SEC Country is breaking down each of Alabama’s position groups over the next two weeks before the entire 2016 roster reports to campus.
Thursday, we take a closer look at the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers, a group that is unquestionably one of the nation’s best.
Names you need to know: Calvin Ridley (sophomore), Ar’Darius Stewart (junior), Robert Foster (junior), Cam Sims (junior), Gehrig Dieter (senior), Daylon Charlot (sophomore) and Torin Marks (freshman).
Everyone remembers Ridley’s blistering freshman campaign (89 receptions, 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns) and Stewart’s clutch catches down the stretch of a national championship season, but SEC defensive coordinators will also be pulling out their hair trying to game plan for Foster (last year’s No. 1 guy before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury), Dieter (a 10-touchdown transfer from Bowling Green) and Sims, a former four-star recruit who avoided “eating them beans” after playing a starring role in last month’s A-Day scrimmage.
Ridley is just a sophomore, but he’s arguably the nation’s best receiver after matching — and in some ways even surpassing — the success of previous all-star freshmen Amari Cooper and Julio Jones.
As Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves put it in December: “He can do anything he wants.”
Without Stewart, who struggled to build chemistry with Jake Coker early last season, it’s safe to say that the Crimson Tide would not have won the national title. His acrobatic fourth-quarter catch against Tennessee kept Alabama’s dreams alive, and he appeared to get better as the year wore on.
He’s able to get behind the defense, but he will also be given plenty of opportunities in the intermediate passing game as Ridley and Foster use their home-run speed to stretch secondaries.
The biggest wild-card is Dieter, a South Bend, Ind., native named after New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig.
Like Richard Mullaney before him, Dieter is using the increasingly popular graduate-transfer rule to move from a smaller program to Alabama. Mullaney is now on the Houston Texans’ roster after catching 38 passes for 390 yards and a career-high five touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
The 6-foot-3 Dieter is known for his physical style and ability to get open deep when safeties don’t give him enough respect. A pair of one-handed catches made him a viral sensation last year, and he will likely be a key red-zone target for Alabama’s passers in 2016.
“Alabama is just one of those schools that’s on everybody’s wish list that they could play for,” Dieter told SEC Country earlier this year. “Their dream school.”
Charlot and Marks are speedsters who could help in the return game, whilealso providing depth for a loaded wide receiving corps.
Key question: Will Alabama be able to get the ball to these guys? All of the potential options at quarterback could be great players, but there’s still plenty of mystery there. If the Crimson Tide can’t push the ball down the field efficiently, it will be painful to watch these receivers fall by the wayside.
Bottom line: Between a talent-laden running back group and this unit, whoever wins the quarterback job is stepping into a dream scenario.