We’ve already broken down the new quarterbacks and the new running backs for the 2019 Alabama squad. Moving on to the next positions on the list, we’re combining the wide receiver and tight end position groups. Partially because they’re similar positions that focus on catching passes, and partially because there is only one player for each.
As usual, I will be referring to SPARQ, an analytical tool used to quantify and compare a player’s athleticism.
I pull all my rankings from the 247Composite, and all heights, weights, and athletic tests are from ESPN, since they pull data from the Opening combines. However, most of the players have changed somewhat in their weight since participation in these combines last summer, so their college-arrival size may be much different. I just keep that old weight because it shows what size the player was when he ran that 40-yard dash.
Hailing from the New Jersey area that Alabama has recruited so well from lately, John Metchie is well-balanced receiver that isn’t particularly big or small. He’s not a burner with 4.6 speed, but he tested quite well in the shuttle, displaying nice short-area acceleration.
Though not verified through Nike, he’s also reported to have run a 4.45 forty and a 35” vertical jump— both exceptional numbers. Again, though, those aren’t verified, so take it with a grain of salt.
Metchie is a versatile athlete who played running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, and both sides of special teams as early as a sophomore in high school. He narrowed his focus to mostly just receiver and safety by his junior year, but still displayed a nice versatility to make an impact from anywhere on the field. As he’s planning on being a wide receiver at the college level, though, I’ll just focus on that.
The first thing I noticed about Metchie is that he’s built more like a running back than a wide receiver. He’s a little stouter in his lower body than the slender frame we see in a lot of wide outs. As you’d expect from that, he’s at his best with the ball in his hands. He took a lot of screen passes for his team and excels at sifting through traffic and making cuts well ahead of time to keep blockers in between him and oncoming defenders. He just has a knack for moving around on the football field so that defenders never even come close to him.
He shows a nice ability to adjust to deep balls and can twist around while running without losing body control if the QB throws the ball over the wrong shoulder. He also displays good concentration on low passes and doesn’t mind diving to the ground to scoop a ball up at the last second.
In his route-running, he’s very natural at running curls, comebacks, and quick-outs. He can go from a full speed stem to stopping and turning with almost no warning to the cornerback covering him. He’s also quite obviously been trained at breaking press coverage and shows the ability to swim around a cornerback that is too far to one side, and uses a little jab-step to set the corner up to move to one side or the other.
The first thing I saw was that he double-clutched more than just a few easy catches. He came down with them, but it showed a little less concentration on those balls than he has on tougher catchers (Alabama’s three best receivers in the Saban era— Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley— have all also been plagued by this same issue). He’s also not a very big guy and doesn’t display a knack for boxing out defensive backs or jumping over people to make highlight catches on jump balls.
Though a natural route-runner in the short passing game, his deep routes like posts, corners, and related double-moves, are all a little less crisp.
Though I mentioned above that he’s at his best with the ball in his hands (and he is), he’s not the best at breaking tackles. While he does a very good job of keeping defenders from ever getting their hands on him, he usually goes down if they do and usually can’t slip out of a one-on-one matchup if the tackler has a good angle on him.
Though I do expect him to stick to being a wide receiver, Metchie actually reminds me a lot of Eddie Jackson in high school. Not overly athletic or exceptional in any given area, but has a feel for weaving the ball through traffic for huge chunks of yards. He’s also a very willing and big hitter from the safety position (and as a gunner on special teams).
I don’t expect him to crack the receiver rotation in 2019 with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle all returning. However, I think he stands a very real shot at winning a spot as a gunner on kick-off coverage.
Billingsley is an elite athlete at tight end, as evidenced by his 2.11 Z-score (98th percentile athlete). A 4.64 forty is phenomenal for a tight end, and both his shuttle and vertical jump are pretty solid. His powerball toss was his best test though. 43.5 is a really good number for a lineman, which makes it a crazy display of explosive strength for a 220-pound skill position player.
Illinois isn’t exactly an oft-recruited area, so a lack of regional notoriety may have been a contributor to his lower over ranking (which, as you’re about to learn, is something I believe was WAY off the mark).
First and foremost is that Billingsley is excellent in space. Though a tight end, his team made it a point to throw plenty of screen passes to him as well as use him regularly as a wildcat QB. He runs with a lot of power and doesn’t mind lowering his shoulder to bowl over someone trying to tackle him, but he is also fast enough beat someone to the sidelines and stiff arm them down as he goes by. He’s also great at using his 6’4” length to fall forward while being tackled to gain an extra couple of yards.
He plays just as much receiver split out wide as he does tight end and is a very explosive route-runner for someone his size. He can really accelerate out of cuts and runs very crisp stick and curl routes. He’s also fast enough to be a danger getting downfield and can leave linebackers behind on long-developing crossing routes.
As a receiver, he’s an aggressive catcher who is more than happy to jump in front of defenders and highpoint a ball in traffic. When he goes to make catches, it’s an emphatic action. He snatches the ball out of the air and quickly tucks it safely away. There’s nothing passive about it. When teams say they want a tight end with basketball experience, it’s because they want someone that catches like Billingsley does. He’s going up for a rebound, and that ball is his.
As a blocker, he displays a lot of explosive power despite his slighter frame and really seems to enjoy laying people out. He’s often used for that same purpose on special teams as he seems to relish the occasion to collide with someone at high speed and pancake them.
At 220 pounds, he’s a bit light for a tight end in a pro-style offense that will require him to be an in-line blocker at times. He’s got the strength when he’s able to square up on someone and strike, but can he hold up near the line of scrimmage in pushing matches? If he bulks up, will he lose some of his speed and prowess as a pass-catcher?
He’s also got a little bit of an issue of overrunning defenders when trying to block them in open space and letting them get behind him.
With Irv Smith and Hale Hentges both off to the pros, Alabama will be wide open at tight end. Miller Forristall has played a good bit behind those two and is expected to be the top tight end in 2019, but his job is far from assured. Past that, Major Tennison, Kedrick James, and Michael Parker all have little experience to separate them from Billingsley coming in.
I think he’ll push for time as a true freshman and will occasionally rotate in as a pass catcher in a wide open offense. He may not get full-time duty yet, as he’ll need work as a blocker, but he’ll probably be the best pass-catching tight end on the team the moment he arrives on campus. I’ll predict about 15 catches on the year.