Jameson Williams is latest Alabama WR to get top-10 consideration
Remember when this actually never happened?
From 1936 to 2010, the list of first round wide receivers out of Alabama looked like this:
Dennis Homan, 20th overall pick in 1968
Homan went to the Cowboys, flopped, and people were like “Egh, Alabama…what do THEY ever do for the NFL?” so a Crimson Tide receiver wouldn’t be selected in the first round again until Julio Jones in 2011.
He changed a few things.
‘Bama head coach Nick Saban convinced Jones, the number four recruit in the nation and the top player at his position for obvious reasons, to come to Alabama despite a 7-6 record in Saban’s first year at the helm and more importantly, a lack of any evidence that the Crimson Tide could pass the ball or develop wide receivers for the next level.
Saban worked with Dwayne Bowe and Michael Clayton at LSU, but not even he had a really strong record of putting elite receivers into the NFL. The top receivers at Alabama the season before Julio were guys named D.J. Hall and Matt Caddell.
Now here comes Julio Jones.
As a true freshman, and working with John Parker Wilson as his quarterback, Jones caught 58 passes for 924 yards as the only viable receiving threat on the team. Alabama improved to 12-2, losing in the Sugar Bowl to undefeated Utah.
Behind a Mark Ingram-focused attack in 2009, Alabama went 14-0 and won a national championship, but Jones caught just 43 passes for 496 yards and Ingram won the Heisman trophy.
Alabama added four four-star receivers in 2009, including future Seahawks pick Kevin Norwood, but none of them would come close to “star” status. Two more committed in 2010, including DeAndrew White as a top-ten player at his position, but neither panned out. Then 2011 brought four-star recruits Marvin Shinn, Bradley Sylve, and Danny Woodson. You know those names? I don’t.
Which is even more important because 2011 is when the Falcons traded up to six to select Julio Jones in the NFL Draft.
Despite a lackluster performance by all wide receiver recruits post-Julio, Nick Saban continued to attract top-tier high school talents at the position hoping that eventually one of them would become another Julio Jones. And just in time, Amari Cooper showed up.
As a four-star recruit in 2012, Cooper could have gone in any direction, since we’ve seen that to happen to so many players before him. He was ranked behind guys like Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor, but also Dorial Green-Beckham and Cayleb Jones. Cooper was ranked eighth, but ranked 10th was Chris Black, another receiver who went to Alabama and immediately fell out of the limelight.
As a true freshman, with A.J. McCarron as his QB, Cooper caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Similar to Jones, Cooper’s production waned in year two, but then as a junior he rebounded for 124 receptions, 1,727 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
His QB was Blake Sims.
Now with Jones and Cooper as evidence, Nick Saban could recruit wide receivers at an even higher level of where he was grabbing them before. Robert Foster, the number four receiver in the nation in 2013, committed to Alabama, as did four-star Raheem Falkins. Following a bit of a lull in 2014, Saban once again successfully courted the top receiver recruit in the nation, signing Calvin Ridley to the Tide in 2015.
As a true freshman, with Jake Coker as his QB, Ridley caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. On queue, Ridley posted worse numbers as a sophomore, then better stats with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa as the quarterbacks in 2017, which sets in motion the groundwork for Saban also now focused on making Alabama a QUARTERBACKS school for the first time in relevant history.
Following a seemingly weak recruiting class in 2016, Saban turned his stranglehold on receivers into a chokehold, securing the rights to Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs in 2017, all three ranked in the top-20 at the position. In 2018, Ridley was the 26th overall pick (another Alabama receiver headed to Atlanta) and in his place, Jeudy caught 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Second in yards on the team was not Smith or Ruggs, but true freshman Jaylen Waddle, a five-star recruit out of Houston, Texas.
With unprecedented talent at the position in 2019, Alabama failed to recruit any top-tier receivers out of high school that year, but Smith and Jeudy both topped 1,100 yards, while Ruggs and Waddle had over 550. They also all had to share the ball with future first round running back Najee Harris.
In 2020, Tua Tagovailoa became the first Alabama quarterback to go in the first round since Richard Todd in 1976, while Ruggs went 12th and Jeudy went 15th in the same year. Meanwhile, that year the Crimson Tide went 13-0 behind the play of Mac Jones, Smith, Waddle, Harris, and four-star “Athlete” John Metchie, a recruit in the class of 2019.
In the 2021 draft, Jones was picked in the first round, while Waddle was sixth overall and Smith was 10th overall, now assuring that not only was Alabama a “wide receiver program”, it is arguably the most successful wide receiver program in history. At least on a short-term basis.
After only having one first round receiver in history prior to 2011, Alabama has now produced seven first round picks and four top-10 receivers in just the last decade alone. That also included four first round picks—all in the top-15—just in the last two years!
That is not likely to stop in 2022.
Now with Bryce Young at quarterback, probably the most talented quarterback to EVER play at Alabama, the Crimson Tide is determined to hit the gas on their passing attack and producing starting talent for the next level. The only thing that a top-tier high school recruit will care about, and rightfully so, is “How high will I get drafted if I go to this school?”
Because players want GUARANTEED contracts as soon as possible, knowing full well that a career can end at any moment and without pension.
With Young as a worthy Heisman trophy winner this year, Jameson Williams caught 68 passes for 1,445 yards and 15 touchdowns in 13 games. Metchie had 96 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns. And perhaps neither of them will be as good as 2021 four-star recruit JoJo Earle, one of four receivers who were ranked in the top-15 for the position and committed to play for Alabama this year; the others being Agiye Hall, Christian Leary, and Ja’Corey Brooks.
Williams is now being pegged as a top-10 player in the 2022 NFL Draft, ranking sixth on Mel Kiper’s most recent big board for ESPN. What Kiper had to say:
Williams made my list of potential first-round sleepers in October, and he just keeps getting better. He's averaging 21.3 yards per reception and ranks 10th in the country with 554 yards after the catch. He can take the top off the defense with his speed, and he has shown that he can track the ball and adjust while it's in the air. Watch him on this 76-yard score against Mississippi State and on this 55-yard TD in the SEC title game. Williams has been Alabama's best receiver this season, and I didn't expect the Ohio State transfer to have such an immediate impact. Plus, he has two kickoff return touchdowns.
Williams has the distinction of being the only player listed here who Saban didn’t directly recruit and sign out of high school. A four-star recruit in 2019, Williams went to Ohio State prior to transferring to Alabama for a fresh start this year. Which others will take notice of how quickly Williams went from a nobody to an elite talent thanks to just one season at Alabama?
Though Metchie was injured this season, Kiper still ranks him as the number eight receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Meanwhile, Alabama welcomes Shazz Preston, Aaron Anderson, Kobe Prentice, Isaiah Bond, and Amari Niblack in 2022, all wide receivers ranked in the top-20 of their class—and all believing that they will be the next Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Jameson Williams.
Assuming that Bryce Young doesn’t take my advice and skip his junior season at Alabama, the receivers will have an elite quarterback and Young will have presumably at least two elite pass catchers at his disposal, all while playing at a school that has now been efficiently designed to produce the absolute best prospects to the next level, and doing the thing that is more important than anything else in the league right now:
Passing the dang ball well.
So expect Jameson Williams to be drafted early this season, perhaps as the first wideout off of the board (meaning that an Alabama player has that distinction for three years in a row and the fifth time in the last 10 years), and for that trend to continue in 2023 and beyond.
In 2022, Alabama wide receivers are hardly even recognizable compared to the first 100 or so years of football.