Sports

Takin’ on Sports: DeVonta Smith’s place among Alabama greats

The Bama WR is breaking records left and right, emerging as one of the country's best players

DeVonta Smith recently broke the Alabama school record — and SEC record — for career receiving touchdowns. Catching touchdowns is kinda his thing, after all. With the recent accomplishment, Smith’s place among Alabama wide receivers is suddenly the hot topic for Bama fans, and that’s what we’re gonna talk about today as well. 

While names like Ozzie Newsome and Don Hutson certainly deserve their praise — did y’all know Ozzie averaged 20 yards a catch?! — the game is just so different nowadays, and the quality of Alabama receivers has increased sharply in the last decade and change. I was born in 1984, and my earliest memories of Tide football are from the ‘89 season, so I’ve got a good 30 years of Alabama football memories under my belt. So I attacked this question from that standpoint: who is the best Alabama receiver of my lifetime?

Honorable Mentions

Freddie Milons (’98-’01) was one of those “he might score every time he touches the ball” guys, and they are immensely fun to watch. Although he played during a mostly forgettable time in Bama history, he was the second best player on the 99 SEC Champion squad, behind only Shaun Alexander. DJ Hall (’04-’07) was another highlight in a low time player. He was Brodie Croyle’s most dependable target on some lackluster teams, finishing top 3 in receptions and receiving yards in Bama history. Henry Ruggs III (’17-’19) is one of, if not the, fastest players in Tide history. He also caught touchdowns at an absurd rate, scoring on 24% of his receptions. He played alongside Jaylen Waddle (’18-’20), who was basically final-form Milons. Waddle’s injury this season was certainly a bummer, as he was college football’s most dangerous player with the ball in his hand. It’s a good bet Waddle will forego his senior season to enter the NFL, but he certainly made a major impact in his two and a half seasons in crimson and white. Calvin Ridley (’15-’17) exploded onto the scene in his freshman year with 89 receptions and over a 1000 yards, an absolute key piece to the Tide’s title team that season. He would win another his junior year as the elder statesman in an absolutely ridiculously loaded receiving corps, before moving to the NFL to team up with another Bama legend.

Top 5

5. David Palmer (’91-’93) was a man before his time. Playing for Gene Stallings in a “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense, Palmer’s stats never jumped off the page. But he was used in every possible way as the biggest weapon in the Tide’s arsenal, the centerpiece of Bama’s 1992 National Champion team, and 8-year-old TD’s hero. Like Milons and Waddle, “Deuce” did everything for the Tide, lining up as receiver, running back, return man and even quarterback. Palmer was a consensus All-American in 1993, also finishing 3rd in the Heisman Trophy voting.

4. Jerry Jeudy (’17-’19) played in the most prolific era of Alabama offense, leading the best receiving corps in school history, catching balls from the best QB in school history. While his freshman year was relatively quiet, Jeudy did a ton of damage in his other two seasons, finishing his career with over 2700 yards and 26 touchdowns. What made him standout was his technique, as Jeudy is quite possibly the best route-runner I have ever seen. Jeudy was a two-time All-SEC player, and a consensus All-American in 2018, winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best WR, and was drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

3. Julio Jones (’08-’10) was the first big time recruit to come to Bama during the Nick Saban era. Jones stood out for the freak of nature he was, and there was little opposing defenders could do to stop him. He also came up particularly big in Bama’s biggest games — against Auburn, Florida, LSU and Tennessee, Julio caught 79 passes for 1,186 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jones was a Freshman All-American, two-time All-SEC, and a first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Julio didn’t get to play with an elite QB in Tuscaloosa, but he’s gone on to a Hall of Fame worthy NFL career.

2. DeVonta Smith (’17-’20) is the man of the moment, and with good damn reason. He will end his career as Alabama’s most prolific receiver, statistically speaking. He already owns the best receiving game in school history (highlights below) against Ole Miss in 2019. Having just grabbed the touchdown record, he is poised to become the school leader in career receiving yards before season’s end, and has an outside shot to finish with more receptions than anyone in school history, as well — he needs 39 receptions, and the Tide has at least one more regular season game (possibly two, but who knows with the rona), the SEC title game, and the CFP to come. If he doesn’t end this season as an All-American and Biletnikoff winner, it’ll be a damn crime.

1. Amari Cooper (’12-’14) was the most dominant player to ever don a crimson uniform, if you ask me. At 6’1”, 210 lbs he was a physical receiver, with amazing hands and breakaway speed. Like Julio before him, Coop was the star receiver on run first teams, and there wasn’t a scheme that could slow him down. When Lane Kiffin became Alabama Offensive Coordinator in 2014, Coop somehow rose to an even higher level. What he did in 2014 was unreal — 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns (all three of which are school records), and he finished the year All-SEC, an unanimous All-American, and the Biletnikoff winner. The Raiders picked him 4th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. He is the Alabama leader in career receptions and yards. He made big play after big play. He was everything you could ask for in a WR, and I’m damn glad he called Bryant-Denny Stadium home.

4 comments on “Takin’ on Sports: DeVonta Smith’s place among Alabama greats

  1. Excellent work, sir. Really can’t argue with any of it. Obviously, Hutson and Newsome are special cases that must be acknowledged (Hutson revolutionized the game, Ozzie did the same in the NFL after converting to TE), but a ranking of receivers must take into account the ways in which offensive football has changed. And your rankings hit the nail on the head. Mind-blowing the caliber of talent in the honorable mention section.

    One minor quibble – you mentioned Freddie Milons as the second-best player on the ’99 team. I’d say Shaun Alexander and Chris Samuels were the top two, followed by a considerable gap.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good point on Big Chris, forgot he was on that team. Let’s say Freddie was the 2nd best skill player on the team.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And in the “What Might Have Been” Category . . . Tyrone Prothro and A.C. Carter.

        Liked by 3 people

        • You ain’t lying, especially Prothro. I think I did the math one time after he got injured and he was averaging like 17 yards every time he touched the ball that season. I know that team had deeper issues along the line, but man did Prothro going down suck all the energy outta that offense.

          Liked by 1 person

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