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Vote for the RBR All-Saban Team: Wide Receivers

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Julio Jones? Amari Cooper? Who’s really the best? You decide!

julio jones

If you missed it, we already commenced the voting on Alabama’s best quarterbacks and running backs in the last 12 years under Nick Saban. In the earlier years of his tenure, the passing game was most definitely the second fiddle to the running game, but that didn’t stop the Crimson Tide from producing some high quality wide receivers.

And now you, dear readers, have the chance to vote for who was the best. Here are the rules:

The rules are fairly simple here, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.

In this case, I think Alabama had a very clear top two receivers in Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. It would be pointless to put anyone else in the same poll as them, so we’ll start off with arguments from Josh and myself for you guys to decide who is #1 and who is #2.

Josh on Amari Cooper

If we are comparing Julio and Amari as college wide receivers, there really is no contest. Both players are all-timers, but Julio was a very good WR on a run first team in his best season, while Amari essentially carried the Alabama offense as a junior.

Coop is probably the best route runner we’ve had at Alabama, and that is saying something considering the names on this list. To put it simply, he was always open. Remember when he was social distancing before it was cool, against Florida?

Lane Kiffin gets a lot of deserved credit for coaxing a school record season out of Blake Sims in 2014, but it never would have happened without Coop. Talk about a security blanket: Cooper caught 49.6% of Sims’ completions that year, for 49.4% of his passing yards. Coop ended the season with 124 catches for 1797 yards, landing himself in New York as a Heisman finalist, with second leading receiver DeAndrew White hauling in only 40 for 504.

Each player won a national title in Tuscaloosa, but their roles were significantly different on those two teams. In 2009, Julio caught only 43 balls for 596 yards including a mere three passes in the postseason. In fact, it’s laughable now, but there were folks around the country calling Julio a bust going into his junior year. Amari’s contribution to the 2012 national championship was significantly greater, with 59 catches for 1000 yards and 11 TD including a combined 14 grabs for 233 yards in the SEC and BCS Championship games. That Georgia game made him a household name, first for posterizing Bacarri Rambo:

Rambo had talked a bunch of smack leading up to the game, so that catch was particularly satisfying. Of course, Coop also hauled in the game winner.

Like most of you, Julio is one of my all time favorite Alabama players. He was a critical get on the recruiting trail and helped build a foundation. This is a vote for the very best WR of the Saban era, however, and the choice is clear.

Vote Amari.

Brent on Julio Jones

Is there any single player more important to the Alabama dynasty and Nick Saban’s legacy than Julio Jones? As a recruit, Julio was arguably the best player in the country, and pretty much every single NCAA program was doing their absolute best to recruit him. Despite barely winning half of their games in Saban’s first season, Alabama managed to secure the commitment of the in-state superstar before the 2008 season, and that recruiting win signaled to the entire country that Alabama was on the way to becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Jones made headlines all summer long as he dominated Alabama’s practices, and he won the starting receiver job as a true freshman. He made some nice plays against Clemson in the season opener and became a more and more important target for John Parker Wilson as the season progressed.

On a team that ran the ball nearly 23 of the time the entire season, Julio racked up nearly 1000 yards (almost half of the team’s passing offense) on a team that won the SEC West for the first time in a long, long time.

His sophomore year saw a bit of a slump, stats-wise, as Alabama broke in a new QB in Greg McElroy and rushed the ball at an even higher percent than the year before. For the most part, Alabama ran roughshod all over every opponent with Mark Ingram, but there were two games that season where the passing game became critical: Auburn and LSU. Against LSU, Julio had his best game of the year, and it took nearly every Tiger defender to tackle him after the catch on most plays, and the screen pass he took 73 yards for a score to put the game out of reach is a play that has gone into Alabama lore.

Against Auburn, Julio picked up four straight first downs as the Tide ran out 7 minutes of clock and scored the game winning touchdown in, again, one of Alabama’s top moments in history.

In 2010, Julio played through a broken and surgically repaired hand on his way to 1100 yards for his best season of his career. He had 200 yard games against Tennessee and Auburn.

His career at Alabama, while lacking in volume stats, was full of highlight one-handed catches, hundreds of broken tackles, and huge plays in the biggest moments. He always saved his best performances for LSU and Auburn every year. Against LSU in particular, it took nearly every defender on the team to tackle him on a routine slant for three years in a row.

But playing in such a run-first offense puts his stats at a disadvantage to these later guys like Cooper who got the luxury of much more modern offenses.

Once he got to the NFL, though, that changed. Jones has 12,000 yards and 57 touchdowns with the Falcons, and hasn’t had less than 1300 yards in a season since 2013. He’s been the best (and definitely most consistently the best) receiver in the NFL of the last decade. He’s a shoe-in NFL Hall-of-Fame player, and is, quite honestly, the best wide receiver on the planet.

Let me know when Amari Cooper reaches that kind of status.

Poll

Who was Alabama’s best receiver?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Julio Jones
    (337 votes)
  • 37%
    Amari Cooper
    (199 votes)
536 votes total Vote Now

Next up, there was a pretty clear 2nd tier of two guys, Jerry Jeudy and Calvin Ridley. On your votes, one of these guys gets to be on the first team with Coop and Julio, while the other is a second team reserve. Who you got?

DrWhosOnFirst on Calvin Ridley:

Calvin Ridley was a 5 star recruit out of south Florida, the #12 overall prospect in the country. He quickly made an impact as a freshman, getting involved from the season opener, though his coming out party didn’t occur until a few weeks later against Georgia (5 receptions, 120 yards). Ridley finished the year with 1,045 receiving yards, a single-season freshman record for Alabama.

He had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016, but he still hauled in 72 receptions (a top 10 single-season performance at the time) and 769 receiving yards. Ridley bounced back yardage-wise as a junior with 967 yards, though his receptions dipped to 63 with Alabama attempting far fewer passes than before. He then declared for the draft and was selected in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons.

Ridley played in 44 career games at Alabama, and he caught at least one pass in every single game. He finished with 224 receptions, 2,781 receiving yards, and 19 touchdowns, adding another 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Time for a few direct comparisons between Ridley and Jerry Jeudy.

Ridley had 11 receptions in a single game, which is tied for the third-highest total in school history (Jeudy’s highest single game total was 10).

Ridley hauled in 89 catches in 2015, the second-highest total in school history (Jeudy’s highest was 77). Additionally, Ridley’s 72 catches in 2016 ranks fifth in school history.

Ridley’s 224 receptions is just four behind Amari Cooper and easily in second place (Jeudy has 159). Ridley unsurprisingly also edges Jeudy in career receiving yards (2,781 vs. 2,742)

Yes, Jeudy did have ample competition from future first and second rounders who took some targets from him. And yes, Ridley was the unquestioned lead target for Jalen Hurts in 2017 when Alabama threw the ball substantially less. However, Ridley did have competition from a future third rounder (ArDarius Stewart) and a future first rounder (O.J. Howard) in 2015 and 2016 (so two-thirds of his career).

On the flip side, Jeudy had Tua Tagovailoa as his quarterback the two years he started. Ridley had Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts (with a tiny bit of Tagovailoa his final year). I love both Coker and Hurts and think they were great quarterbacks, but they ain’t Tua.

It’s close, but give me Ridley.

And here’s Bamabrave’s thoughts on Jerry Jeudy:

Going to try to keep my personal streak rolling here after delivering wins for Jalen and Eddie Lacy.

Dr.Who already delivered some of the arguments between the two, but the narrative should be framed differently. Jalen’s unwavering reliance on Ridley in 2017 (his 63 receptions was more than the next three players combined) basically cost Jerry Jeudy an entire season. Despite this, Jeudy, as mentioned, ranks 4th all-time in school history, and a mere 39 yards short of Ridley for 3rd, in large part because of his insane 17.2 career YPC. Jeudy is also 2nd all-time at Alabama in receiving touchdowns (26), compared to Ridley’s 19. This is despite having to compete with three other guys mentioned in this post for touches, and the fact that he was basically done catching any passes by the mid-third quarter of every game, save about five (2018 Georgia, 2018 Clemson, 2019 LSU, 2019 Auburn, 2019 Michigan).

Additionally, the 2018 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner is slated to be the first wide receiver taken off of the board in an absolutely loaded WR class in the 2020 NFL Draft. The reasons are quite obvious. Jeudy is a near-carbon copy of Amari Cooper (Alabama’s only other Biletnikoff winner). In fact, you could even argue that he is more gifted than Cooper.

Jeudy’s combination of route running (which is absolutely insane, by the way), speed, quickness, strength, hands, and shiftiness are among the best I’ve ever seen packaged into a single person. He can beat anybody, anywhere on the field. Calvin Ridley is a phenomenal player, but Jeudy is simply better.

Poll

Who deserves to be in the lineup with Coop and Julio?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Jerry Jeudy
    (380 votes)
  • 27%
    Calvin Ridley
    (146 votes)
526 votes total Vote Now

But we can’t just have one guy on the second team. There needs to be one other 2nd team guy. And this is where things get fun. We had to make a few cuts from the list for this 5th and final spot. DJ Hall, though he had the stats, was only coached by Saban in 2007, and he’s disqualified for, uhh, bad behavior. Jaylen Waddle could very well be on the list next year, but for now, he doesn’t quite have the production of the others. Marquise Maze is a candidate for our All-Underappreciated Team, but probably doesn’t deserve to be mentioned for the top spots. And Kevin Norwood had some huge moments, but was also invisible more often than not in his four years.

So this battle will come down to Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith, and ArDarius Stewart.

CB969 makes the argument for Stewart:

What makes ArDarius Stewart so special that he should be included on this list ahead of Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith? The answer lies at the other end of his 129 career receptions (ninth most all-time at Bama, by the way). In three seasons at the Capstone, Stewart had three different starting quarterbacks with three different playing styles heaving the pigskin his way. Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and Jalen Hurts all had different approaches to how to play their position and receivers have to adjust to that. While Ruggs and Smith put up some mighty purty highlights, they had the luxury of having perhaps the greatest signal caller in Alabama history spinning perfect passes to them.

Stewart came to Alabama as a high 4-star Athlete due to his skills on either side of the ball. In the spring of 2014, Nick Saban and staff took a good long look at him at defensive back. Because of this move, he fell behind the WR depth chart against upperclassmen Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, and Christion Jones.

There were a good deal of doubters of the Crimson Tide coming into 2015 with the above three pass catchers taking their wares to the NFL. However, Stewart was the perfect bookend to Calvin Ridley’s bonanza rookie season, catching 63 balls for 700 yards and four scores en rote to a National Championship.

In 2016, it was the Fultondale native’s turn to be the number one as he actually outperformed Ridley with 95 more receiving yards (864) and one upped him on touchdowns as well. He accomplished these feats despite missing three games with an injury.

Best of all, he made a habit of roasting Auburn. Stewart caught 8 passes for 81 yards and a score in Boogertown in 2015. The next season, he grabbed 10 balls for 127 and another TD in the Iron Bowl. In addition to this 100+ receiving game against the #13 Tigers as a junior, he also crossed the century mark versus #20 Southern Cal, #16 Arkansas, and Miss State.

In conclusion, Stewart is a vital cog to any passing offense. If you need a third receiver who can make the big catches and move the chains, he is your man.

Career Bama receptions:

ArDarius Stewart: 129

DeVonta Smith: 118

Henry Ruggs III: 98

DeAndrew White 94

Kevin Norwood 81

Jaylen Waddle 78

Roger on Henry Ruggs III

Henry Ruggs answers all the questions of what you want in a wide receiver. World class speed? Check. Great Hands? Check. Route running ability? Check. Physicality and blocking ability? Check. The 6’0”, 190 pound speedster from Montgomery fills all the boxes, and then some. Ruggs came to Tuscaloosa as a 5*, rated as the number 24 player in the nation and number one wide receiver by 247Sports. As a freshman, he and his talented class mates- Jerry Juedy and Devonta Smith, were all in the playing rotation, but because of reasons (Calvin Ridley, and a certain quarterback that didn’t see the field well) didn’t put up huge numbers. Ruggs hauled in 12 catches for 229 yards and six touchdowns on the year. In fact, his first five catches of the season went for touchdowns.

With Ridley gone to the Falcons in 2018, and Tua installed as the starting quarterback, Ruggs and company shined. While Jeudy got the lions share of the catches, and won the Blietnikoff, Ruggs shined as well. The Lee High grad grabbed 46 catches for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2019, as a junior, Ruggs battled some injuries that limited his playing time, but still had 40 catches for 746 yards and seven scores. For his three year career Ruggs totaled 98 catches for 1716 yards and 24 touchdowns, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. The 24 touchdown catches places Ruggs third on the all time list at Bama, behind Amari Cooper and Jeudy.

There was speculation that Ruggs would return for his senior season, but after much deliberation he declared for the draft, which appears to have been a wise decision. At the NFL Combine Ruggs ran a blistering 4.27, and was disappointed He had set a goal to be the fastest player in the history of the event, but he fell .07 short of his goal. However, he was impressive enough that he is now a lock as a first round pick, and will be in the discussion as the first receiver taken. Jeudy has long been expected to be the first receiver off the board.

Folks, I present you Henry Ruggs III, please vote for him!

Brent on DeVonta Smith

I mean, are any other words needed? He made probably the most exciting play in Alabama history.

DeVonta is often the more forgotten man of the 2017 trio of Jeudy, Ruggs, and Smith. Jeudy gets the highlight jukes while Ruggs gets all the attention for his speed. But were it not for Ruggs, Smith would likely be the fastest wide receiver on Alabama’s roster for years. He’s a silky smooth runner and natural pass catcher whose 1256 yards and 14 touchdowns last year topped that of both Jeudy and Ruggs. He has better career stats than Ruggs in every category and is barely behind Jeudy. Since he’s returning for his senior season, he’ll pass both of them this year.

And think about it... Have you ever seen him drop a single pass?

Poll

Which guy deserves the 5th and final All-Star spot?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    DeVonta Smith
    (311 votes)
  • 12%
    ArDarius Stewart
    (63 votes)
  • 27%
    Henry Ruggs III
    (144 votes)
518 votes total Vote Now