Alabama's 'replacement' trio still has its legacy at stake
The excitement surrounding Alabama before the season was typical with a dash of unknown.
As if it were Christmas morning, Crimson Tide fans couldn’t wait to unveil their new gifts to be presented in Atlanta when Alabama played Miami in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to begin the season.
Fans were most focused on replacing 3 key players from the 2020 season: quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith. That trio was pretty good. They were all selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft after collecting countless awards, including Smith’s Heisman Trophy, and a national championship.
Alabama fans had a pretty good idea what they were unwrapping that day in Atlanta. Quarterback Bryce Young, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and John Metchie III were expected to tear their way out of the boxes and wrapping paper to be the next Bama football superstars. So how have the 3 replacements performed during their time to shine this season? As you might expect, none is in danger of getting benched anytime soon. However, there’s always room for improvement.
Let’s start with Robinson Jr., who has played extremely well as Bama’s lead tailback, averaging 5 yards per carry behind a refurbished offensive line. Robinson Jr. leads the Tide with 823 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Harris averaged 5.8-yards per carry in 2020 against a more formidable lineup in the regular season that only included SEC teams because of COVID-19.
The circumstances of this season have made Robinson Jr. more valuable as time has painfully gone on. His fellow running backs have had a much tougher time staying healthy than he has gaining yards.
Alabama has 3 tailbacks dealing with injuries. Jase McClellan suffered a season-ending knee injury in a win against Ole Miss. Roydell Williams was helped off the field on Saturday with a leg injury he suffered against New Mexico State. This would be a great time for 5-star prospect Camar Wheaton to show what he can do at the college level. However, he has been injured since August and hasn’t played or practiced this season. Those injuries forced Bama to turn to former linebacker Demouy Kennedy and former receiver Christian Leary on Saturday. Suffice to say, there isn’t much left after that.
Trey Sanders is somewhat of a proven commodity with 284 rushing yards on 48 carries. After that, the responsibility to carry the football rests on Robinson Jr.’s shoulders. Robinson Jr. is also a significant cog in Alabama’s passing game. He is tied for 3rd on the team with 23 receptions. Speaking of catches, how about Metchie?
All eyes were on Metchie in the opener before some transfer from Ohio State burst upon the scene. Jameson Williams proved very valuable in the opener against Miami with a 94-yard touchdown reception. His excellent play has continued since that day. Williams’ 1,028 receiving yards and 20.2-yards per reception average lead the Crimson Tide. However, it wouldn’t be accurate to say Metchie has simply been lost in Williams’ wake.
Metchie leads Alabama with 67 receptions. His 722 receiving yards are proof that he doesn’t pose the same deep threat as Williams, but they have provided a very dependable replacement to last year’s losses at receiver. Those losses include Jaylen Waddle, who was also selected in the first round of the NFL Draft after missing much of last season with a broken ankle.
Metchie and Williams are a throwback, classic duo. One is a possession receiver while the other is a deep threat on any passing play. After them, there’s a bit of a fall-off.
In case you’re noticing a trend here, it’s that Alabama is thin in two key positions on offense — at least by Crimson Tide standards. If the injuries continue at running back or hit the receiver group, then Bama’s coaches will have some serious shuffling to do. Most coaches would gladly accept the risk if they had Bama’s starters.
Young’s performance this season is up for debate. It’s hard to argue against what he’s done overall considering his 180.1 passer rating is No. 4 in the country. However, Young still seems to be growing into the player that he will one day become. Thanks largely to the talent around him, Mac Jones didn’t have to worry about growing into the part. He was an accurate passer who got more accurate in his lone season as a starter when he replaced Tua Tagovailoa following the 2019 season. Jones’ 203.1 passing rating led the nation last season.
As Alabama returns to SEC play against Arkansas this week, it would be easy to say that the trio of replacements hasn’t lived up to their predecessors as a whole. Statistically, that would be true of quarterback and running back. As for receiver, there could be a debate. However, I’d take Smith and Waddle over Metchie and Williams. I’d venture to say most would agree with me.
The good news for the replacements is that they don’t have to worry about where they fall statistically when compared to Jones, Harris and Smith. Alabama fans don’t care about stats. They care about championships. If the replacements can continue on as they have, then they should help Bama beat Arkansas this week, then Auburn and then they’ll step on a stage that will allow them to ultimately prove themselves.
This is — and will continue to be — Georgia’s season unless Bama can beat the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game and a potential Playoff game to be named later. No offense to Cincinnati or some of the other contenders out, there but no one is going to beat Georgia on a neutral field. The only chance to stop the national championship train from running straight into downtown Athens is if Alabama’s replacements can knock Georgia off of its top-rated perch. Then, no one would care who they replaced.