It’s not often that Alabama returns every single starter from a position group from one season to the next. It’s even less often it happens for such a large position group like wide receivers. Throw in the fact that one of them actually won the national award for best in the nation (Biletnikoff) last season, and it’s borderline unthinkable.
Alabama was already one of the top passing offenses in all of college football last year. Bringing back the top 4 receivers (plus a QB that nearly won the Heisman trophy) is a good way to be viewed as the best overall group in the entire country.
As such, there’s not a whole lot of intrigue or controversy leading up to the 2019 season. We know the four guys that will be Alabama’s receivers. The backups will have a much smaller role, though there will be competition for being the first in the game in blowouts or if any of the top dogs get injured.
The Touchdown Quartet
*I made that one up. Maybe it’ll stick.
#4- Jerry Jeudy
The junior out of Deerfield Beach, FL won pretty much any award a wide receiver can win on his way to a 1315-yard, 16-TD season, setting an Alabama record for yards per reception at a ridiculous 19.3. He’s a complete package at receiver with great speed, consistent hands, smooth rote-running, and a devastating juke move after the catch.
In this case, video speaks much louder than words:
#11- Henry Ruggs III
Ruggs III was part of the same class as Jeudy and a little closer to home, coming from Montgomery, AL. He’s a strong and physical player, but don’t think that strength is a trade-off for speed. He’s widely considered the fastest player on the team (though the other receivers might argue that), with a rumored sub 4.3-second forty-yard dash. Though not as consistent a threat or polished a route-runner as Jeudy, Ruggs III has a penchant for making crazy leaping catches and is tough to bring down after the catch.
#6- Devonta Smith
The third member of that legendary 2017 wide receiver recruiting class, Smith was the first of the three to really have major moments in college ball. As a freshman, he caught a game winner against Mississippi State from Jalen Hurts, then followed that up with the immaculate 2nd and 26 touchdown game winner in overtime of the National Championship against Georgia.
Poised for a breakout sophomore year with Ruggs III and Jeudy, Smith was limited early on with a gimpy hamstring, so he missed out on some of the gaudy stats the others were putting up early in the season. Despite that, he still had 6 touchdowns and nearly 700 yards in 2018.
Smith is a slighter receiver that the other two at only 175 pounds, but makes up for it with lightning-quick route-running and is probably Tua Tagovailoa’s most trusted target on shorter routes. He has sure hands and is nearly as fast as Ruggs III, so he’s a danger to slip down field for a long completion on any play.
#17- Jaylen Waddle
A year younger than the first three, the diminutive Waddle broke onto the scene from game one in 2018 while Smith was limited with his hamstring. Not only did he become a mainstay in the offense, he was the team’s starting punt returner as well, and was absolutely electric all season long. Waddle wound up 2nd on the team with 848 yards and 7 touchdowns (only 18 inches behind Jeudy on his yards/catch) and added a punt return for a touchdown. He also made history with a 94-yard touchdown— the second longest reception in Alabama football history.
Though a year younger than the first three, Waddle might be the best of the bunch after the catch, and is just as good of a deep threat as the rest.
When Jerry Jeudy, a Biletnikoff-winning deep-threat averaging nearly 20 ypc is probably the slowest of the top four receivers on the team, you truly have an embarassment of riches.
#14- Tyrell Shavers
The 6’6” redshirt sophomore joined the team at the same time as Jeudy, Smith, and Ruggs III, but was significantly less college-ready than the trio. He came in with great size and speed (a sub 4.4 forty despite his 6’6” 210-pound frame.... ridiculous), but had a long ways to go in terms of route-running.
Now, though, he’s the most senior member of the backups and has spent a couple of years learning from the best in the business.
#12- Chadarius Townsend
Also a redshirt sophomore, Townsend has bounced around from defensive back to running back to wide receiver, and is now practicing with the running backs again with the injury to Trey Sanders. A speedster with great after-the-catch ability, Townsend is still more of an overall athlete than a true wide receiver at this point.
#9- Xavier Williams
Coming out of high school, Williams was looked at as a college-ready player with great technical skills. He’s a precise route-runner with great hands, even in sticky situations, but lacked some of the explosive ability of the plethora of speedsters that Alabama has at receiver.
That said, the redshirt freshman was at the top of the depth chart on the second-team during A-Day, and will see plenty of mop-up duty this season.
#18- Slade Bolden
Like Townsend, Bolden has already spent time with the defensive backs and the running backs during his first year on campus before settling in to receiver this offseason. Bolden was a wildcat QB in high school, and as such was used in a trick play during A-Day this spring.
He’s a versatile athlete that’s extremely elusive, but is mostly an unknown at this point.
#3- John Metchie
The Canadian freshman wasn’t a very highly hyped recruit or anything (though still solidly a top-200 player), but enrolled early and showed up just looking bigger, stronger, and faster than freshmen usually do. He dominated the second-team defensive backs at A-Day, winning the game MVP and causing quite a stir. If Metchie has continued to practice this summer like he did last spring, then expect him to be at the top of the pecking order behind the starting four.
Predicted Depth Chart
WRZ- Devonta Smith, Xavier Williams, Chadarius Townsend
WRX- Henry Ruggs III, John Metchie, Tyrell Shavers
SLOT- Jerry Jeudy/Jaylen Waddle, Slade Bolden
(Note: In a traditional sense, the Z receiver is the one who lines up off the line of scrimmage on the outside, while the X receiver is lined up on the line on the outside. The slot man is in between on of the two receivers and the offensive line. At Alabama, the wide receivers generally play all three spots interchangeably, so it’s really more like WR1, WR2, and WR3.)