Alabama Football: First round wide receiver “drought” won’t last much longer

Saraland   s Ryan Williams speaks during the Alabama Sports Writers Association   s players of the
Saraland s Ryan Williams speaks during the Alabama Sports Writers Association s players of the / Jake Crandall/ Advertiser / USA TODAY

After having five receivers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in a three-year span from 2020 to 2022, Alabama has now gone two years without a first round receiver. 

Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy went 12th and 15th respectively in the 2020 Draft, followed by teammates Jaylen Waddle (6th) and DeVonta Smith (10th) in the 2021 Draft. After transferring from Ohio State and spending one year in Tuscaloosa, Jameson Williams went 12th overall in the 2022 Draft. 

Under Coach Nick Saban, Alabama had three other first-rounders at wide receiver in Julio Jones (6th in 2011), Amari Cooper (4th in 2015), and Calvin Ridley (26th in 2018).

Bama didn’t have any receivers drafted in 2023, and sent Jermaine Burton to the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round of the 2024 Draft. Crimson Tide fans may not have to wait much longer to see another wideout selected in the first round. 

Heading into the 2024 season, a trio of juniors in Kobe Prentice, Kendrick Law, and Washington transfer Germie Bernard figure to be the top pass-catchers. All three are talented, but would have to take their games to new heights to become first-rounders. Beyond them, however, is a young core with a near limitless ceiling. 

Jalen Hale was primed for a breakout sophomore campaign before suffering a knee injury in the spring. Hale will likely miss most of this season, but should be back as a redshirt sophomore in 2025. Hale’s injury will lead to other players getting additional reps. Redshirt freshman Cole Adams and junior Emmanuel Henderson may be the first beneficiaries, but Alabama brings in two true freshmen with first-round potential who could see the field early. 

Caleb Odom is a converted tight end who is a very fluid athlete at 6’5” and has some similarities to former Alabama tight end OJ Howard, who was taken in the first round in 2017. Odom brings a different skill set than any other receiver on the roster and could be in the rotation in 2024.

Additionally, summer enrollee Ryan Williams may prove to be the most dynamic player in the receiver room. Having reclassified, Williams will be young even for a true freshman, so the learning curve may be steep early on. Still, he has immense playmaking potential and could be a factor this fall. 

Alabama has too much talent in the wide receiver room to not have a first-rounder come out of this group in the next few years. Coach Kalen DeBoer’s track record of receiver development only figures to accelerate this inevitability. Just this year, DeBoer sent Rome Odunze to the NFL as a top-10 pick and the third wide receiver off the board. He also had a second-round pick in Ja’Lynn Polk and a third-rounder in Jalen McMillan. 

Look for Alabama to quickly turn back into a receiver factory under Coach DeBoer.