Since Nick Saban’s arrival at Alabama, the Tide has put generational wide receiver after generational wide receiver into the NFL, even with the run-heavy offense of the first half of his tenure. Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley had multi-year careers that spanned the entirety of 2008-2017, with the lone exception of the 2011 season.
After that, though, things changed. The 2017 recruiting class saw the arrival of Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III in Tuscaloosa, and the trio all went on to become first round draft picks. Following them was Jaylen Waddle, and then John Metchie and Jameson Williams in this last season.
It’s been an unprecedented run at that position group, and for the first time since, well, 2011... There’s no immediate answer for who the next superstar is.
The 2021 recruiting class, consisting of JaCorey Brooks, Agiye Hall, JoJo Earle, and Christian Leary, came in with a lot of hype, but none in the group really showed out as a freshman who could take over the game. And in the National Championship loss to Georgia after Metchie and Williams went out with injury, Alabama was unable to manufacture much receiving production.
As such, it’s no coincidence that this 2022 class features 5 new wide receivers, plus a bonus 6th in an addition from the transfer portal.
Saban isn’t playing around.
So let’s take a look at all these shiny new pass catchers.
All heights, weights, and rankings come from the 247Sports composite, though I may mention other recruiting services if any of them have a particular noteworthy differing opinion.
At nearly 200 pounds, Kendrick Law is built more like a running back or a big defensive back than he is a receiver. He was a 3-year starter in high school, consistently putting up around 500 yards each season while adding another 1500 total yards as a runner and return man over his career. His ability to play running back or even safety has him listed as an “athlete” by the recruiting services, but he’s mostly expected to be a wide receiver at the college level.
As a track star, he’s recorded a blistering 10.48 100m dash and boasts a 4.44 forty yard dash. Yeah, he’s fast.
Law is thickly built receiver, and he plays to his build. With the ball in his hands, he’s just as likely to go through a defender in his way as he is to go around them. Tacklers often struggle to get clean hits on him, and his stiff arm and balance often sees them sliding off as he glides out of the tackle and gets down field.
That’s not to say he isn’t quick, either. Law boasts a nasty sidestep juke that leaves defenders grasping air, and he’s adept at using it at the perfect timing immediately after catching the ball to avoid a big hit.
And once he is able to see some open space, he can accelerate to a top speed that he doesn’t often use to really burst for some yards.
As a true receiver, he’s got very good concentration to make strong hands catches around the sidelines and while taking hits from defenders without bobbling or double-clutching it. He’s done a lot of damage on slants and screens after the catch, but he’s also got a nice resume of sideline catches down the field and even a few endzone jump balls to his name.
As a route runner, he’s not spent a whole lot of time in one position, and will need some development.
In the first year or so of his career, Law will be the kind of player that has a home on screen and slant plays designed to let wide receivers get yards after the catch. Down the road, though, his combination of athleticism, toughness, and concentration at the catch point make me think he could develop into a true chain-moving slot receiver that’s a QB’s best friend on 3rd downs.
I worry Law is going to be a victim of the "athlete" versatility and struggle to land in a defined role early in his career. He'll probably split time between running backs and receivers early on, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he winds up moving to defensive back, as he's built like the perfect Star DB.
So I don't really expect to see him too much in his first couple of years until he finds a position to latch on to.
If you thought Kendrick Law was fast, check out Isaiah Bond (what a pairing of last names, huh?) with his consistent sub-10.5 100m dash times and sub 4.4 forty. He’s a two-way athlete that could very well wind up at cornerback, though most expect him to stay at receiver. He’s a smaller guy at this point, and will need to find a way to add 10 pounds or so without losing that speed.
If Bond’s high school QB had been able to throw the ball far enough, he likely would have had about 10 more TDs on the year. Instead, he got a lot of great practice at tracking underthrown deep balls and making diving catches at high speeds. As a deep threat, Bond is a blazing fast speedster that, in all reality, doesn’t need to do anything but run straight as fast as he can and see if his QB can outthrow the defense.
Outside of his deep threat prowess, his speed is also extremely useful on screens and sweeps, as he will routinely obliterate pursuit angles and race down the sidelines at any given point in time. He also can do some damage with quick curls, as defenders will be playing way off in respect for his speed, and then he can turn, slip away from a tackle, and be gone yet again.
He wasn’t used too much in intermediate routes or much work across the middle, and defenders also rarely tried to press him out of fear of being burned deep. So those aspects of his game to become a fully-rounded receiver are going to need to be developed.
As a defender, Bond is an energetic defensive back that thrives on blowing up screens and can lay some pretty big hits for a 170 pound guy. Watching him blitz the QB from a corner blitz might have been the most terrifying thing that poor high school QB had ever seen.
Bond is a very similar, though smaller, player to Henry Ruggs III when he came to Alabama in 2017. The uses for that kind of speed are fairly obvious: send him deep, get defenders to back off, then hit him on curls. And using him on jet sweeps once or twice a game is a good way to maybe pick up a first down or a 60-yard touchdown the easy way. Just get him in space and let him fly.
I think Bond is an instant hit as a punt gunner for the Tide. Though I didn’t see him doing that in high school, his combination of aggressive tackling as a corner, high energy style, and ridiculous speed makes him a perfect candidate for the role.
I don’t expect to see him in the regular receiver rotation early in his career, but after a season or two, I think he can become a rotation guy that averages 20 yards per catch and breaks 500 yards multiple seasons in a row.
In case you hadn’t picked up on the theme, Kobe Prentice rounds out a trio of blazing fast wide receivers with cool last names. Out of Calera, Alabama, Prentice was a mostly under-the-radar recruit that showed up to Alabama’s summer camps in 2021 before his senior season and blew up, getting and offer and committing to Alabama before having a dominant senior season. Prentice is yet another high-level track athlete with a reported sub 4.4 forty yard dash.
Prentice’s blend of speed with lateral agility and stop-and-start quickness make him an absolute nightmare for defenders in the open field, and they might as well resign themselves to being on a highlight tape of broken ankles. He’s a little too willing to try to reverse the field and beat an entire defense to the edges, but it’s hard to argue the results from his high school production.
He translates that speed and quickness to some utterly nasty double moves to get open downfield, even if the footwork isn’t totally refined yet.
He’s also way more adept at coming down with jump balls than someone his size should be.
Prentice is a versatile player who, with some refining, can find roles as a slot player, outside guy, horizontal YAC guy, or really whatever else. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and a playmaker when the ball is in the air. The specifics of it don’t really matter.
I think Prentice is going to need a couple of years before he’s really ready to contribute at a SEC level. If he sticks it out that long and puts in the work at honing his game, though, his ceiling is as high, or higher, than anyone else on this list, and he could develop into dominant 1000+ yard type of receiver.
Long thought to be a lock to be an LSU guy, Shazz Preston suddenly made a lot of waves right before the Early Signing Period as the rumors got out that he was going to Alabama.
He’s a bigger bodied receiver with a brother already in the SEC and he has three years of starting receiver numbers at the high school level while also contributing as a safety and being a darn good track and basketball player as well.
For what it’s worth, ESPN actually has him as the #15 overall player in the country and a solid 5-star prospect.
Preston is a solid, all-around receiver with decent speed, smooth athleticism, and a sturdy build who can do work at pretty much all levels of the field. His high school career is littered with highlights of leaping catches in traffic and down the field, displaying his hand strength, aerial balance, and concentration. He did a lot of good work on the sidelines, being able to recognize when his QB scrambles and working back to get open and make a tough catch without going out of bounds.
As a route runner, he’s fairly crisp and has experience running routes at a lot of different levels. He hasn’t mastered the footwork and speed needed to be a dangerous guy before the catch yet, but he’s also not like a battleship trying to turn out there or anything. He’s good, just not great.
While he doesn’t display some of the balance and ankle-breaking moves that the previous three players have, he’s still got the juice to take a catch, turn up field, and slip around a tackler to pick up some extra yards.
He’s also a downright mean perimeter blocker, which will go a long way to finding earlier playing time at Alabama.
Preston will be best as a boundary receiver who excels at winning contested catches around the sidelines and making plays for a scrambling QB while also being a threat to take a catch for an extra 15 yards if a defender isn’t careful. Alabama is typically pretty multiple with their receivers, though, so most players will wind up playing all the spots anyway.
I think Preston finds his way solidly on the second team grouping of receivers by early in the season, and he makes a few really nice plays in mop-up duty this year as a freshman. He’ll eventually be a starting guy down the road for his blocking and chain-moving dependability.
A borderline 5-star player with legit track speed (similar times to Kendrick Law, but not quite at Isaiah Bond’s speed), Anderson thoroughly dominated his senior season and vaulted up the rankings with his combination of receiving and return specialist numbers.
He also rounds out the trio of wide receivers that Alabama managed to steal out of the state of Louisiana. He was originally committed to LSU, but wound up backing off the pledge mid -season and flipped to Alabama a week later.
He’s already enrolled, and is in Tuscaloosa and will go through spring practices, giving him a leg up on some of the other freshmen.
Anderson is a pocket-sized speedster with the kind of innate acceleration off of a cut that gets guys drafted in the first round. Think Percy Harvin, but a little shorter. He’s muscularly built and is an absolute nightmare to tackle. If a defender is even able to get close enough to him to make a tackle, there’s a good chance Anderson will wiggle out of their grasp and stiff arm them to the ground as he hops merrily away, and then somehow is immediately back at top speed, getting away from the next defender trying to clean up.
If you’ve heard sports announcers use the term “human joystick,” Anderson is the perfect example. He’s just all over the place, and makes defenders look silly trying to tackle him.
He’s also a strong route-runner with a good feel for setting up defenders and then hitting them with a double move at high speed to get wide open 50 yards down the field. Most of his work came on horizontal YAC-type plays or deep balls and double moves, so he’ll need some work to get to where he can work the intermediate levels.
He’s got a crazy vertical jump and is happy to go soaring through the air over everyone to come down with a catch he had no right being able to reach, and, for the most part, will grab them solidly with his hands, rather than body-catching them.
Anderson will be used very similarly to how the Tide used Jaylen Waddle: a playmaker in the screen game who can also occasionally torch a defense deep. It would be easy to pigeon-hole him into the slot, but I think he can also be exceptionally dangerous on the outside if you can isolate him down the field with a corner and no safety over the top.
I think Anderson will very likely win the starting punt return job for the Tide this year, as JoJo Earle never really managed to take that over in 2021 despite many opportunities. On top of that, I fully expect him to be the most involved freshman receiver this year. If he doesn’t win a starting job, he’ll likely be the #4 guy and will have some plays drawn up for him in real-game situations throughout the season.
As a recruit back in 2020, Burton was a top-100 player with good size and great measurables (4.43s forty yard dash... sub 4.0s shuttle... 39 inch vertical jump) out of California. The do-it-all type of player drew comparisons to Jarvis Landry with his catching strength, route-running, toughness, and ability after the catch all built into one package.
He won SEC Freshman of the week multiple times in 2020 as he pulled in 27 catches for 404 yards on a team that barely threw the ball. In 2021, he was Georgia’s leading wide receiver... with 26 catches for 497 yards and 5 touchdowns. Burton made the most of his few attempts, and was the Bulldog’s best wideout, but the offense (and QB Stetson Bennett) just didn’t use wide receivers very much.
Once Bennett announced he was going to return in 2022, Burton entered the transfer portal and quickly settled on Alabama as the destination to help him elevate his NFL draft stock.
Burton is an SEC-level starting receiver with the requisite athleticism and polish to his game to be an instant contributor for Alabama. He’s got experience at pretty much every wide receiver position, and is just as comfortable working the sidelines down the field as he is making multiple moves in tight spaces to get open across the middle from the slot.
Burton’s best attributes are his natural quickness and how he smoothly translates than into both his route-running and his ability to pick up yards after the catch. He’s exceptional at getting cornerbacks off-balance with his release from the line of scrimmage, and then will set them up and cut inside for an easy 12-15 yard pickup for his QB. He can run whips, flags, and drags from the slot, and has the burst to get the separation from SEC defenders.
With the ball in his hands, he’s quick to turn upfield and can outrun defenders, often wiggling out of the first tackle.
He also developed more as a deep threat in year 2, picking up multiple deep shots for big plays over the top (and would have had more had Stetson Bennett not Bennetted it).
He’s got fairly reliable hands and can adjust to make tough catches, though I did notice some proneness to body catches at times and a looseness with the ball after the catch that could result in stripped pass breakups or even fumbles.
Burton should slide nicely into the same role that John Metchie played in 2021 as an X receiver who can work out of the slot. He’ll be expected to move the chains on a screen pass or two every game, and he’ll also be a go-to target around the first down line on critical passing downs due to his consistent route-running prowess.
I think Burton is a solid #2 receiver for Bryce Young this year, and gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-950 yards and about 10 touchdowns before moving on to the NFL after one season. He won’t be a superstar, but he’ll be reliable and occasionally explosive for the Tide all year long.