With Calvin Ridley headed to the NFL, Alabama needs a go-to receiver for 2018. The Tide has plenty of options, as multiple true freshman receivers played significant roles on last season’s national championship squad.
Alabama also lost Cams Sims and Robert Foster to graduation, so just one wide receiver who had at least 14 receptions returns. That’s Jerry Jeudy, who had 14 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Also returning is sophomore-to-be DeVonta Smith, who had just eight receptions. But three of his catches went for TDs, including the game-winner in the national championship game and the game-winner against Mississippi State with 25 seconds left.
Also back is sophomore-to-be Henry Ruggs III, who finished with 12 receptions, 229 yards and a team-leading six touchdown receptions (remember Ridley had zero TD catches in SEC play). Ruggs looks to have deep-threat ability.
Two other true freshmen, Tyrell Shavers and Chadarius Townsend, didn’t play in 2017 after enrolling early. One 2018 receiver signee, Xavier Williams, enrolled early and will go through spring ball.
Thus, there are plenty of candidates for the role of go-to receiver, and forming a relationship and building a level of comfort with the quarterbacks is key. The identity of the starting quarterback – will it be Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts? – also could play a role in who takes over as the go-to guy.
I like Jeudy and Ruggs in a 1A-1B scenario. Jeudy averaged 18.9 yards per reception and is as sure-handed as any receiver on the team; Ruggs was the big-play guy Alabama needed in the passing game last year. I think Tagovailoa will be the starting quarterback, and he gives this offense a wider brush with which to paint because of his abilities as a passer.
In 2017, Ridley caught more passes than the next four leading receivers on the team. But Tagovailoa can and will spread the ball out more, giving the offense more balance through the air. Jeudy and Ruggs will take advantage and will contend for the title of leading receiver. (If Jeudy is indeed the leading receiver, it would be the seventh consecutive season a south Floridian led the Tide in receiving; like Jeudy, Amari Cooper and Ridley also are from south Florida.)
As always, Alabama has first-world problems with ridiculous riches at wide receiver going into 2018.
(You can follow Justin Nails on Twitter @justinnails)
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