Well, the offseason is officially upon us, which means it’s time to finally start really digging into all of Alabama’s shiny new incoming freshmen to see how they’ll fit with the team.
This series is going to be a bit abbreviated this year, as Covid-19 came in and cancelled all of Nike’s Opening camps last summer, so I have no real verified athletic testing data or SPARQ numbers to talk about. Considering that was what I was originally brought onto Roll Bama Roll to do back in 2014, that’s really been a shot to my heart, and is going to mess up my year-to-year databases for Alabama prospects for years to come.
The lack of camps, combined with many players having shortened or cancelled senior seasons, means that recent game highlights and film are more difficult to come by, so we’re going to be relying a lot on junior year film as well as the evaluations of the actual recruiting services like 247 and Rivals.
In any case, this is, according to 247’s Composite, not only the best class of the year... Not only the best class in Alabama history... but the best recruiting class in NCAA history, topping the 2010 Florida recruiting class. Hopefully, this crew accomplishes more than that Gator group did.
Today, we’re going to look at the three offensive skill positions that are NOT the receivers (there’s enough of them to make a full post by themselves).
Listed in high school at 6’3” 205, Milroe is a big, solidly built high school QB in terms of what we see in college football lately (though he would have been small compared to the rest 10 years ago). A year or so in Alabama’s strength program, and he’ll likely be playing at north of 220. If you want the perfectly-sized QB that can withstand hits, see over linemen, and still be mobile, Milroe is the modern prototype.
He’s already enrolled at Alabama, and is actually listed at 6’2” on the official roster, for what it’s worth, so we can expect to get a very solid dose of him at A-Day this year.
Milroe comes from an offense that blended a lot of modern shotgun read option concepts with a vertical passing game. In a lot of ways, watching him will remind you a lot of some mid-2000s Air Coryell offenses that featured a lot of 5 and 7 step drops and launching shots down the sidelines and up the seam as the first read. If the defense covers it deep, then he’ll crow hop up the pocket and drill a slot receiver or tight end on a late-breaking 8-yard curl.
In terms of arm strength, I saw a couple of instances of him hitting 50 air yards and dropping it to a guy right in stride. I wouldn’t say he’s quite got that Matt Stafford or Cam Newton laser arm that can throw a flatline ball 40 yards down the field, but he can definitely throw a deep rainbow shot on the money.
And even that can be improved, as I think he could easily get some collegiate coaching on using more wrist and less shoulder in his throws to speed up his release.
As a runner, he’s got a gliding speed that can gobble up a whole lot of yards in a hurry if he gets around the backside of a defense on a read option. He doesn’t have much feel for breaking tackles, but few QBs do. Give him some open field, though, and he’ll take 20 yards in a blink.
Despite his running ability, he tends to only really use it on designed runs. He’ll scramble occasionally, but it’s generally pretty rare. Instead, he prefers to launch a sideline fade if pressured quickly, with his second option being to climb back up the center of the pocket and throw the center curl as he takes the hit from behind.
I also came away really impressed with his intentionally exaggerated movements and patience when executing fakes, read options, and throwback screens. Many QBs will panic and go ahead and pull the ball or throw the screen early, but Milroe is patient enough to really let the defense bite on the hand-off or line break before pulling back at the last second.
Obviously, we still need to see what Bill O’Brien’s offense looks like blended with what Steve Sarkisian left. Milroe would likely need some work to really get up to speed on the screens, slants, and crossers and the necessity to emphasize yards after catch in Sark’s offense, but I think his verticals/curls will mesh well with what we’ve seen from O’Brien in the past.
I find it unlikely Milroe wins the starting QB job as a freshman. He’s definitely not as dynamic as a runner or passer as Bryce Young, and won’t have the experience or size of Paul Tyson. Instead, he’s a little bit between the two.
And whichever of those two guys wins the job this year will likely hold it for 2, possibly even 3 seasons. So by the time 2023 rolls around, Milroe will be a polished veteran with prototypical size and speed and likely the favorite to win the job for a year or two.
A 5-star back out of Lakeview in Texas, Wheaton was one of the top recruits in the nation and long considered a near lock for Oklahoma before suddenly committing to Alabama just before Christmas. At 5’11” 190, he’s both shorter and lighter than the style of running back that Nick Saban has typically rolled with in the last decade. He’ll likely add some size in college and play in the 205-210 range, similar to Kenyan Drake.
Funny enough, Wheaton’s style and tendencies remind me of how Derrick Henry made a lot his big plays... Just at 5” shorter and 50 pounds lighter. He’s a long strider that is just playing at a totally different speed than everyone else on the field.
He doesn’t really break tackles or elude defenders so much as he just flies past them and their tackle attempts come up fruitless as they aim for his hips and wind up just grabbing air. He’s got a nice stiff arm, though it’s really just a garnish for his game-breaking speed.
He’s mostly a one-direction runner, though (again, like Henry) he’s definitely got the ability and vision to get that initial cutback at the line of scrimmage. Get him a sliver of open space and he’ll pick it out and shoot through it and be 15 yards down the field before the defense even realize they’re royally screwed.
He rarely takes a defender head on, and most tackles on him are the soft kind where someone manages to grab a foot or leg as he goes by and he hops a time or two before going to the ground. His game is built on pure speed, but less so on breaking tackles or ankle-shattering jukes.
Wheaton’s been at his best in highschool with a zone blocking scheme. Either getting him an outside zone run or letting him pick his cutback lane on the inside zone are money plays for him. In the 2014-2017 versions of Alabama’s offense, he would have been an absolutely perfect match.
Sarkisian’s offense was more power-based and focused on using the run game to allow the passing offense more chances for home run shots (though that might have been more of a side effect of designing the playcalling to fit Najee Harris), and I think Wheaton would be a bit of a square peg in a round hole trying to fill that role.
The running back spot will be wide-open in 2021. 5th year senior Brian Robinson has the inside track, but he’s far from a lock and definitely doesn’t have the big play ability that Wheaton does.
Trey Sanders may or may not be recovered from his hip injury, and the rest of the competition is only a year ahead of him with not much more collegiate experience.
I think he’ll absolutely get some meaningful carries as a true freshman, though he’ll likely still be behind Robinson and Jase McClellan at best, and possibly behind Sanders, Roydell Williams, and Keilan Robinson as well.
Despite his lofty ranking, I’m not sure he’ll ever be a true lead-back like we saw from Najee Harris the last two seasons, but I think he’ll absolutely be part of a rotation every year on campus as a homerun threat kind of player.
Also, can he return kickoffs? If so, I think that would be a great spot for him to really make an impact.
Though he was easily the lowest-ranked member of Alabama’s recruiting class, his recruitment was also one of the more talked-about storylines last cycle. Alabama REALLY needed a tight end after whiffing on Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington in the previous cycle, and Ouzts seemed to be Saban’s top target all year.
He’s already enrolled in Tuscaloosa, and the official roster has him listed at 260 — already 20 pounds above his listed high school weight.
If you want to believe his self-reported numbers, he ran a 4.72s forty yard dash, a 4.28 shuttle, and has a 34” vertical.
I’m not sure I believe the shuttle there, but the forty and vertical both seem about right from the video I’ve seen on him.
Ouzts is TE/FB hybrid that would have been all the rage back in the days when fullbacks were blockers, runners, and receivers as a major staple of the offense. He’s not quite tall enough to be the modern 6’6” flex receiver that Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski made so popular, but is built more like a large bowling ball that can jump.
As a receiver, he’s not going to give you too much in terms of slot-receiver type routes that require hard cuts, but he’s got pretty good straight line speed and can get down the field in a hurry. He loves those deep seam routes and is happy to make a catch as he gets blasted by safety, and he’s even better down the sidelines going up and over a smaller cornerback.
He’s not going to juke anyone out with the ball in his hands, but, again, he’s got better speed than defenders usually expect, and absolutely loves treating defenders like they aren’t even there. He may get tackled, but the poor sap in his way is probably going backwards 3 or 4 yards with him.
His team actually used him regularly on middle screens and even handoffs out the backfield to make use of that ability.
As a blocker, he’s got some personality. The dude is probably going to draw some blindside penalties in his career. Not because the blocks are necessarily dirty... He just aims for spectacular hits, and helmets flying will grab a ref’s attention.
He’s better on the line of scrimmage catching predefined rushers off guard, but can be an effective lead blocker in space as well. He’s definitely aiming to piledrive someone down the field, though he can get over eager and wind up off balance and going to the ground with them.
Alabama’s never really managed to make tight ends a true extension of the passing game (even with OJ Howard) with any consistency. Nick Saban just loves him a move blocker H-back, and I don’t think that role will ever go away. While not often a flashy position, it’s one of the most used roles on Saban’s team, transgressing every offensive coordinator over the last 13 years.
Ouzts will be an absolutely perfect fit for that role, and it’s why I believe he was one of the most important recruits of this class.
He’s a nasty blocker, specializes at moving around in the backfield, has the basketball athleticism to make tough catches, can get a surprise broken tackle on occasion, and plays a bunch of special teams positions (kickoff gunner, punt protector, punter). Saban is going to love the dude.
I think we see Ouzts a good bit as a true freshman. Jahleel Billingsley will clearly be a featured tight end in the passing game, but Ouzts will be competing with Major Tennison to replace Miller Forristall’s vacated spot.
There’s also Cameron Latu and fellow grayshirt freshman Caden Clark*, but I think Ouzts will wind up clearly ahead of those two.
Tennison will likely get first nod as a 5th year senior, but I expect Ouzts to eat into his playing time early and often, then be a fixture in the Alabama offense through 2024.
*Speaking of Caden Clark, if you want to read my recap on him last year (before we knew he would grayshirt), here is the link.