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Alabama Crimson Tide 2021 Spring Football Preview: Wide Receivers

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How will Alabama replace the generational pass catching talent that came from the 2017 and 2018 classes?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Alabama at South Carolina Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the positions in the most flux going into 2021 for Alabama is the wide receiver spot. A couple of departing likely top-15 draft picks will do that to a team. The last four seasons (starting when that 2017 class came in) have seen the wide receiver position being likely the strongest group on the roster, so this feeling we Alabama fans haven’t felt in quite a while.

Technically, Alabama will differentiate the outside receiver positions by the X and Z designations, and will have a “slot” receiver on the depth chart. In practice, though, most of Saban’s offenses have used three starting wide receivers pretty much interchangeably depending on the play call, with only one guy that will sub out if they go for a two tight end set.


Departed

DeVonta Smith

Man, what a career. Smitty came to Alabama and went on to make game winning catches against Mississippi State and the overtime dagger against Georgia in the National Championship as a true freshman.

Obligatory:

He went on to be the Tide’s leading receiver in 2019 even as Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy got all of the press attention, and he then decided to return for his senior season to help improve his draft stock.

And did he ever.

Jaylen Waddle

Though he came a year later than the the 2017 trio, Waddle immediately stepped up as a freshman in 2018 and made a huge impact as a return man and a receiver. He had the type of ridiculous, electric blend of speed, body control, and footwork to make him a highlight play every time the ball came anywhere near him.

Despite being the #4 receiver on the depth chart for his first two seasons, he still made a major impact, including his jaw-dropping performance in the loss to Auburn in 2019 when Mac Jones had to fill in for Tua Tagovailoa.

He started 2020 with even more hype than Smith, and was on track to be the Tide’s leading receiver up until he fractured his ankle against Tennessee on the opening kick return. He did manage to rehab enough to get into the national championship game and make a couple of critical catches, though he was obviously still hampered by injury.


Returning Starters

John Metchie III

The junior from Canada made a splash as a true freshman in the 2019 A-Day game when he toasted some defensive backs for big plays, then was the subject of Nick Saban ire at reporters for wanting to crown him the next superstar. Metchie was buried on the depth chart his first season and became the #3 guy in 2020. He started off as mostly a deep threat early in the season, but then he had to add a lot more to his plate after Waddle went out with injury.

He came in just under 1000 yards on the season, and is expected to be THE guy for the Tide in 2021. He dealt with an injury in the National Championship game, and is expected to miss A-Day while still rehabbing.

Also he could be an All-American safety if he wanted:

Slade Bolden

Bolden wasn’t technically a starter early in the season, but was pressed into action after Waddle’s injury. Bolden was used as a Wildcat QB/RB fairly often in 2019, but saw that package phased out of the offense in 2020 and he focused on playing receiver and was the Tide’s primary punt returner after Waddle went out.

Though not a huge part of the offense, he still put up 270 yards and had his first career touchdown against Ohio State in the national championship.

He’s the most veteran guy in the room and is expected to be a full-time starter in 2021, though that’s far from a lock.


Returning Depth

Javon Baker

The 2nd year man out of Georgia was the subject of a lot of message board rumors last summer. While he didn’t make the impact many expected from those rumors, he still saw the field a decent amount (though usually as a blocker on WR screens) for a true freshman. He’s been mentioned by Saban this spring as someone who’s done a great job of cleaning up inconsistencies.

Xavier Williams

From the same class as Slade Bolden, Williams hasn’t quite gotten the playing time many expected from his recruiting rankings. While he was barely seen at all in his first 3 seasons, he finally started to get some meaningful playing time in Alabama’s final three (most important) games. He made a huge 3rd down catch in the national championship. Saban also has mentioned him as being a jack-of-all-trades player for them this spring.

Traeshon Holden

A towering 6’3” player, Holden didn’t really see the field too much as a true freshman last year and had no targets on the few snaps he did get. He was a lower 4-star guy out of California in the 2020 class, and many projected him to be more of a long-term project to get his play to live up to his size.

Thaiu Jones-Bell

Jones-Bell is yet another WR from Miami, which has been a winning combination for Alabama over the last decade. He’s a smaller guy, at 6’0” 190, and was more of a threat after the catch as a high school prospect. He got one catch against Arkansas in his freshman season last year.


Newcomers

Ja’Corey Brooks

Hey look, another Miami receiver!

Brooks is an all-around 6’2” player with great size, speed, hands, and whatever other traits you want to bring up. He jumped up to a 5-star recruit during the course of his senior season, and will be one of the most intriguing players to watch the A-Day as he tries to become the next true freshman phenom for Alabama.

Christian Leary

Though Orlando isn’t quite as far south as Miami, it’s close enough. Leary is a 5’10” sparkplug of energy with superstar track speed that plays more like a running back in a wide receiver’s body. He was a top-100 recruit, and is a big play threat anytime the ball is in his hands.

Agiye Hall

Alabama continued their raid of Florida receivers by taking Hall out of the Tampa area. He’s a lanky 6’3” player with an aggressive playstyle that is sure to earn some favor from Saban for his blocking and his tackling prowess on special teams. He’s not quite as talked about as Brooks or Leary for some reason, but is still a top-50 recruit


Predicted Depth Chart

While Metchie would usually be a starter here, he’s not going to be playing in the A-Day game, so we won’t include him for this.

WR- Xavier Williams, Ja’Corey Brooks, Agiye Hall

WR- Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden

Slot- Slade Bolden, Thaiu Jones-Bell, Christian Leary

Williams and Bolden will get the nod for seniority here, but the spring game will be wide open for all of the players to see if anyone seizes the opportunity to step up. Metchie is really the only guaranteed spot, and the rest will be jockeying for the 2 spots alongside of him.