The sophomores are coming.
Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith came to Tuscaloosa in the class of 2017 as top-100 players. All three made an impression on the field as freshmen. Now the trio forms the backbone of Alabama’s receiving corps.
“We’re brothers,” Ruggs said. “We build together. We came in together. We worked hard coming in. We all pretty much said that we were trying to play, trying to do what we can to help the team and realized we had a role we had to play.”
Jeudy, the highest-ranked of the three as a recruit, posted the best statistics as a freshman. He finished with 14 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Ruggs made the most big plays, with 12 catches for 229 yards and six touchdowns, including touchdowns on his first five catches. Smith made the biggest play of all, though, hauling in a 41-yard touchdown catch against Georgia to secure Alabama’s national championship. He had eight catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
More production is expected this year.
The Crimson Tide also had junior Calvin Ridley and seniors Robert Foster and Cam Sims to lean on in 2017. This year, the sophomores have as much game experience as anyone else at the position.
“We’re all really close,” Smith said. “We understand what’s going on and that we have to be more of the leaders of the group, and we’re maturing and getting better and better each day.”
They have help as well. Redshirt freshmen receivers Tyrell Shavers and Chadarius Townsend were also part of their 2017 recruiting class. Seniors Derek Kief and Xavian Marks are the oldest receivers on the team. It’s possible a freshman may also make his way into the rotation.
That means the sophomores also have to take a bigger role helping young players get ready for the season.
“Last year it was more of a learning experience,” Jeudy said. “This year it’s just knowing how to get better and being more of a leader and helping the other guys.”
All three players have had the time to work at multiple receiver positions now, allowing them to move inside or outside based on matchups. That’s something the trio wasn’t prepared to do when last season began, but could help the unit this season.
The sophomore season for the trio and their teammates might look different than their freshman campaign did. But they hope that 2017 repeats itself in at least one way.
“A good season would be winning the national championship,” Jeudy said. “That’d be a good season for me.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.