Ahhh, tight end, the perennially underused “secret weapon” position of the Crimson Tide since 20... Forever. Up until the last two seasons when Alabama’s passing game was so good we stopped complaining, a favorite saying around here was “why doesn’t [offensive coordinator x] use the tight end more?”
And the usual response has been: “he’s just saving him for the playoffs!”
Overall, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for the top tight ends under Saban. There were O.J Howard and Irv Smith, Jr., then a whole bunch of guys that didn’t make too much of an impact. Brad Smelley was probably the next best, stats-wise, and he only had a single season with a whole 356 yards.
And now you’ll vote on which guy deserves to be first-team All-Saban. Here’s the rules of the contest:
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.
CB969 on Irv Smith, Jr.
What is the most important thing in any team sport? Score more points than the opponent. Scoring is everything, right? That said, let me throw this nugget at you:
7 - O.J. Howard (four seasons)
10 - Irv Smith Jr. (three seasons)
While O.J. got a lot of headlines, it was Smith who converted his catches into points. Smith recorded a touchdown for every 5.8 receptions at Alabama. That number is better than Amari Cooper (7.4), Jaylen Waddle (6.0), and Jerry Jeudy (6.1). Howard scored every 16.3 catches. Smith did all this while sharing catches with four future NFL receivers.
Irv Smith Jr. has always been an underdog. From the beginning of life he has had much to live up to. Being named after a former Notre Dame great and first round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints is a tough act to follow.
Smith was a 3-star tight end out of New Orleans who did not have a ton of big-time offers until Alabama came around. He did not have the hype and hope that Howard enjoyed.
In 2016 and 2017, Smith got plenty of playing time but quarterback Jalen Hurts had a little bit of trouble going through his progressions to find number 82 with his outstretched hands. Even still, Smith took advantage of his opportunities scoring three times on 14 grabs as a sophomore.
Things changed in his junior year when a guy named Tua took over under center. Smith caught at least one pass in all 15 games in 2018. His 44 receptions were one behind Waddle and two behind Henry Ruggs for the season. His seven touchdowns were tied for third most on the team.
One can only imagine the numbers Smith could have put up had he returned for his senior season as Howard did. Instead, he became the second pick of the Vikings in last year’s NFL draft.
If you prefer flash and fluff, vote for O.J. If you tend to favor the blue collar get-r-done underdog, the answer has to be Irv Smith Jr.
DrWhosOnFirst on O.J Howard:
O.J. Howard was a 5 star, top 20 recruit in the Class of 2013. Howard played in all 13 games as a freshman, starting five of them. He hauled in 14 receptions (more than all other tight ends on the team combined) for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns, with no reception more exciting than this one.
That’s Howard just casually outracing the LSU secondary for a 52 yard touchdown. For the year, he averaged 19.2 yards per reception, which was a team high.
Howard chugged along as a sophomore, upping his reception total to 17 (again more than all the other tight ends combined) for 260 yards.
Howard put together a great junior campaign. He finished with 38 receptions (tied for third) for 602 yards (third) with 2 touchdowns; his 15.8 yards per reception was a team high. Going into the playoffs, however, it was just a solid, if unspectacular year for Howard. That changed as he went on to have one of the single best games by an Alabama tight end. In the national championship, Howard recorded 5 receptions for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 208 receiving yards was by far the most by a single player until Ja’Marr Chase put up 221 in the most recent championship. Howard’s performance was enough to earn him Offensive MVP honors.
He returned for his senior year and largely kept pace. Howard had 45 receptions (the most by a tight end under Nick Saban) for 595 yards and 3 touchdowns while also improving as a blocker; and he was one of the three finalists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s best tight end. Howard once again had an excellent postseason, leading the team in receptions (4) and receiving yards (44) in the semifinal and going for 4 receptions and 106 yards with 1 touchdown in the championship.
Howard ended his career with 114 receptions for 1,726 yards and 7 touchdowns while being at least a part-time starter in four straight seasons (Irv Smith contributed for just two seasons). Howard is the only tight end under Saban to be drafted in the first round. He was an athletic freak (he was a top performer among tight ends in almost every category at the NFL Combine). Unfortunately, he was often woefully underutilized.
Irv Smith was a great tight end, but I’m voting Howard #1 and not looking back.
Who is first-team TE for the All-Saban team?
This poll is closed
Irv Smith, Jr.
However, there was another guy that deserved to be recognized. Though he wasn’t a tight end, per se, he was one of Alabama’s only true fullbacks of the Saban era.
Here’s Josh’s thoughts on Jalston “Nudie” Fowler
Look, I know that O.J. and Irv have all the stats and that fancy top 50 draft pick status. I mostly just wanted to make sure that Nudie got his day in the sun.
Fowler came in as a freshman battering ram in 2010 and earned some immediate mop up duty. Stacking nearly 250 lbs. on a 6’1” frame, nobody particularly cared to get in his way. Through two seasons, Nudie had five TDs on only 70 carries.
Unfortunately he tore an ACL in his junior season of 2012 and missed a national title run. He was then granted a medical redshirt, and upon his return he reinvented himself as a fullback. As you’d expect, he opened some serious holes in the running game.
Finally, as a fifth year senior in 2014, he was used as more of an H-Back by Lane Kiffin, which allowed him to show off some receiving chops as well. The numbers weren’t massive at 11 catches for 129 yards and two scores, but it was enough to help get him drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans, where he opens holes for Derrick Henry.
I know that I’m not alone in saying that Fowler is one of my very favorite players of the Saban era. Give him some love, folks.
But, because we can’t have an uncontested position, I will give you a couple more options in the poll. Just don’t expect any major convincing arguments. Blame the establishment for rigging the vote.
Who should be the All-Saban Fullback/H-back
This poll is closed