Despite the fact that Alabama is losing 100% of it’s starting experience at wide receiver in Calvin Ridley, Cam Sims, and Robert Foster all leaving, most feel like the position is in good hands with the trio of rising sophomores in Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Devonte Smith.
And while that is an accurate feeling of security, you have to remember one thing: all of them will go pro after just two more seasons when they all vie for the same Heisman Trophy. Then you need someone behind them with a little experience and talent.
That’s where Jaylen Waddle and Xavier Williams come in. (Sidenote: Early enrollee Slade Bolden was listed on RollTide.com’s updated roster as a receiver... however, I already included him in with the running backs a few weeks ago. So... deal with it).
With the NFL combine going on right now, there’s always a lot of discussion on how much emphasis to place on a player’s “measureables” when trying to scout them for the next level of football. Personally, I love numbers. But no number tells a full story without being taken in it’s proper context.
As for the measureables, though, I use SPARQ. It’s a Nike creation where high schoolers participate in combines, then Nike uses a formula to combine 5 different variables to create a metric, or a SPARQ score. A few years ago, I took that a step further and normalized SPARQ scores for each position using standard deviations to get a Z-score.
Hailing from Hollywood, FL (the same town the produced the similarly sized Calvin Ridley), Xavier Williams didn’t test (or post his numbers) in the 40 yard dash, powerball toss, or SPARQ composite. So all we have are his twenty yard shuttle and vertical jump— both of which are perfectly average for a top wide receiver. Nothing special, but nothing that would cause any worry either.
Williams is a versatile, well-coached receiver who has the tools to be a very, very successful receiver for a very long time if he applies himself going forward. Stylistically, he reminds me of a Coke Zero version of Larry Fitzgerald— that’s not to say he’s going to be an NFL Hall-of-Famer or anything, but he plays similarly.
He can play both outside and slot receiver, and is a technician as a route-runner in both roles. He is exceptional against the press and is usually able to totally avoid the corner at the line of scrimmage with his footwork alone, and can force the corner to one side or the other, depending on the release he wants. He has a long enough stride to beat a man deep right of the line of scrimmage, or can stop on a dime to catch a curl as the defender runs right by him, trying to catch up from his earlier release.
He has a natural feel for positioning his body and separating himself from the defender at the very last second to catch a ball. He can adjust to an underthrown ball and body his man out, or give one final burst to make a diving catch on a slightly overthrown one.
There are only two real negatives I can point to on Williams’ game. The first is a lack of pure speed. He’s a long strider and can do some damage on deep routes, but there isn’t a 0-60 speed that just blows by people and leaves them in the dust.
The other is a lack of anything special with the ball in his hands. He does well enough and will turn upfield to pick up the yards he can, and can occasionally pull of a good juke, but he doesn’t have a natural feel for making huge plays with the ball in his hands.
Despite the depth ahead of him in the three aforementioned sophomores, plus senior Derek Keif and redshirt freshman Tyrell Shavers, I think that Williams is too technically savvy and skilled to be totally kept off the field. He may not have a substantial role or anything, but I expect we’ll see him as part of the rotation in blowout games.
In some cases, I think you have to look at a Nike Combine score as just a bad day. He must have had a fairly poor shuttle time for him not to post it and also have such a low score, despite good numbers in the 40, vertical jump, and powerball. At 169 pounds, your score can only be so high, but after spending some time watching Waddle, I have trouble believing he’d test as low as he did.
Every so often, you run across a player that, when you watch his highlights, all you can do is laugh. Waddle is one of those players. Every time he touches the ball, he’s breaking some poor soul’s ankles or leaving someone in the dust.
He just has that feel for setting up defenders to go one direction, then going 45 degrees in the other direction without changing his stride or speed or anything. He’s full speed, full time. And it takes him all of about 3 steps from standing still to get up to full speed. He has uncanny balance and can make cuts and stop-n-go moves that should defy the physics of the human body, but he does them routinely with ease.
In the actual passing game, he mostly gets the ball either on a screen or going deep, where he can maximize his YAC ability and his speed to get past people on a bomb.
He hasn’t done a whole lot in regards to a full route-tree... mostly just running screens or go routes with the occasional double move to turn around a defender. He’ll need some practice to get down the timing and feel for medium-length routes and attacking zones, rather than just outrunning people deep.
He also had a tendency to catch the ball with his stomach as much as his hands, and will jump for catches that should be a face-level grab, and then have to underhand catch the ball. He’ll also have to work on his judgement of the ball when it’s in the air to get to the point where he can catch it efficiently, rather than cradling it into his belly.
I think that Williams will be ahead of Waddle in the receiver depth rotation this year, and Waddle will be a candidate for a redshirt as he puts on some more weight. However, there’s a good chance he pushes for the starting job as punt/kick returner. He may not have the experience/judgement that coach Saban likes back there, but I think he’ll be the most electric returner on the team the moment he steps on campus.
One of the lower rated members of the class, Parker was thought to be a grayshirt candidate for much of the year, but the smaller class size ended up giving him room to join the team at the same time as everyone else. At 6’6”, he’s got great height and the basketball build that so many teams are looking for in tight ends these days.
Parker is a tall, rangy dude with a solid frame to go with it. He can build up to a deceptive speed for his size, and once he’s up to full speed, he can cause problems for safeties deep down the field who think they have him covered only to have him run right past them.
He’s got a knack for finding soft spots in zone coverages, and knows when to slow down and turn to get open for a first down. He’s big enough to absorb hits with minimal impact across the middle as he catches the ball and has the concentration to pull catches despite being in the middle of a bunch of traffic.
While he can get to moving pretty fast, it does take him nearly 10 yards to get up to top speed, and he doesn’t slow down or change direction very easily after that.
He’s spent much more time split out wide as a receiver, rather than an in-line tight end. So while he’s a willing and able blocker downfield against defensive backs, his abilities as a blocker in the trenches against defensive linemen and linebackers is a bit of an unknown. He’s so tall that gaining leverage in those situations may be a bit of a problem for him.
Alabama has four solid tight ends with experience ahead of him on the roster, so I fully expect Parker to redshirt this year.