Finally, we get to my favorite position to scout. The intricacies of route-running and footwork, concentration and body control of catching, and the ability to succeed with a plethora of different styles makes watching receivers an intriguing endeavor.
Alabama lost two starters in ArDarius Stewart and Gehrig Dieter to the NFL, so only Calvin Ridley remains as a proven weapon. Seniors Cam Sims and Robert Foster should have the first crack at the depth chart, but their hold is tenuous. The time is ripe for a true freshman to really break onto the scene from day 1.
I will mention SPARQ and Z-scores in this article as a method of quantifying athleticism, so if you don’t know what that means, check out the little box below:
For continuity within this series, I will always use 247sports.com ‘s composite rankings for a player’s star rating and national and state rankings. All heights, weights, and other athletic tests come from espn.com, who integrates their data with that of Nike’s Combine results.
At 6’1” 177, Jeudy looks nearly identical to Calvin Ridley in both body type and athleticism. In fact, their athletic tests are nearly the same in every area except the vertical jump, where Jeudy far exceeds Ridley. His Z-score of 0.94 means that he’s more athletic than nearly 83% of college receivers.
Seriously, Jeudy is one of the best route-runners I’ve watched coming out of high school. When running curls or double moves deep down the field, his 90 degree cuts are nearly instantaneous with no wasted steps, while he can stutter-step at the line of scrimmage to break a press and then cut to the inside once the defender is off balance.
He’s also exceptional at body control and depth perception when the ball is in the air, and he can twist and leap around defenders to win jump balls on fades and streaks.
With the ball in his hands, his jukes are just as nasty as his route-running, and he can leave any defender with broken ankles and pride.
There aren’t any real cons to Jeudy’s game, but he could likely benefit from putting on 10-20 more pounds of good weight. He isn’t the strongest and doesn’t break too many tackles if the defender gets his hands on him, and it would also help him in boxing out defenders on jump balls
In my opinion, Jeudy is pretty much Calvin Ridley 2.0, with better route-running and hops. If coach Daboll brings with him a similar offense to what the Patriots run, then Jeudy and his double-moves and ankle-breaking slant releases will be an absolutely perfect fit.
I don’t think there’s anyway he doesn’t find the field at least a little bit this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he ends up one of the top 3 receivers by mid-season.
At 6’6” and boasting a 4.38 forty, Tyrell Shavers will draw instant comparisons to the few rare athletic freaks that have graced the receiver position over the years, such as Mike Evans, Randy Moss, and Calvin Johnson. His 2.22 Z-score puts him in the top 0.5% of college football athletes, and as such, there will be a lot expected of him.
He also can play QB and wants to play baseball for Alabama when not on the football field.
Shavers does one thing, and he does it really well: Go deep.
He can turn on his speed and blow right past corners who give him a 8 yard cushion, and can fend them off while the ball is in the air with his ridiculous length and wingspan. Whether outrunning the opposing defensive back for an easy over-the-shoulder catch, or going up and over two men on an underthrow, Shavers is at his best outside of the hashmarks and working up the sideline.
Surprisingly for one of his height, he’s also quite agile with the ball in his hands, and can eat up a lot of yards after catch in a hurry.
He isn’t much of a well-rounded receiver. Can he run a full route tree effectively? How is he when catching the ball over the middle and in traffic? Can he block? How does he react to scrambles?
All are questions that he never addressed in his high school tape, and will likely have to learn in college before he can be a contributor.
I think he’ll redshirt this year while learning to do more than just go deep. Ultimately, I think he has a broad range of career possibilities: he could be the next Randy Moss, or he may totally bust and never play.
Henry Ruggs III
A bit on the smaller side a 6’0” 175, Henry Ruggs III is a local favorite with his playmaking ability and hailing from Montgomery. He did not test at an Opening combine, but I would expect his Z-score to be somewhere around a 0.8.
Ruggs is an extremely smooth and fluid athlete with incredible balance and slippery, effortless speed. That is especially evident in his ability after the catch with the ball in his hands. He can speed around corners, slip through holes between defenders, and make would-be tacklers miss with seemingly no effort at all. He can go from fast to faster with no visible change in stride, leaving defenders taking bad angles and wondering how it happened.
At this point, he’s more of a gadget player than a true receiver. Give him a wide receiver screen or an end-around, and you’re as likely to score as anything else, but will he be able to become a true receiver that can make plays even when he isn’t given the ball in space?
Despite his speed and fluidity, his routes tend to be a bit rounded rather than crisp, and he doesn’t do many routes other than slants, curls, and the occasional fly. Though nothing suggest he has anything but consistent hands, he hasn’t displayed any ability to make tough catches in traffic yet.
Were Lane Kiffin still the offensive coordinator, I would expect Ruggs to carve out a role for himself sooner rather than later. As it is though, I don’t think he’ll break into the receiving rotation this year. That said, I definitely expect him to be in the mix to be a kick return man, and maybe even a punt returner, and I think he’ll find enough spots to contribute that he won’t redshirt.
I’m going to forego my usual template of pros and cons because Devonta Smith is a unique and intriguing prospect. He’s quite frail at only 157 pounds, has a bit of an awkward running form, and doesn’t look to be all that fast or overly athletic.
Yet he makes big play after big play. Throw the ball up in the corner of the endzone, and Smith will come down with it, whether he manages to get one hand or two on it. Maybe it’s a juggling catch, or maybe it bounces off a defender first, either way, Smith somehow ends up with the ball.
As a route-runner, he sometimes shows tremendous crispness and releases from the line of scrimmage, and sometimes runs his curls with the sloppiest footwork you’ll see and barely change directions when making double moves. And despite it all, he still gets just enough separation to get open.
He doesn’t look all that fast and accelerating looks laborious, yet he still pulls away from defenders chasing him. He relies too much on a hop-juke when the ball is in his hands, yet it just keeps working and defenders keep ending up on their faces.
Despite his size, he’s more than willing to run head first into a tackler and go for the truck, and is also an aggressive blocker.
And on top of all of that, he can play safety and is an accomplished punt returner with great judgement with the ball in the air, and can slip into just the right lanes to take them to the house.
I think there’s a good chance Smith outright wins the starting job of punt returner if he can prove that he can cover the rugby punts that plagued the Tide returners at the end of the season.
As a receiver, I don’t really expect him to contribute much this year, but I see him following a similar career arc to DeAndrew White: a steady rotation player all four years on campus that will disappear for many games at a time before suddenly making some highlight reel one-handed catch or pulling in a fade in the back of the endzone in overtime.