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Alabama got an impressive 48-17 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, but it was costly. Star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is officially out for the year due to an ankle injury suffered on the first kickoff return of the game.
What does this loss mean for the Crimson Tide moving forward? Who will be expected to step up? Well, we already have some clarity on those questions, but will more be asked of others as Alabama continues to adjust to life without Waddle? Let’s take a look.
Waddle is typically utilized in the slot. So, replacing his production at receiver will need to include someone who thrives inside. That will continue to be Slade Bolden. Following Waddle’s injury, Bolden immediately assumed his role in three-receiver sets.
The redshirt sophomore proceeded to bring in six passes for 84 yards, good for 15.7 yards per catch.
At 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, Bolden has the prototypical size and build to be a reliable target inside. He’s not a burner, and he’s not going to create much after the catch. But he’s reliable, and that’s a useful option for quarterback Mac Jones. Bolden can also be put in motion and be used in the backfield, similarly to Waddle.
Bolden was a high school quarterback and was listed as an athlete coming out. That means people were uncertainly about where he would play at the college level. Well, that versatility has proved to be useful for the Crimson Tide.
He has the ability to play in the slot and line up in the backfield at running back. He can also be — and has been — used as a wildcat quarterback (also known as Slade Cat).
It isn’t just about replacing Waddle’s production from a slot standpoint. It isn’t just about replacing the versatile role that he filled prior to his injury.
Waddle and DeVonta Smith are known as a 1A-1B duo at the position. Smith is capable of assuming more of that true No. 1 role, but someone has to step up and be the clear No. 2 option.
That will be sophomore receiver John Metchie III from Canada.
He has been the clear-cut No. 3 for Alabama since losing Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III to the NFL. Metchie has been more than that, however. With 14 catches for 348 yards and three scores through four games coming into Saturday, Metchie’s production has set up more like a No. 2 receiver anyways.
He posted seven receptions for 151 yards (21.6 yards per catch) with Waddle out against Tennessee. So, it looks like Alabama still has 1A-1B options for Jones. And the No. 3 role looks to be locked up by Bolden — at least for the most part.
Losing one of the best wide receivers in college football is never considered a good thing. And it definitely won’t be good for Alabama’s depth at the position. There are still options beyond the trio of Smith, Metchie and Bolden, however.
During fall camp, reports were circulating that true freshman Javon Baker was showing out. There just wasn’t a way for him to get on the field with all the talent in front of him.
It was a similar situation to Metchie last season when he showed A-plus potential during the spring game and was named MVP. But with Jeudy, Ruggs, Smith, Waddle and Bolden all ahead of him on the depth chart, there wasn’t any opportunities for consistent playing time.
Baker will get that opportunity now, however. The former four-star prospect will have an opportunity to carve out some sort of role, but he’ll remain in competition with redshirt sophomore Xavier Williams and fellow true freshmen Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell.
All of the production lost from Waddle doesn’t have to come from the receiver position, however. Tight end Miller Forristall and star running back Najee Harris could also see increased usage in the passing game.
Harris entered Week 5 with only eight receptions for 86 yards. Against Tennessee, he brought in six catches for 61 yards, both of which were season-highs. He also produced 304 yards and seven receiving touchdowns in 2019, making him a reliable option out of the backfield.
The injury to Waddle is going to hurt the Crimson Tide’s high-powered, seemingly-unstoppable offense. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be detrimental. Alabama still has options to adequately fill all the voids being left behind by Waddle — at least offensively.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.