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Alabama 2021: Returning players, new signees battle to keep the dynasty going

Alabama’s 18th national championship is in the books, and with it, the depletion of talent across the Tide’s depth chart. While Alabama certainly brings in more elite talent than most other schools, it also loses more, primarily to the NFL Draft but also to the NCAA transfer portal.

For the 2021 season, any discussion of talent on-hand is made more complicated by the NCAA’s decision to allow anyone on a roster for the 2020 season to effectively not count that season toward or against their eligibility. The NCAA still has not given schools final guidance on how to fit all these names under the 85 scholarship limit.

The following is an analysis of the current roster, plus signees and commitments, with notes on players who might be headed elsewhere in 2021.

(Editor’s note: * = players with eligibility who have not yet declared intentions for 2021)


In (scholarship): Bryce Young, Paul Tyson
In (walk-on): Braxton Barker, Jayden George, Stone Hollenbach
Out: Mac Jones, Logan Burnett
Signed: Jalen Milroe
Committed: None
Analysis: Alabama loses perhaps its best quarterback ever in Mac Jones, and also Mississippi State graduate transfer Logan Burnett. Bryce Young never really got a lot of substantive action following the Missouri opener, but most expect he’ll win the job easily this spring. Paul Tyson will likely battle incoming freshman Jalen Milroe for the backup job. Tyson is a traditional pocket passer, while Milroe is has more dual-threat abilities, but Alabama has traditionally had its best results with pocket passers and Jones showed everyone in 2020 how little outside-the-pocket mobility means if you can make all the throws.

Of the walk-ons, Braxton Barker, the son of former Tide star Jay Barker, dressed for every game and was the third-team QB the week Tyson was out with Covid-19 issues. Jayden George is the son of strong-armed former NFL QB Jeff George, but neither he nor Slade Hollenbach made any noise this past season. Assuming this is the QB room in August, Alabama should be in good shape.
Predicted depth chart: Young, Milroe/Tyson

Running back
In (scholarship): Brian Robinson Jr., Trey Sanders, Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams, Kyle Edwards, Keilan Robinson
In (walk-on): Cooper Bishop
Out: Najee Harris
Signed: None
Committed: Camar Wheaton
Analysis: The deepest unit on the team, even without Najee Harris. Brian Robinson Jr. announced his intention to return for a fifth year, instantly giving Alabama an experienced power back to lead the RB room in 2021. There are two huge question marks in this group, Trey Sanders and Keilan Robinson, both of whom have flashed immense potential in limited work. Robinson opted out for the 2020 season, while Sanders was involved in a serious car accident in the middle of the 2020 season that threatens to do permanent damage to his career. Robinson is a change-up back, primarily a third-down weapon who has some value as a slot receiver, but Sanders was pushing Robinson when the accident happened.

Now, Sanders will be fighting to stay ahead of Jase McClellan, who averaged more than 10 yards per carry in mop-up work in 2020. Roydell Williams also showed good ability, but he is smaller than the typical Alabama featured back. Kyle Edwards has a good prep resume but redshirted in 2020. The other big name to watch here is commitment Camar Wheaton. While Wheaton is still supposed to sign with Alabama in February, there are reports that the loss of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to Texas might cause Wheaton to look elsewhere. The one absolute is not everyone in this group can play next year.

At most, Alabama plays three backs while the game is still on the line, so how Keilan Robinson fits into the rotation will probably determine how much action the loser of the Sanders-McClellan battle actually sees.
Projected depth chart: B.Robinson, Sanders/McClellan, K.Robinson

Wide Receiver
In (scholarship): John Metchie III, Slade Bolden, Xavier Williams, Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden, Thaiu Jones-Bell
In (walk-on): Shatarius Williams, Bret Bolin, Grant Krieger, Jonathan Bennett, C.J. Williams, Sam Reed
Out: DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Drew Kobayashi, Joshua Lanier
Signed: Agiye Hall, JoJo Earle, Christian Leary, Jacorey Brooks
Committed: None
Analysis: This is the most problematic position group on the team heading into 2021. There are only two proven performers coming back, John Metchie III and Slade Bolden, and only two others – Xavier Williams and Javon Baker – had any kind of legitimate snaps against other teams’ first defenses. There will likely be no replacing DeVonta Smith, not to the level Alabama is accustomed to, anyway. The primary concerns will be working on Metchie’s hands and Bolden’s post-catch turnovers. Bolden will likely stay in the slot, so the question is who will start at flanker opposite Metchie as the split end. Toward the end of the year, Xavier Williams seemed to step up, and he had critical catches against Florida and Ohio State. His emergence would be welcomed, because Alabama doesn’t appear to have hit a home run in its 2019-2020 wide receiver recruiting. Javon Baker has impressive physical tools, but played tentatively when given a chance this season. Neither Traeshon Holden nor Thaiu Jones-Bell ever got out of the starting blocks.

Walk-on Joshua Lanier was running ahead of the latter two at one time. Heading into 2021, there will be plenty of attention given to Agiye Hall, a tall receiver with good speed who played well late in his high school season. JoJo Earle and Christian Leary are both super-fast slot receivers, but their lack of size probably preclude them from being consistent performers on the outside of the formation. Jacorey Brooks is another taller receiver, but he needs bulk (as does Hall). Of the walk-ons, Indiana transfer Bret Bolin dressed for several games last year and appears to be ahead of the pack; Shatarius Williams has the best measurables.

Alabama continues to recruit big wideout Brian Thomas but may be out of scholarship room to sign him. It is critical that Alabama identify at least three, if not four or five possibilities from the group behind Metchie and Bolden, and develop them.
Projected depth chart: SE – Metchie, Baker, Hall; FL – X.Williams, Holden, Jones-Bell; WR – Bolden, Earle/Leary

Tight End
In (scholarship): Major Tennison, Jahleel Billingsley, Kendall Randolph, Cameron Latu, Michael Parker
In (walk-on): Richard Hunt, Melvin Billingsley
Out: Miller Forristall, Carl Tucker*
Signed: Robbie Ouzts, Caden Clark (grayshirt re-enroll)
Committed: None
Analysis: Miller Forristall was Alabama’s Swiss army knife at tight end, growing from an H-back whose blocking at the Y position often yielded poor results, to a key part of the Bama offense who could play both positions at a high level. If he had a shortcoming, it was in his ability to stay on the field on a consistent basis, as he suffered a plethora of injuries great and small. With Forristall gone, Jahleel Billingsley owns the spotlight. He is a superb receiver with good speed, but he is worse as a blocker than Forristall ever was when he was fresh onto campus. Alabama utilized Billingsley as mostly a hybrid receiver in 2020, but that will have to change quickly unless he wants to split the position with Major Tennison and Kendall Randolph. Randolph is a converted offensive lineman, but he’s athletic enough to occasionally be a decoy while always giving a solid effort at Y. Tennison is more or less a generic-brand Forristall, not quite his equal as a blocker or receiver but good enough to get the job done.

Whereas Alabama played as many as seven tight ends at times in 2020, it could be down to just three in 2021. The question marks are Cameron Latu and true freshmen Robbie Ouzts and Caden Clark. Ouzts is expected to eventually replace Forristall’s production at both spots, but he’ll need time to learn the college game. Latu, a converted defensive end, seems to have all the tools but fell out of the rotation as the year went along. Clark signed in the 2020 class but grayshirted. Alabama doesn’t have a firm decision yet from Carl Tucker, a graduate transfer from North Carolina who was expected to challenge Forristall for the starting job last year, but never did. He was injured down the stretch and barely played, all things considered. If he comes back for a sixth year, he’ll compete immediately for whatever role Tennison wins.

Alabama also has two intriguing walk-ons. Melvin Billingsley, no relation to Jahleel, dressed out for a couple of key games down the stretch and could be a factor at H or fullback. Richard Hunt, at 6’8”, is Bama’s tallest player, and he also dressed out for a few games in 2020. Michael Parker has yet to make an impact despite good physical tools.
Projected depth chart: Y – Randolph, Tennison, Ouzts, Parker, Hunt; H – J.Billingsley, Latu, Clark, M.Billingsley

Offensive Line
In (scholarship): Chris Owens, Emil Ekiyor Jr., Darrian Dalcourt, Tommy Brown, Evan Neal, Javion Cohen, Tanner Bowles, Pierce Quick, Seth McLaughlin, Amari Kight, Damien George Jr., Kendall Randolph (TE)
In (walk-on): Alajujuan Sparks Jr., Jackson Roby, Brandon Cade, Donovan Hardin
Out: Alex Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson, Deonte Brown
Signed: Jaeden Roberts, Tommy Brockermeyer, James Brockermeyer, Terrence Ferguson, J.C. Latham
Committed: None
Analysis: Alabama got a big boost when Chris Owens decided to come back for his sixth season. That gives Alabama an experienced swingman who will probably end up the starter at either right tackle, right guard or center. Evan Neal and Emil Ekiyor Jr., 2020’s right tackle and right guard respectively, are expected to move to the left side. That leaves three positions open with a lot of talented, but relatively inexperienced players vying for them. Owens is the only returning reserve with measurable experience – save for Kendall Randolph, who may be too valuable at tight end to move back to guard/tackle – although Tommy Brown and Darrian Dalcourt have seen action in multiple blowouts. Brown can play guard or tackle, while Dalcourt can play guard or center.

Alabama needs to decide whether Dalcourt’s power at center is worth moving Owens out from his natural position. The next level seems to be Tanner Bowles, Pierce Quick and Seth McLaughlin. McLaughlin is a center only; Bowles and Quick can play inside or out, preferring guard (Bowles) and tackle (Quick). Amari Kight can also play both but seems to be focusing on guard. Javion Cohen and Damien George Jr., true freshmen in 2020, both played at tackle.

Alabama signed five talented players in the early period, with tackles J.C. Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer being the two most talked about. Terrence Ferguson and Jaeden Roberts should compete at guard soon, while James Brockermeyer could be an option at guard or center. Despite the turnover, this unit is expected to be mostly plug-and-play.

Of the walk-ons, Jackson Roby has been around the longest, but Alajujuan Sparks Jr. is notable both for his unique first name and for the fact that he’s as big as a house. Either could probably play guard elsewhere.
Projected depth chart: RT – Owens, Cohen, T.Brockermeyer; RG – Brown, Kight/Quick; C – Dalcourt, McLaughlin, J.Brockermeyer; LG – Ekiyor, Bowles, Ferguson/Roberts; LT – Neal, George, Latham

Continue Reading the 2021 Defense / Special Teams Overview

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