Every position on the Alabama roster is going to be loaded with talent considering the sustained recruiting success by the staff, and the wide receiver position is no exception. Experience, however, is in short supply behind the best duo in the nation. It would be unreasonable to expect the Tide passing game to produce as it did the last two seasons, but finding depth will be paramount to limiting the dropoff.
You may have heard of these guys: Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III aka the first two receivers off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft. Rarely does a college program seamlessly replace two first round talents in one position group. The Tide also lost a grad transfer at the position in 6’6” Tyrell Shavers, who landed at Mississippi State.
#6 Devonta Smith - “Tay” could have come out after last season and had a solid chance to go late in the first round, but thankfully decided to return. The only knock on Smith is his size, listed at a slim 175 lbs. on his 6’1” frame. He is plenty physical as a blocker, however, and uses elite change of direction to get off of jams. He had an otherworldly game against Ole Miss iast season with 11 catches for 274 yards and five (!) touchdowns. He was also the leading receiver in the shootout with LSU, torching Derek Stingley and company for 7/213/2. He will be the senior leader of this group and the top weapon outside.
#17 Jaylen Waddle - The prototyical slot receiver and return man, Waddle comes into his junior campaign with plenty of hype. Known as one of the fastest men in the country, Waddle’s biggest game came at Auburn last season, with 4/98/3 and another score on a kick return. With the departure of Ruggs and Jeudy, he will get his opportunity to show what he can do in a truly fill time role on offense. Expect to see him used heavily in the jet sweep game, too.
#8 John Metchie III - A sophomore, the 6’0” 195 lb.Metchie broke out in the spring game last season, proving to be the favorite target of then-backup Mac Jones while taking home MVP honors with five grabs for 133 yards. The depth chart wasn’t in his favor, of course, so playing time on offense was hard to come by. Metchie did appear in 13 games thanks to his special teams play, and he will have a great chance at a full time role in the 2020 offense.
#18 Slade Bolden - Bolden is currently listed as a WR, but he is more of an all-purpose back who will likely see plenty of time as a slot receiver in four-wide sets, filling a role similar to that of Waddle in 2019. He was also used in a “wildcat” role last season, which is something to keep an eye on. Bolden has reportedly had a great camp and will likely be seen early and often this season.
#3 Xavier Williams - Williams came in with plenty of fanfare back in the 2018 class, but thus far hasn’t been able to get on the field much. Granted, the depth chart has worked against this entire group, but we haven’t heard much about the 6’1” 190 lb. Williams during this camp either. Considering the lack of information coming out of practice, that may not mean a thing. Keep an eye on Xavier.
#5 Javon Baker - Baker was only the 34th ranked WR in the 2020 class, but he has wasted no time in making a splash. Everyone who has seen practice has been impressed with Baker, and most think the 6’2”, 195 lb. Georgia product to fill a role as a bigger outside receiver and allow Waddle to stay in the slot where he is best utilized. Dr. Matt Rhea has mentioned Baker’s speed, and he may well be right there with Waddle as the fastest on the roster. Combine that with his ideal size and we may have another special one.
#11 Traeshon Holden - Holden is another big target at 6’3”, 208 lb. The four-star from Kissimmee, FL has plenty of potential and will likely see the field considering the lack of depth at the position, but his time will likely come down the road.
#14 Thalu Jones-Bell - Bell will likely be the heir apparent to Waddle in the slot. A stocky 187 lbs. at only 5’11”, he is known for his quick change of direction and long speed. He will likely be a developmental prospect this season, but there is plenty of upside here.
Considering the lack of experience behind them, Smith and Waddle are two of the most critical players on the roster. Alabama will likely lean more on its big offensive line, absurd stable of RBs and defense that is expected to be much improved, but there will still be games that require some quality passing. Baker has generated a ton of buzz and may well have the inside track to that critical #3 WR job. Whoever it is, it will be critical that he’s ready to be a solid contributor in all facets of the game from day one. Still, it’s tough to be anything but bullish on a group that is headlined by two of the best players in the nation, both of whom expect to hear their name called in the first round next April.