Last week, we took a look at the incoming QB, RB, and TEs for the Alabama football incoming freshman class, and now we’re moving on to a group of four who will be catching all the passes for years to come.
Like I said last week, this series of articles is looking a bit different this year. The onset of Covid-19 last spring left all of the Nike combines cancelled, so we wound up with absolutely no verified testing or SPARQ data. On top of that, most players wound up with shortened senior seasons, so there’s even fewer highlights than normal to look at.
Regardless, we’ll be breaking down all we can about each prospect and trying to project how they’ll fit on the Crimson Tide in years to come.
At wide receiver, both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are headed to the NFL, so, aside from John Metchie, the entire group is wide open for a freshman to come in and make an immediate impact. Fortunately for the Tide, this WR class rivals that of 2017, when Smith, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy all joined forces to become one of the most deadly receiving attacks college football has ever seen over the last three seasons.
As an early enrollee, Agiye Hall has already joined the program and is listed on Alabama’s roster at 195 now. He’s a bit taller than the receivers that Alabama has routinely been using since 2017, and has plenty of room on his frame to play even heavier if the coaches think it would benefit him.
If you believe his self-reported numbers, he ran a 4.46 forty yard dash and a rather other-worldly 44” vertical jump.
He was one of the first guys to commit to Alabama’s 2021 class during the early days of the ‘Rona, and as such deserves a little extra spotlight for having absolutely zero drama and an unwavering commitment for so long.
Hall’s most notable attribute is his alpha personality and unwavering attitude. The very first highlight I saw was one of him absolutely pile driving some poor sap down the field while run blocking. His next highlight was one of him chasing down a fumble recovery from 20-yards back to save a touchdown.
He’s a big dude with ridiculously long arms and legs, but doesn’t play like a lanky A.J. Green or anything. He’s going to be right in the mix when blocking, prefers to throw stiff arms over juking, relishes going shoulder-first into defenders trying to tackle him, and just generally thrives on making sure his opponent winds up on the ground while he looms over them after the play. It’s honestly a rare quality for a wide receiver, and why I think he could very well be a great defensive back.
In fact, he might have the best initial jam at the line of scrimmage from any corner I’ve studied coming to Alabama out of high school since I started this series in 2015. Half the time, his man never even manages to get past the line of scrimmage. He throws a jam right in their chest and they go flying backwards. He’s an energetic and nasty tackler as well, and also has a nice ability to get turned around and make leaping pass breakups down the field with his long arms.
But back to being a receiver… He’s got very nice long speed and had a good bit of production on hail mary type plays where he just outruns a defense and then outjumps anyone that manages to stay close to him. Other than that, most of his catches all came on either screens or quick slants. He’s got decent enough slipperiness and can really turn on the jets with a little open space, so he’s a danger for busting a big play on those little YAC passes. Plus, like I said earlier, he really enjoys trucking defenders for first downs.
However, there’s very little nuance to his route-running, and he’ll need a lot of polishing at the college level to do anything other than the streaks, slants, and screens.
Oh, and by the way, he’s got a cannon for a leg as a punter, is a punt block specialist with his long arms, and has a pretty decent throwing arm on trick play passes.
Initially, Hall breaks the norm for the type of receiver Alabama has typically used for years. Cam Sims is really the only one of that body type since the early Saban years. Obviously there is the caveat that Bill O’Brien’s offense may wrinkle things up a bit, but I think some things will have to be altered for Hall to really fit.
On special teams, though? He’ll be perfect. A tall, rangy guy with good long speed and a willingness/desire to level anyone near him? I imagine he’ll fit on nearly every special teams squad, receiving or defending.
And might he play defensive back?? He’s the #44 overall player as a receiver, but I’m honestly envisioning a Richard Sherman clone at defensive back, and am quite excited about the prospect.
I don’t think we see Hall with any meaningful stats as a receiver as a freshman. However, I think we absolutely see him often on special teams from day 1, and he’ll be a stalwart there for years.
Assuming he doesn’t move to defensive back, I think he’ll get a regular role in the rotation as early as year 2. He’s too good of a blocker and you know Nick Saban loves a receiver that can block.
And might he also be the emergency punter, or even the main punter in the future? I could see it. Plus, think of the trick play viability with that.
Another big-time prospect out of IMG Academy, Brooks enrolled early and is listed a little shorter and more compact on Alabama’s roster than his high school listing at 6’2” 190. Brooks continues the trend of Alabama absolutely raiding Florida (both as a Miami native and an IMG Academy transfer) for all top receiving talent… And that’s tended to work out pretty well for the Tide for nearly a decade now.
For a bigger guy, Brooks is about as buttery smooth as they come. He’s clearly got a highly-trained release with his footwork at the line of scrimmage and never wastes a single step on his routes. Down the field, he’s got an uncanny feel for giving subtle little half-step jukes to spin defensive backs around without him ever actually losing any speed.
That same footwork translates to his ability after the catch as well, as he can slip right by defenders trying to tackle him, seemingly ghosting right through their grasp. As such, he’s an accomplished punt returner.
He’s a phenomenal catcher, and excels at bodying out defenders, positioning, and pulling in back shoulder fades or one-handed grabs down the sidelines.
Combine all of that, and he’s a nearly automatic touchdown in the redzone, whether that comes on a backline fade, a backshoulder catch at the sideline, or a slant.
What he lacks in pure speed and explosiveness, he makes up for with absolutely dominant hands, perfect footwork, and deceptive suddenness that makes him difficult to tackle by the first guy.
He doesn’t quite have the same big play ability that Alabama fans have become used to with Smith, Ruggs, Jeudy, and Waddle over the last few years, but Brooks absolutely has all the tools to become a dominant #1 receiver in pretty much any scheme you put him in. He’ll be someone that will convert third down after third down after third down with his route-running, contested catches, and making the first guy miss to pick up those extra few yards.
With him getting on campus early, Brooks will be right in the mix trying to win a starting job as a freshman. Metchie will obviously be one starting receiver and is a known deep threat that was developing his middle-of-the-field game by the end of last season. Past him, though, Brooks will be competing with a couple of veterans in Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams for a more mid-range target.
And I’m going to go out on a limb with this one and say he gets the nod as the starter in the season opener as the outside man opposite Metchie, though I don’t think he’ll be a 100% of snaps kind of receiver, but more of a rotation piece as a freshman, at least.
Hey look, another south Florida native at wide reciever!
Listed at 5’10” on Alabama’s roster as an early enrollee, Leary has already made some rounds on Twitter as a subject of some of Dr. Matt Rhea’s tweets about players with ridiculous speed.
Leary is supposedly a 4.4s forty guy with potential to get into the 4.3s range, and boasts a crazy good 10.5s 100-meter dash.
After a monster junior season, Leary’s senior season was cut nearly in half from the year before, and it saw his stats dip. He still averaged 90 all-purpose yards per game (down from his 110 as a junior).
Obviously, speed is the name of the game here. Leary is a true track star that can and will absolutely blast right on by an entire defense on a go route and score… assuming the QB can throw it far enough.
He’s more than a one trick-pony, though. He’s quite adept at taking advantage of that reputation, and gets a lot of production on running backshoulder comebacks and curls. He’s got the ability to stop on a dime, and has a good feel for wait just until the defenders turns to run with him before he cuts.
Most importantly, though, is his ability to get yards after the catch. Leary is built more like a small running back than a receiver— he’s compact and has a low center of gravity. Not only is he waaayyy faster than everyone else and has the feet to juke an off-balance defender into oblivion, he also tends to pinball off of defenders all over the field. He kareems off of would-be tacklers at high speed, often bouncing off in weird directions that throws off a whole slew of defenders and gives him room to eat up 20+ more yards.
He’s just as likely to put his shoulder down and run right through a defender as he is to try and outrun them to the sidelines.
He was used most often on his high school offense on mid-range curls, screens, jet sweeps, and as a wildcat QB, though he definitely flashed some technical prowess and footwork with releases against press coverage and more downfield double moves.
Leary absolutely fits what Alabama has done with Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and even DeVonta Smith over the last 4 years. Yards after catch is king, and the threat of speed gives him even more cushion to use there. He doesn’t quite have the contested catch and leaping ability that we’ve seen from some of these other guys and likely never will have the height to do, but he’ll be absolutely deadly on the screens and jet sweeps that have been a staple since the Lane Kiffin years.
I think we see Leary a good bit as freshman, though more in a mop-up role that occasionally gets to spell the top receivers in actual SEC games. He’ll also be right in the mix as the next man up at punt returner this year.
Already billed by many as the immediate heir apparent for Jaylen Waddle, the Texas native was a late flip during the Early Signing Period that spurned his commitment to LSU to join with the Crimson Tide and round out an already powerful class of wide receivers with the prior three players.
Though he doesn’t quite have the pure top end long speed that Leary does, he’s still an accomplished track athlete with an (admittedly unverified) sub 4.4s forty time.
Earle is an uber-productive and highly accomplished receiver out of the slot (nearly 4000 yards in three years) who has the kind of ridiculously quick feet that make him look almost like a cartoon character on the football field.
He’s adept at running crossers with a number of subtle false steps and double moves that will tie defenders in knots before turning on the jets and outracing them to the sidelines to pull in a catch. He’s got elite body control and balance and can secure some crazy catches while falling or between and around defenders, despite his size.
Most important, though, is his ability to make people miss after the catch. To use a major cliche, Earle is like human joystick with the ball in his hands. When he jukes someone, it usually winds up with the defender flying 6 yards in the opposite direction… and he’s already juking someone else before the first guy actually hits the ground.
Like Leary, Earle is a YAC demon who is absolutely perfect in every variation of the Alabama offensive scheme since 2014. Earle, however, is also an accomplished slot receiver over the middle who would be right at home in a lot of NFL offenses that rely on those mid-range crossers and option routes.
Initially, I think not enrolling early and his small stature will keep Earle a little behind Leary and Brooks. We may see him a few times in mop up duty as a freshman, and he may even get a shot as a punt returner, but ultimately uses the year to acclimate to the speed of the college game.
After that, I think he’ll absolutely be a mainstay in the receiving rotation by year 2 and a long-term thorn in the side to our SEC West rivals after that.