The All Things CW notes column by Christopher Walsh will appear in five parts this week, one each day. This is …
You may remember Thaiu Jones-Bell.
He’s one of those wide receiver who checked a lot of the boxes as a prospect out of South Florida. Bell is 6-0, 190 pounds, posted good number at Miami Carol City High School. He had a breakout season as a junior, was selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game, and was rated as one of the best players in the state for the recruiting Class of 2020.
The various rating services all listed him as a solid four-star prospect, which usually translates to having a ton of potential, but just isn’t quite there yet.
Jones-Bell has been with the Alabama Crimson Tide for three years now. He’s played in 12 career games and has four receptions for 19 yards, the longest being for an 8-yard gain.
What makes him stand out on the roster right now is that he’s the dean of the wide receivers room. He’s been with the Crimson Tide longer than anyone else as the position group has completely turned over since he arrived. Everyone else has gone.
It’s remarkable in that Alabama has been able to make a claim as being WRU lately, with six first-round selections over the last three drafts, including a rare Heisman Trophy winner at wide receiver.
It’s also a position group that Alabama has been trying to bolster in terms of overall numbers. The Crimson Tide has wanted to at least three-deep, three-wide on the depth chart, but the numbers haven’t cooperated.
Consider the following:
Departed Last Year
- Javon Baker, 2020 (transferred to Kentucky, changed mind and went to UCF)
- Slade Bolden, 2018 (declared for NFL draft, wasn’t selected)
- Agiye Hall, 2021 (transferred to Texas)
- John Metchie III, 2019 (declared for NFL draft, first-round pick)
- Jameson Williams, 2019 (declared for NFL draft, first-round pick)
- Xavier Williams, 2018 (transferred to Utah State, never played for the Aggies and is back in the transfer portal )
Have Entered the Transfer Portal This Week
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- Christian Leary, 2021, No. 47 SIAA
- JoJo Earle, 2021 No. 75
- Traeshon Holden, 2020
There’s no doubt that Nick Saban saw a lot of this coming. He signed five top-rated wide receivers in the last recruiting class, and all but Aaron Anderson (who played in just one game due to an injury) contributed as a true freshman.
Kobe Prentice finished fourth in team receptions with 30. Isaiah Bond played in all 12 games and earned a spot in the rotation. Kendrick Law is already a fan favorite, especially with his ability to lay heavy downfield blocks. Shazz Preston got his feet wet, playing in four games.
Saban also added two veteran wide receivers out of the transfer portal last year: Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell (who spent nearly all season dealing with an injury). The hope was that they would help sort of bridge the gap between Metchie and Williams and those coming up the depth chart.
But the group still struggled. Separation was often an issue and then quarterback Bryce Young suffered a shoulder injury, impacting everyone’s development. Ja’Corey Brooks took another step as a sophomore while leading the team in receiving yards and touchdown catches, yet he seemed to be the exception.
The player with the most receptions ended up being a running back. Not only had that never happened before at Alabama under Saban, but it appears to have been a program first during the modern age of the game.
Even if Jahmyr Gibbs was to return for another year, one has to believe that won’t happen again, especially since Saban has already indicated that the Crimson Tide offense will again be more run-pass-option based, and high-tempo.
The last time the Crimson Tide’s leading wide receiver had less than Brooks’ 623 yards was 2009, when Alabama was executing a very pro-running back offense, and Mark Ingram II won the Heisman Trophy (the receiver was pretty good, though, Julio Jones with 596 yards).
Since 2006, Alabama had at least one receiver top 1,000 receiving 10 times. Two of the previous three years, 2019 and 2021, it had two players reach the milestone, and 2020 was a near-miss during the abbreviated covid season (Metchie had 916).
Alabama has four wide receiver commitments in the signing class of 2023, but closing and locking the revolving door at the position has to be a priority once the dust settles with this upcoming offseason’s changes. It’s nothing against Jones-Bell, but you can’t have your dean of receivers be someone with just four career catches.
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