast too... and also surprisingly good at making would-be tacklers miss with the ball in his hands.
He is a prototypical X-receiver that can shed a press without a moment's delay and easily punish defenses for playing too aggressive. Dieter has a very good shot to not only pass Foster and Stewart in the pecking order, but possibly even be good enough to take a significant share of targets from Calvin Ridley. What a good time to be an Alabama fan.
T.J. Simmons (Fr.)
At 6'2", Simmons is a solid receiver with good size, dependable hands, and impressive wingspan. Though a true freshman and unlikely to garner any playing time this year, he was an early enrollee this spring, and was in the mix to be a kick returner during spring practices. With his body build, I wouldn't be surprised if Nick Saban is looking to try him out as a gunner for the kick and punt teams as early as this year. If not, he'll redshirt.
Predicted Depth Chart:
|Z||Robert Foster||ArDarius Stewart||Raheem Falkins||T.J. Simmons|
|X||Gehrig Dieter||Cam Sims||Daylon Charlot|
|Slot||Calvin Ridley||Derek Kief|
My thoughts are that Foster, Dieter, and Stewart will all three evenly split the reps for two spots. Stewart can easily play both X and Z roles, and will sub in enough that he will only not be a starter in name. It is a true embarrassment of riches that any QB in college football would give his left pinky toe and his grandma to get to throw to. Whichever new QB takes over for the Crimson Tide in 2016 will have the luxury of having possibly the best receiving corps in the nation to help him out.