How do the Transfers at Alabama Affect their Current WR core?
If you listened to any of Saban’s interviews from the offseason, it’s clear that he was unhappy with his receiving core last year, and who can blame him? The group operating behind Bama’s top three NFL-bound receivers was disappointing.
After John Metchie went down during the SEC championship game, all of Alabama’s returning wide receiving core accounted for just over 200 receiving yards through the entire playoffs. The loss of Jameson Williams in the national championship game is often cited as one of the main reasons for Alabama’s offensive struggles. Every other receiver failed to step up in his place. To no one’s surprise, Alabama took to the portal this offseason and added ex-UGA WR Jermaine Burton and ex-Louisville WR Tyler Harrell. There are rumors they might not be done, either.
So what does this mean for the returning group of freshmen that the devy and c2c world were so excited for? It could mean we are currently ranking them too aggressively.
The Returning Group
Ja’Corey Brooks, who showed the most promise last season, has missed valuable time this spring with a shoulder injury. Harrell was predominantly an outside receiver at Louisville and has the game-breaking speed Saban loves. He could push Brooks for that role next to Burton. Burton has received his own rave reviews operating as Bama’s WR1 on the outside.
JoJo Earle seemed like the guy destined for the starting slot, but after a relatively quiet spring and a less-than-stellar performance at A-Day, Earle’s spot is far from guaranteed. Christian Leary – who has been the forgotten man in terms of Devy/C2C – shined in the spring game and could push Earle for that position, should his struggles continue.
Rumors of them snooping around the transfer portal continue to come out and Alabama could enter the 2022 season with THREE transfer WRs atop the depth chart. With high-end WR recruits committing every year and this new-age world of transfers, a school like Alabama has unlimited resources at its disposal. All of this has left me with a modest level of concern around this group of returning wideouts. If you don’t perform, you could find yourself on the outside looking in.
Who’s Winning the Texas QB Job?
The burning question heading into the season is who will be under center for the Longhorns. Although the spring game might have made it seem closer than we initially thought, the exciting arm talent of 5-star QB Quinn Ewers was hard to ignore.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Ewers. He looked like a guy who was still shaking the rust off after not playing an actual down of football in almost 2.5 years. He threw it wide of the mark more than you would have liked, yet he consistently pushed the ball down the field effortlessly and made beautiful touch-passes that fell just slightly off the mark. Ewers hooked up with Wyoming transfer WR Isaiah Neyor for a perfect 55-yard TD strike deep down the field.
Third-year QB Hudson Card didn’t necessarily have a bad game either. He looked comfortable operating Sarkisian’s system. He may have been the more consistent of the two, especially in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. Card didn’t have the same “WOW” moments that Quinn had, but there wasn’t much to be upset about either. Sark maintains that Card has a real leg in this race, but he strikes me as the safe, low-ceiling option in this competition.
This QB battle still has a ways to go, but Quinn offers the upside with an aggressive vertical passing game. He could take the Longhorns’ offense to the next level, rather than the stagnant offense that struggled to take the next step last year with Card and Casey Thompson at the helm. The Longhorns might have to take some lumps as Ewers shakes off the rust, but he feels like the guy that can make this team a legitimate contender. In my opinion, it’s Ewers’s job to lose.
Who Will Step Up in USC’s WR Core?
This is a question I frequently get, but I would be lying if I said it had an easy answer. It’s clear from this spring that Mario Williams will be involved. Who else gets involved after that for this typically high-flying Lincoln Riley offense?
The biggest elephant in the room is Jordan Addison, who is rumored to be heading to USC after entering the transfer portal earlier this week. His arrival would all but guarantee his involvement as one of the favorite targets. Until that happens, I decided to look at Caleb’s target dispersal from his time in Riley’s offense last year.
Using the last seven weeks of the season when Caleb was the starter, I first looked at his target dispersal to his wide receivers by position on the field. The table below shows that Caleb preferred his outside targets 75% of the time. Mario Williams spent most of his time outside at Oklahoma, while Addison was predominantly a slot WR at Pittsburgh (although he spent almost 30% out wide). Without Addison’s arrival, this could help the stocks of guys like Tahj Washington or transfer WR Brendan Rice, who spent a majority of their snaps on the outside. On the other hand, it could hurt a guy like Gary Bryant, who spent almost 70% of his snaps in the slot.
For the following table, I took a look at his target dispersal by player and type. Focusing on his four most-targeted wideouts, we can see that Caleb seemed to prefer his bigger targets. Woods and Haselwood still led the wideouts in targets despite missing a few games. Although he played in every game, Mims fell to third on this list and played a bit of a disappearing act down the stretch. This could benefit Rice and Kyle Ford (and maybe even C.J Williams), who stand at 6’3″ and play primarily on the outside.
If I had to take a few shots in this group outside of Mario (or maybe Addison), Rice and freshman C.J Williams check off boxes from either approach. They seem to fit the criteria of a guy Williams would like. Although a little smaller, Washington is the leading returning wideout who played primarily on the outside. On the other hand, I may consider fading Bryant, who could get lost in the shuffle after a promising sophomore season, especially if USC finds a way to land Addison.
Who Saw Their Stock Rise This Spring?
I could name a lot of guys here, but ill keep in brief and try to tackle a few names that should be getting more attention:
Evan Prater, QB, Cincinnati: Prater was the highest recruit in Bearcats history and has patiently waited for his turn. Although he entered this spring entrenched in a QB battle, the buzz out of Cincinnati has been sliding in his favor. He started the spring game and looked sharp, throwing for two touchdowns and making plays with his legs. He has intriguing NFL tools and is the better fit for this offense.
Jaydon Gibson, WR, Oklahoma: There’s room for someone to make some noise outside behind Marvin Mims at Oklahoma. Gibson has started on the right foot. They watched Jadon Haselwood and Cody Jackson depart via the Transfer Portal. Theo Wease has failed to make much of an impact during his three seasons. Gibson received strong buzz this spring and flashed with a 90+ yard touchdown in the spring game. Oklahoma could push to get the young freshman onto the field early.
Dont’e Thornton, WR, Oregon: Thornton has been the forgotten man at Oregon. He finished off last season with a strong bowl game performance and carried his momentum into this spring. He finished with over 100 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. With Oregon’s WR core losing its three leading receivers from last year, Thornton should open the season as a starter and has been a trendy breakout pick from Ducks fans.
Javontae Barnes, RB, Oklahoma: Barnes has received plenty of praise this spring. Although starters for each squad could have been predetermined, it was Barnes that got the first snap of the spring game. The early enrollee played a significant role for the red squad and scored two short-yardage touchdowns. He was powerful, made some nice adjustments at the line, and even showed us a little speed on the edge. Javontae could play a major role as a freshman.
Damien Martinez, RB, Oregon State: Quite possibly the biggest rise of the offseason has been true freshman Damien Martinez. He has been running with the ones since the early days of camp. The 5’10″ 220-pound back has received strong praise all spring. He received a healthy amount of touches at their scrimmage, capping it off with a TD. He should work with Deshaun Fenwick as the Beavers 1-2 punch this season.
Gee Scott Jr, TE, Ohio State: Gee Scott’s conversion to TE has been met with skepticism, especially after failing to get on the field much last year. The downtime seems to have paid off, with Scott starting on the Buckeyes’ first team during the spring game. He led all receivers in catches and finished third in receiving yards. The athletic WR-convert seems like he might have a significant role this year.
Who Saw Their Stock Fall This Spring?
Ty Thompson, QB, Oregon: Thompson was once one of the most highly sought-after recruits and everyone’s favorite backup QB. What was once thought to be an opening for Thompson this spring closed fairly quickly, as Thompson seems to be the third QB in rotation. He’s failed to look better than Bo Nix, who looks like the starter for Oregon this year.
Sam Huard, QB, Washington: Another QB who had high aspirations entering the season, Huard has seen himself slowly lose traction against Michael Penix Jr. and Dylan Morris in this QB battle. His struggles were on full display in the Washington spring game, and we may be lining up to wait for another year until we see the 5-star hit the field.
LJ Johnson Jr, RB, Texas A&M: With Isaiah Spiller off to the NFL this year, everyone was drafting Johnson as the potential heir apparent to a potent Aggies run game. Unfortunately, LJ had trouble getting on the field through his first year. He has received almost ZERO buzz throughout the spring. He missed the Aggies’ spring game with nagging injuries and continues to lose traction for a potential role in this backfield.
Demarckus Bowman, RB, Florida: A former 5-star recruit going to a powerhouse like Clemson, what could go wrong? A lot, apparently. Demarckus transferred to Florida for the past two seasons and has failed to make an impression for many reasons. He weighs in at 183 pounds this spring – seven less than he was as a high school recruit! Couple that with an awful spring game where he fumbled the ball twice, and you can count me out on Bowman. (If you weren’t already out)
E.J Williams, WR, Clemson: Williams was once thought to be the next potential star for Clemson after a promising freshman season. Unfortunately, he’s fallen victim to a struggling offense and nagging injuries that have kept the buzz around Williams to an all-time low. Clemson also sees the returning health of their WR core and the rise of up-and-comers like Beaux Collins. It is leaving Williams buried on the depth chart of a struggling offense.
Jadon Haselwood, WR, Arkansas: The former #1 overall WR in his draft class has had a rocky start to his career, including a torn ACL and a list of nagging injuries. His transfer to Arkansas brought some hope for a potential rebirth. He’s once again been in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries and was even seen taking some second-team reps in the spring game.
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