Last week, we kicked things off taking a look at Alabama’s future superstars at the QB and RB positions. Today, we’ll move further to the outside and delve into all of the Tide’s incoming pass catchers (and run blockers!)
The wide receiver position seems to be one of extremely high attrition since the Transfer Portal became a thing. Players really seem to transfer in and out quickly from this spot. There’s also just a LOT of them, as most teams will have a combination of 4 of them on the field at any given time. So, with that, there’s often drastically varying styles and attributes that you don’t really see in other positions.
In this round, Alabama picked up 4 new freshmen, but they also added some experience with a JUCO player and a transfer. The Tide desperately needs depth, and, to be honest, there’s absolutely room for any one (or more) of these guys to become a regular starter/contributor if they are good enough.
As always, I’ll be giving a short summary on each player, any info on his athletic profile (SPARQ is dead, sadly), my thoughts on his traits, and how I think he’ll fit in Alabama’s depth chart and scheme. All rankings and heights/weights will be from the 247Sports Composite, as I think they do the best job at rating and ranking players. Though I will mention if any of the other services have a particularly different opinion on certain player.
As the 35th ranked receiver, Hamilton isn’t immediately the most exciting recruiting prospect for fans taking a quick glance at the list. However, what he lacks in production, he adds in athletic upside. He’s a taller, lanky athlete with an impressive track background in both long distance and shorter-distance sprints... He’s reportedly a 4.3s forty runner.
While he only got 1000 yards in two seasons, he had 16 total touchdowns and a ridiculous average of 23 yards per catch. In other words, he may not have had the volume, but he was a big play threat whenever the ball got to him.
So you like speed? Well Hamilton’s got it. And it’s the kind of speed that looks like he has roadrunner feet.
At first blush, he’s a phenomenal go-ball player. High school corners just don’t stand a chance, and he’s good at giving a slight head fake just as they go to turn with him to throw them off. On top of that, he’s absolutely excellent at tracking the ball over either shoulder and displays pretty great concentration coming up with those kinds of catches even with defenders around him.
In shorter distance routes, he’s a zone-killer as a player that knows how to accelerate to get to a zone hole and then gear down immediately and create a bubble for himself.
On the other hand, he’s going to have some trouble in the SEC at shaking man-coverage corners, as most of his route break points waste quite a few steps, and he’s a little more showy and less efficient at releasing from the line of scrimmage against a press.
He’s also got a lot of untapped potential with the ball in his hands, as his combination of nutty speed and bit of wild-style of just refusing to go to the ground and ripping his way free of tacklers could make him quite good in an offense that throws more screens.
Alabama fans will also like his effort as a blocker on special teams, a kick off return man, and even a deep safety. He’s a versatile guy, and will likely parlay that into a special teams role for years.
Hamilton would have been absolutely perfect in the Locksley-Sarkisian years as a guy who’s great on go balls, slants, and screens. Under Bill O’Brien, he may not have had as much success with the offense based more around possession routes.
Rees’s offense is still a bit of a mystery, but if Saban’s statements last November about wanting to get back to the RPOs and less pure dropbacks holds true, then Hamilton will definitely have a place.
I think Hamilton is going to be an immediate fixture and even a standout on special teams as a freshman. He may turn that into a few garbage time snaps this year, but I don’t expect a big role in the offense in year one.
After a fairly productive couple of years as a freshman and sophomore, Adams had a really nice 1000 yard season as a junior and vaulted his way onto the recruiting scene, upping his offers from the likes of Tulsa and New Mexico to Wisconsin, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
After committing to Alabama, he injured his shoulder in the first game of the season and missed his senior year, so much of his scouting is incomplete and based more on projection.
Adams is also a track standout, running a very impressive 10.65s 100m dash.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s not a lot out there to watch to really get a good idea on who Adams is. For the most part, his catches were all deep balls down the sideline... And he’s definitely got good speed and a surprising ability to go up and make contested catches on jump balls despite being 5’10”. Past that, though, I was unable to dig up too much.
For what it’s worth, nearly half of his highlight reel was of his blocking on the perimeter, which is guaranteed to endear him to Alabama fans and likely draw some penalties from angry opponents in the future.
For all we know, he was recruited to be a dedicated blocker on WR screens. And, if I’m being honest, that was a skillset that the Tide has been desperately needing the last two seasons.
His combination of small size, no senior production, and lower recruiting ranking makes me think he’s likely redshirt depth guy.
As a low 5-star, Hale is an interesting prospect with some unique traits. He’s listed at 6’1” 185 on 247’s website, but I’ve also seen him listed as high as 6’3” with nearly 33” arms, which is some really impressive length. He’s a track star, but not in the usual 100m dash that we usually see a lot of other high school football/track players. Instead, he does relays, long jumps, and hurdles. His Hudl page lists his 40-yard dash as a 4.6s, though I’ve also seen a 4.50s elsewhere.
He’s also a very skilled basketball player.
In any case, he’s put up a couple of 1000 yard seasons at the powerhouse Longview High School in Texas, and should be viewed as one of Alabama’s best prospects in the class.
Interestingly, Hale has primarily worked out of the slot in high school despite his size indicating he’d be more of a boundary receiver. With that, though, the bulk of his production was down the field as more of a deep threat.
Hale is, first and foremost, an amazing catcher of the football. He’s got long arms and stick hands and can make some really tough catches look easy when he contorts to scoop a ball up before it hits the ground or when he goes airborne to pull a catch down. The ball hits his gloves and it never moves again.
His basketball background definitely shows up at times, too, as he’s great at timing his jumps to perfectly high point catches over defenders.
As a route runner, he’s a no-nonsense, no wasted steps guy that, while he lacks crazy fast feet, is technical and precise with his movements and cuts to really get defenders to spin around. He just knows when to cut, when to head fake, and when to go back the other direction to make a defender totally lose him. In particular, he dominated high school athletes with a deep post-corner route from the slot.
However, he showed very little plays in the short/intermediate sections of the field, so it’s hard to know how he’ll do in those areas.
With the ball in his hands, he can be quite tough to tackle. He’s got a long stride that can get away from people, and he has a nasty jump cut in the mold of Jerry Jeudy where he’ll cross over in front of the face of would-be tacklers.
In fact, I think Jeudy is a decent style comparison for him. He’s not as quick or fleet-footed as Jerry was, but he has better hands.
As a slot player, Hale creates mismatches by drawing coverage from nickel corners and safeties and then roasting them deep down the field. With Alabama’s previous offensive coordinators, this was a pretty common role, as Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Jameson Williams would often move into the slot before going downfield. Under Tommy Rees at Notre Dame, that role was mostly given to the TE instead of a wide receiver, so it’ll be interesting to see how that meshes in Saban’s offense
I think Hale gets some playing time as a rotational back up receiver this year. There’s quite a few players ahead of him on the depth chart, but I think he gets some legit playing time and 10-15 catches on the season to get us excited about his future.
Hey look, 6’1” 185 again! Think Nick Saban and Holman Wiggins have a type?
Once an unranked recruit, Benson went to the Hutchinson CC factory where he absolutely dominated the last two years and became the unquestioned #1 overall JUCO player in the class. He was, however, an absolute stud on the track field back in high school, reportedly posting a 10.3s 100m sprint (that’s basically Olympic level speed). He’s even on record saying he’s never run a timed 40 yard dash, so who even knows what he’d get there... But my guess is that it would be very good.
Obviously, the pure speed stands out first and foremost. A corner can be lined up 10 yards back and he’ll sprint in a straight line and beat them to the end zone. And there’s not thing a defender can do about that.
More impressive, though, is how he uses his threat of speed to create underneath opportunities for himself. He’s an absolutely deadly runner of slant routes. If a corner plays tight on him, his release from the line of scrimmage is a lightning jab step with a head fake that buys him a few feet, and then he’s excellent at using his body and the open space to keep defenders behind him and securing a catch even as they try to come from behind.
He’ll also occasionally bust out a nice comeback about 15 yards downfield after accelerating to top speed and sending a defender flying downfield while he stops to make a quick catch for a first down.
With the ball in his hands, he can definitely do some damage on screen passes or jet sweeps when he can just flat out run folks. He’s not breaking tackles like a running back, but that kind of speed buys a lot of yards before any contact.
Tommy Rees loves a good crossing route off of a QB boot, and Nick Saban loves a good RPO slant. Both of these things are absolutely perfect for someone like Benson.
It’s always hard with these JUCO players. He’ll only be around for two seasons, so there’s no time to waste with “development.” Either he’s ready to go from the start or he’s not.
The real question is: can he be good enough to unseat either Isaiah Bond or Kobe Prentice as the rotational WR3 behind Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton? He’s got a similar skillset as Bond and Prentice. And while both had promising freshman years, they aren’t necessarily entrenched starters.
I think we see a three man rotation at that spot in game one, and eventually one falls out of playing time depending on who makes plays. I’m just not sure who that one will be.
After two really impressive seasons as a sophomore and a junior, a combination of a preseason appendix surgery and an ankle injury kept him out of the game for almost his entire senior season.
The former Ohio State commit flipped to Alabama last summer and is a high-upside, low-floor type of prospect who has a lot of traits to be a true dynamic threat in the passing game, but a lack of a senior season and a smaller competitive market (Tennessee high schools) limits evaluation.
He also plays some linebacker in his spare time.
Lockwood typically lines up in the slot or out wide, rather than as an inline tight end. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s not a blocker, though. He LOVES blocking. Probably too much. He will block his man right up to the razor line of it becoming a personal foul on nearly every play. Usually well past what’s necessary to prove his point to the defender.
On one hand, that kind of blocking attitude could be useful to have on a team, but it can also lead to some bad penalties if he’s not careful to channel it productively.
As a pass catcher, some of that same attitude is there. He’s big and fast, sure, but he’s going to go across the middle, slip into a hole between three linebacker, maybe ever-so-slightly push off of one to make himself open, then make a catch, and run through them and fall down for however many yards he needs to get the first down. Then he’ll stand up and make sure the defenders KNOW that he just ran right through them.
Does Alabama have a scheme that actually uses tight ends? Not sure I’ve ever seen it.
Tommy Rees did use Michael Mayer quite prolifically at Notre Dame, though, and Lockwood is similarly built. Mayer was a 5-star athlete though, so Lockwood is a ways behind him there in pure athleticism and catching ability.
Honestly, the TE room is wide open. Robbie Ouzts returns, but I’m not sure he ever really separated himself enough that a freshman couldn’t unseat him. And there’s a trio of second year guys, but who knows if any of them will be contributors or busts.
So, it wouldn’t surprise me, necessarily, if Lockwood became a day 1 starter. However, I don’t think that will happen. I think he’s going to need 2-3 years to add some size, adjust to college, and channel his aggression correctly to see the field.
After a nice 315 yard season with the Maryland Terps, Dippre entered the transfer portal and joined Alabama. Nick Saban really stuck it to Ohio State at the tight end position this year, as Dippre’s final decision came down to the Buckeyes and the Tide.
He was a 3-star recruit back in high school, but after an impressive sophomore season at Maryland, he was one of the top free agents in the portal this offseason.
Working with Taulia Tagovailoa, it’s hard to get too much of a read on Dippre as a function of an offense. It’s mostly off script plays and just trying to keep moving to get open until Taulia throws it.
That said, Dippre made some tough catches in the endzone with defenders around him, and he did a lot of damage after the catch. He’s a big, powerful athlete with great balance, so he bounces off of tackles and keeps going quite often.
As a blocker, he mostly worked as an in-line guy and was very solid throughout the year. His combination of size and athleticism lets him hold his own against defensive linemen or he can make blocks in space.
There’s always room in Nick Saban’s scheme for a TE who can block consistently and make the occasional important catch in the redzone. And that’s pretty much who Dippre is. With Tommy Rees bringing in his more TE-focused passing game, then Dippre may get a chance to really show his YAC skills.
I think Dippre is immediately the best all-around TE on Alabama’s roster, and is the Tide’s primary starter there for the season.