What to make of the 2023 Alabama wide receiver group

Alabama wide receiver Ja'Corey Brooks (7) and Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton (3) celebrate against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, Oct 15, 2022. Photo courtesy SEC Media

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Peyton Davis

A major talking point going into the 2022 season for Alabama football was what to make of their receiving corps, and who will step up as the primary weapon for them on the outside to fill the void that Jameson Williams left. This question haunted the Tide all season long, as none of Ja’Corey Brooks, Traeshon Holden or even coveted Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton could ever quite step into that role as the alpha number one receiver. The team’s reception leader was their versatile running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the 12th overall pick in this years draft, with 44, and the yardage leader was Burton with 677 on only 40 receptions. This lack of true number one option hurt Alabama badly in games like Texas, when Jalen Milroe started against Texas A&M and down the stretch in a loss vs LSU.

With the departure of maybe the program’s top quarterback in history, Bryce Young, and still those same questions about the receiving core being asked going into the 2023 season – how can this year’s group possibly be better than last year’s? The answer is not clear yet, but there were positive trends at the end of last season with some new names and more experience that should have the unit off to a better start in the Fall of 2023.

The Tide returns its top two yardage leaders from last year in senior Jermaine Burton and junior Ja’Corey Brooks, who flashed at times last year, but struggled with separation and sometimes drops in Bill O’Brien’s spread out offense. For Burton, a highly touted transfer from Georgia who was seen as number one at the beginning of the year, it looked like he had fallen completely out of the offense after a two reception, 19 yard performance in Alabama’s second loss at LSU – and only had over 90 yards one time in the first nine games in the season. However, the 6’0, 200 pound receiver found his stride in the last four games of the year – totaling 352 yards and four touchdowns in that span. Burton is most likely the offense’s best intermediate route runner going into 2023, and after having a year of experience in the program, should be more comfortable in his role going into the fall.

His peer, 6’2, 195 pound junior Ja’Corey Brooks, has always showed a lot of promise – but still has not taken the next step as the next great Alabama receiver. After a 39 catch, 674 yard sophomore season, fans still mostly remember him as the recipient of the touchdown that capped off Bryce Young’s Heisman-sealing, 97-yard drive in the 2021 Iron Bowl. Brooks is an imposing athlete, especially down the field as a jump ball receiver – with very good body control and strong hands, however his lack of game-breaking speed limits his ability to separate and he is a work in progress as a short area route runner. Despite inconsistency in 2022, he still has a ton of room to grow and feels like a player who could become a force as an outside receiver if he can round out his game.

When evaluating their games, it becomes more clear that both Burton and Brooks, along with now Oregon receiver Traeshon Holden, all are guys without top-end speed that can threaten the elite talent that is in the SEC. So, Nick Saban and company addressed this by adding the number one JUCO transfer in 6’1, 190-pound junior, Malik Benson – who possesses top flight speed and elite athleticism. Benson ran a ridiculous 10.44 in the 100-meter as a senior in high school, which is a top ten time in the history of the state of Kansas, as well as breaking Olympian Maurice Green’s state record with a 21.38 200-meter time as well. The former JUCO standout told the Director of Scouting at Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Justin Smith, that his game resembles a combination of former Tide stars Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith and Jameson Williams, which seems like an outlandish statement from a player that spent his last three years in Junior College. However, it was clear, during Spring, that the athletic upside is there, after he drew praise from Saban numerous times, and his five catch 70 yard performance in the A-Day Game that was capped off by a touchdown.

The group is rounded out by sophomores Kobe Prentice, Isaiah Bond and Kendrick Law, who all showed a lot of promise at times last year, and are all more than capable depth pieces that will compete for game reps leading up to the season. Under the playcalling of new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, it appears that the team will have less frequent sets with four wide receivers, but the three underclassmen Prentice, Bond and Law all possess the high end speed that the team was missing last year – and having their freshman behind them – means there could be large strides taken by the trio in their sophomore season.

Even though it is far from a sure thing that the room lives up to their potential in 2023, there should still be more comfort with this room going into the season then last year. A major factor in what will determine their success in the Fall is who the person throwing to them will be, but whoever that is will have at the very least more explosive receiving corps than the group that Young had in ’22. The ceiling could potentially reach a lot higher than that next season, and it is not out of the question that they could emerge as one of the nations best units by late October into November.

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