With soon-to-be first rounder Calvin Ridley out the door along with 2017 senior starters Robert Foster and Cam Sims, Alabama will be fielding an entirely new starting cast of wideouts this spring. Fortunately there is a bevy of talent available, including some youngsters who were very productive in limited action, and particularly in the playoffs.
Alabama will field an explosive receiving corps, led by three sophomores with a cool nickname.
The Rug Rats
The trio of projected starters listed below earned the nickname from new OC Mike Locksley for their willingness to do the dirty work when they weren’t getting a lot of passes thrown to them. They are a gifted bunch, all three rated as five-star prospects by at least one of the major recruiting services, with the potential to set records at Alabama.
Jeudy is the most prototypical #1-type receiver of the bunch, offering good size at 6’1” and 187 lbs. along with elite speed, leaping ability, and hands. He ran a 4.47 forty at last year’s spring testing, put on a highlight reel show with Tua Tagovailoa at A-Day, then averaged 18.9 yards on 14 receptions in game action, with a couple of scores. Look for him to follow in former high school teammate Ridley’s footsteps as the next great “X” receiver at Alabama. Put him out wide on an island and let him work.
#6 Devonta Smith
“Smitty” already etched his name in college football lore when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass from Tagovailoa in overtime of the national title game, his second game-winner of the season. He is the same height as Jeudy with a slighter build and unbelievable quickness that makes him difficult to jam. He finished with only eight catches last season but averaged a full 20 yards per, and three went for scores.
#11 Henry Ruggs III
Ruggs is a classic slot receiver, barely touching six feet and 173 lbs. with speed and quickness to burn. He had a nose for the end zone last season as his first five catches all went for touchdowns. He also caught the last three passes of Tagovailoa’s first scoring drive of the title game, including the touchdown. With Jeudy and Smith outside, Ruggs should have plenty of room to work this season. He will also feature prominently in the kickoff and punt return games.
Shavers, from Lewisville, TX, committed to Alabama very early in the 2017 recruiting cycle and never wavered. He is a physical freak at 6’6” with blazing speed. After taking a redshirt year, Shavers will undoubtedly compete for time, particularly in the red zone.
#12 Chardarius Townsend
Townsend took a redshirt season after playing QB in high school in a smaller classification. He is an outstanding athlete who should have an opportunity to contribute as both a returner and a receiver going forward.
#19 Xavian Marks
The diminutive Marks is a crowd favorite any time he touches the football, but figures to contribute mostly as a returner.
#81 Derek Kief
As a redshirt senior who has yet to carve out much of a role on offense, it is hard to see the 6’4” Kief catching many footballs this season. He has been a major contributor on kick coverage teams throughout his career, however.
#29 Slade Bolden
Alabama has only one early enrollee at the position, three-star all-purpose back Slade Bolden. Bolden profiles as a future slot receiver in the Tide attack. Like Townsend, he played QB in high school and will likely require a redshirt year to get his bearings, particularly with the returning talent on the roster.
The tight end position was basically an afterthought in the passing game last season, but there is a ton of returning experience. Also, new QB coach Dan Enos taught his guys to utilize the position at Arkansas, producing NFL players Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle. Perhaps this will be the year that we finally see the big guys get some action.
#82 Irv Smith
Smith had a moderately productive sophomore campaign as the primary receiving tight end, with three touchdowns among his 14 receptions. He has good size and speed, and should figure more prominently if Alabama is able to spread the ball around a bit more.
Hentges carved out a role as the primary blocking tight end and performed admirably, also adding seven receptions including three for scores. As an incoming senior, he should be the leader of the group this season.
Forristall comes in as a redshirt sophomore after getting a medical redshirt for 2017, thanks to a knee injury suffered in the third game of the season. He was highly impressive as a freshman, particularly as a blocker. If he is fully recovered, Forristall should find his way back onto the field quickly.
Tennison was a heralded 4-star recruit out of Bullard, TX with prototypical size and speed at the position. He benched 425 at spring testing last season and ran a 4.72 forty, then got his feet wet with two catches for 30 yards.
If there is any justice in the universe, Clark will find his way onto the field in his final season. He has been the consummate team player throughout his career, continuing to push despite twice suffering season-ending injuries and watching others find roles as he recovered. Ronnie is one to root for.
#44 Kedrick James
James is a hoss at 6’5” and 255 lbs. He was rated a four-star at the position and saw a little action as a freshman, primarily as a blocker. He should compete for time, though it is obviously a crowded field.