Photo by Kent Gidley/Crimson Tide Photos
Welcome to the first of a series of devy dumps with Lead Devy Writer for GoingFor2 and fellow Columbus, Ohio-native, Jeff Bell (@ForWhomJBellTolls). First up in our series of deep dives: Reigning National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jeff – The departure of Mac Jones leaves the Tide choosing between Bryce Young, Paul Tyson, and Jalen Milroe. Young was the prize of the 2020 recruiting class as 247sports’ number 1 Dual Threat QB. He’s shorter (6’0”), but that frame along with his playstyle and quick-twitch ability will lend to easy comparisons to Kyler Murray. Tyson on the other hand has the feel of a legacy recruit, as the great-grandson of Paul Bear Bryant. A large frame (6”5”) and a big arm lends to a Ryan Mallet comparison. Lastly, Milroe comes in as the 2021 QB recruit, the number 4 dual-threat QB in the class of 2021. He is an early enrollee but will be facing a stiff uphill climb for meaningful playing time. Christian, do you see this as Young’s job to lose? What are your thoughts on these quarterbacks in terms of developmental potential?
Christian - I think the clear favorite to go out and win the job in 2021 is Young. In his limited work in 2020, he flashed some potential, completing 59% of his passes (13/22) and ultimately serving as Jones’ immediate backup. Interestingly though, the movement to a pro-style QB in Jones and the resulting success leaves intrigue for Tyson to come in and run the offense similarly. Tyson is no slouch, coming in as a 4-star recruit and the 12th-best pro-style recruit in his class. I agree that Milroe will be the odd man out.
Christian - Following the loss of two seniors (Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr.) to the NFL Draft, this is the position most in-question, in my book. There’s a trio of freshman (true and redshirt) RBs that stood out at times in 2020: Jase McClellan, Trey Sanders, and Roydell Williams. McClellan was ranked as the 6th RB in the 2020 class and by far impressed the most in limited work. Sanders has the recruitment profile that screams 2021 workhorse, standing at 6’0, 214 and ranking as the RB1 in the 2019 class. Williams was the least impressive but still came to Alabama as the 9th overall RB prospect in the 2020 class. Which one of these running backs stood out to you, and what can we expect moving into the championship defense?
Jeff- McClellan’s style in limited action reminded me of Damien Harris. It is clear Saban has a type. I expect we will see something similar to the carry distribution of 2018 when Saban rotated between Harris / Josh Jacobs / Najee Harris, with all three finishing between 117 to 150 carries. This will certainly be a situation to watch, waiting to see if one emerges, but given the running back factory Saban has created; all three of these are on watch lists. Grabbing an Alabama running back share is never a bad idea.
Photo by 247sports
Jeff - John Metchie gets his turn to shine due to the departures of Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. He stepped up with some massive games (5-181-2 vs A&M) prior to Waddle’s injury and solidly took the WR2 role after the departure. He will be high on 2022 rookie draft boards. Slade Bolden is the only other returning WR who saw meaningful snaps and profiles as a classic slot. Thaiu Jones-Bell and Traeshon Holden fill the depth chart, but the current projection has Javon Baker as the 3rd WR. Jacorey Brooks, Agiye Hall, and JoJo Earle were all top ten WRs in the 2021 class and stoke future excitement. Do you see Metchie getting the starring role similar to Smith? How do you think Bill O’Brien coming on as offensive coordinator will affect the wide receiver room? Do any of the young players stand out for immediate impact?
Christian - Metchie has to be better in contested catch situations and catching the football. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 6 drops on his 76 targets. That will not fly with an incoming stud quarterback. I have concerns that he will get there, despite the flashes. Bill O’Brien coming in as a coordinator makes me think we could see more pass plays in general, but the impact on the receiver room can’t be known. How much will Saban influence O’Brien’s decisions? Not quite sure yet. Baker’s teammates have raved about him in practice, saying he had the best hands on the team (a team consisting of two top-20 picks) and clean route running. I think he could be in for a significantly larger role in 2021.
Christian - The tight end room will remain largely unchanged for the Crimson Tide. Due to eligibility changes from COVID-19, the team could return all of its 2020 tight ends. However, Miller Forristall is likely to move on, leaving junior Jahleel Billingsley as the last remaining pass-catching tight end on the roster. He was once the 11th tight end in the nation, and has already emerged as the best tight end on the roster. Billingsley is a guy I’m keeping a close eye on. Jeff, what do you think of Billingsley’s play in 2020, and are there any guys that could challenge him for the primary pass-catching role?
Jeff - In short, no. Billingsley will be the guy and I expect we’ll see a situation similar to 2015 when the team leaned heavily on OJ Howard as an offensive key with an inexperienced wide receiver room. Billingsley is unquestionably a special talent, it is almost unheard of that a tight end leads a team in kick return yardage. Add in that in O’Brien’s tenure with Penn St he featured the tight end heavily, both years the position was the de facto second option. Billingsley is a name we will hear often when it comes to 2022 rookie draft prep.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Jeff - Let’s close out with a look at the team overall. We know Saban’s standards for excellence and track record for success. Given all the overhaul, do you think they could stumble early, similar to what we saw with Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma this past season? Do you have any concerns through these skill groups on holding the team back given the overwhelming inexperience?
Christian - Yeah, I think this will be a classic case of a championship hangover. Losing QBs in back-to-back years and recovering fully is no small feat; add in the fact that they also lost their best coordinator and you could see a stumble. Then add in that nearly every meaningful offensive weapon is moving on. The skill groups have virtually no experience, and I actually don’t think we’ll see Alabama win the SEC in 2021. I do expect them to develop, continue to improve throughout the season, and - like Oklahoma, as you alluded to - position themselves for a decent bowl game. Tempered expectations are necessary, though.