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Alabama 2022 Spring Football Preview: Wide Receiver remains a mystery for the Tide

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An injury to the 2021 Iron Bowl hero leaves an already muddled position with even less clarity

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

With names like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle all littering the last decade of Alabama football, wide receiver could very well be the most consistently elite position that Nick Saban has recruited and developed over his tenure.

For 2021, though, Alabama’s season came to a jarring ending as two of the best to do it in Crimson uniform both were lost to ACL injuries and the group of young players behind them were unable to step up in the biggest game. Going into spring, Nick Saban has a lot of sorting to do to determine the Tide’s next crop of pass catchers.

The Departed

In 2021, John Metchie III and Jameson Williams combined to form the most lethal receiving duo in the country as they amassed 2700 yards and 23 touchdowns between them. While the high-speed Williams became the most explosive big play threat in the country, Metchie was the consistent chain-mover that converted 3rd downs over and over again with his combination of strength, toughness, and route-running — all of which culminated in the overtime game-winner against Auburn.

On top of Alabama losing this duo, 4th year slot guy, Slade Bolden, is also moving on to the NFL. While Bolden was never a featured part of the passing game, he’s been a reliable option the last couple of seasons and had 400 yards for the Tide in his final year.

Lastly, reserve Javon Baker saw his playing time diminish in year two, and has transferred to Kentucky.

The Incoming Veteran

#3 Jermaine Burton

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After leading all of the Georgia Bulldogs’ receivers in receptions in his second year as a starter, Burton decided to transfer to Alabama to maximize his value as a pass catcher with a Heisman-winning QB tossing him the ball.

Burton has nearly 1000 yards in two seasons in the SEC (despite being in an offense that barely passes the ball) and will step in at Alabama as almost assuredly the Tide’s #1 receiver. He’s a versatile, athletic, and solidly built receiver who’s dangerous on the outside and from the slot, is an NFL-level route-runner, and has the ability after the catch to be a do-everything kind of guy.

Returning Contributors

#7 Ja’Corey Brooks

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Cincinnati at Alabama Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A five-star freshman in 2021, Brooks was a regular on special teams all year and got some rotational time with the starting receiver group as a specialized blocker when the Tide was running WR screens. Things changed for the 6’2” pass-catcher in the Iron Bowl, though, as he was thrust into action after Jameson Williams was ejected for targeting. Brooks caught two passes on Alabama’s final, frantic drive, including the over-the-shoulder deep shot touchdown that took the game to overtime.

He had another big touchdown down the sidelines against Cincinnati as the guy stepping in for an injured Metchie, but was unable to generate any real production in the national championship despite being forced into being the Tide’s defacto #1 receiver.

#10 JoJo Earle

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Alabama Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

A diminutive freshman last year, Earle was a late arrival that made waves by finding himself named as a co-starter with Slade Bolden as the slot receiver and as the punt returner on Alabama’s initial depth chart. Earle was expected to be a jolt of energy as an elusive guy with the ball in his hands. However, that never really took off as he only got 12 catches for 140 yards and a lackluster 88 yards on 15 punt returns before injuring his leg and missing the second half of the season. He returned for the playoffs, but didn’t secure any catches.

Though his freshman campaign was a disappointment compared to the early high hopes, Earle is still likely the leader for Alabama’s slot receiver position going into the spring.

#84 Agiye Hall

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In his one season at Alabama, Hall has become something of a legend... For both good and bad reasons. He displayed a couple of crazy circus catches in the A-Day game a year ago after enrolling as a freshman, and his combination of a lanky 6’3” catch radius and explosive speed got all the fans excited, leading to a Saban rant at a press conference about hyping up young players too much.

Hall was then mostly M.I.A for his entire freshman campaign, with a couple of cryptic tweets spiraling off internet rumors that he was malcontent, frustrated, etc, and was constantly a talking topic on the internet, which led to more Saban-rants.

In the national championship game, Hall was suddenly thrust into the starting role for Alabama as Metchie and Williams both tore their ACLs. He grabbed a couple of balls, including a 28-yard catch and run, but he also dropped a critical pass that took points off the board for the Tide.

Hall is likely the most talented receiver in the group, and seems to have doubled down on focusing on improving (as well as intentionally leaving cryptic tweets to just mess with Alabama fans). If he can put things together, he can be a star.

#11 Traeshon Holden

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A rising junior with a massive 6’3” 215 pound frame, Holden has often been mentioned as a guy with great chemistry with Bryce Young from Young’s freshman year as a backup. Like Hall, Holden also made some waves mid-season last year with some cryptic tweets that made it seem like he may be about to leave the program over playing time, but he stuck things out and was forced into a prominent role the last few games of the season. He caught 21 passes for 239 yards last year. And while he has the frame, he lacks the dynamic speed we’ve become accustomed to from the many Alabama receivers the last few years.

Returning Depth

#12 Christian Leary

Leary was a speedy freshman last year that wound up being forced to play running back as a 3rd down guy after pretty much the entire running back depth chart got injured. He did get one neat receiving touchdown out of the backfield on a crazy scramble play from Young. He’s a small, quick guy with a lot of potential with the ball in his hands.

#14 Thaiu Jones-Bell

As a 3rd year player, Jones-Bell has been pretty well invisible in his first two seasons. He was known more as a YAC guy in high school, but has yet to break his way in to any meaningful role for Alabama yet.

The Newcomers

#82 Aaron Anderson

At only 5’9”, Anderson is one of the shortest players on Alabama’s roster. However, his 184 pounds make him a pocket-sized tough guy and was absolutely impossible to tackle in high school. Anderson was a 5-star prospect with a well-rounded skill set as a route-runner before the catch as well as someone who can make 10 tacklers miss on his way to the endzone.

#83 Kendrick Law

Law is the other early enrollee freshman who was a high 4-star athlete out of Louisiana. While he could very well wind up playing defensive back or running back at the college level, he’s starting at receiver.

Law has already made some news this week as he was singled out in Nick Saban’s press conference as a young guy who was making an impression with his skills, work ethic, and mental fortitude. So while he wasn’t the most talked about recruit and came to Alabama as a bit of a mystery to which position he’d play, he could very well be someone to keep a close eye on.