When Jaylen Waddle hobbled off the field following the opening kickoff on Saturday against Tennessee, I had 2 thoughts.

One was that I hoped it was just a strange landing, and that he would bounce back to his feet in a matter of minutes. We’re talking about one of the most exciting players in college football not just in 2020, but in the last decade. When it was evident that Waddle wasn’t going to just return to his feet and start slipping through secondaries for 70-yard touchdowns, I had another thought.

Well, what an opportunity this is for Mac Jones to silence that last remaining batch of skeptics.

You know who I’m talking about. It’s the person who says “Jones is just putting up numbers because those Alabama receivers are ridiculous.”

That person, by the way, has never watched Jones play. They’ve never seen how he can deliver a dime over the middle of the field, they’ve never watched him take a hit and they’ve never watched him go through his progressions to hit a receiver in stride. They’ve seen a whole bunch of mock drafts, though.

If that person watched Saturday’s game, they saw Jones do all of those things even though he didn’t have Waddle to turn to.

Well, let’s back up. Jones did see his streak of 3 consecutive games with 400 passing yards come to an end. Obviously, that was a product of Waddle’s absence, right?

Rather, it was because Jones was sitting at 387 passing yards and Nick Saban pulled him out of the game with 10 minutes left and Alabama holding a 45-17 lead.

But sure, let’s continue to say that it’s just these receivers making Jones look good.

Don’t get it twisted. Waddle will be missed, and not just by college football fans who like watching an electric player. Jones is going to miss having the All-American bust plays loose at the second level. There are few human beings on the planet who can do the things that Waddle can.

What Saturday showed is that Jones is more than capable of keeping this train running without Waddle. Jones is clicking with DeVonta Smith and John Metchie at an elite level. They had a combined 14 catches for 224 yards.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, this catch by Metchie was an example in which Jones got credit for his receiver making an All-American play:

Of course every quarterback in America would be better off with someone like Metchie. And I argued last week that Smith was already an SEC great who would finish his college career in the “G.O.A.T.” conversation.

Still, though. We’re talking about someone who completed 75% of his passes in his first 8 starts. Speaking of those first 8 starts, what more could you really ask Jones to do? He had as many touchdown passes as Tua Tagovailoa, and Jones completed 75% of his passes compared to 70% for Tagovailoa. Jones also did that against better opponents — he faced 4 AP Top 25 teams compared to 1 for Tagovailoa — and he did so after not even getting a spring game.

Am I saying Jones is a better quarterback than Tagovailoa? No, but how is it possible that some still aren’t sold on him as a darn good college quarterback? Why is it that it has to be all about these skill-players and nothing else?

Reality is if that were the case, he would’ve struggled without Waddle’s home-run ability. Steve Sarkisian would’ve been lost calling plays. Instead, the Alabama passing offense didn’t skip a beat with Slade Bolden taking Waddle’s place. Who’s Bolden, you ask? A former 3-star running back recruit. All he did was step in and catch 6 balls for 94 yards.

Of course he did. That’s what this Alabama offense does.

It’s a well-oiled machine that’s not just about 1 position group. To say that Jones isn’t worthy of praise, or that he’s just a “system” quarterback, would suggest that Bo Nix would step in and do the things that Jones is doing. He wouldn’t. Nix wouldn’t complete 74% of his passes in 5 consecutive starts like Jones did in 2020. And with all due respect to Nix, who looked better on Saturday, but he wouldn’t average 10 yards per attempt in 5 consecutive games if you dropped him in the Alabama offense.

But this isn’t about Nix. This is about Jones getting the respect he deserves. How many times does Jones have to keep his eyes downfield, side-step pressure and step into a perfect downfield ball before people stop saying it’s all about the receivers?

Not impressed? Fine. How about the time on Saturday when Jones dropped the snap and didn’t panic so that he could still hit his man over the middle?

Waddle would make any quarterback’s life easier. That’s not a question. There will inevitably moments this year in which we’ll say, “Jaylen probably takes that to the house.” Bolden isn’t going to do all the things that Waddle did.

But Jones has quickly become one of the most indispensable players in the country. Those who have watched the first half of Alabama’s season can clearly see that.

Saturday was bittersweet for Alabama fans. Beating Tennessee for a 14th consecutive time will always make the Crimson Tide faithful happy. Losing a player of Waddle’s caliber will sting any program, even Alabama.

Fortunately for Alabama, No. 10 is on a different level.

If the first half of 2020 was any indication, that guy doesn’t mind doing the heavy lifting.