Perhaps the greatest wide receiver of all time was Don Hutson, who starred on Alabama Rose Bowl teams in the 1930s, then had a long, record-setting career with the Green Bay Packers. He was so dominant with the Crimson Tide that Bama’s alternate receiver was known as The Other End. That other end would earn his own fame later. He was Paul Bryant.
In most seasons on most teams, there is a dominant wide receiver. That has been the case in the Nick Saban Era at Alabama, and those dominant receivers have been outstanding. In five of those nine seasons, 2007-2015, there has been a player who had 1,000 yards receiving. Although there has been at least some “other” ends who were effective wide receivers, our examination in a series of the top players at each position in the Saban Era centers on those dominant pass-catchers.
Saban inherited D.J. Hall, who had been Bama’s leading receiver in 2005 (676 yards) and 2006 (1,056 yards). In his lone season under Saban, Hall caught 67 passes for 1,005 yards, which was his third consecutive year to be top receiver. For his career in 48 games he had 194 receptions for 2,923 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In 2008, Alabama unveiled two very fine wide receivers, but Marquis Maze would be in the shadow of Julio Jones for three years.
Maze would finish in the 2011 national championship season as Bama’s top receiver that year with 56 receptions for 627 yards and one touchdown, but in his first three seasons he would finish behind Jones. Maze had career numbers of 51 games, 136 receptions, 1,844 yards, and 8 touchdowns.
But from 2008 through 2010, Jones was the favorite target of Bama quarterbacks. He had 58 catches for 924 yards and 4 TDs as a freshman in 2008, caught 43 passes for 596 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 2009 national championship season, and finished his three-year career in 2010 with 78 receptions for 1,133 yards and 7 scores. For his 40-game career he had 229 receptions for 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 2012, Bama introduced Amari Cooper, and he was outstanding from his first year, leading the national championship Tide with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. In 2013 he played in 12 games with 45 receptions for 736 yards and 4 TDs. His final season in 14 games he caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Cooper twice had 13 receptions in a game, tying Maze for that Alabama record. His 99-yard reception from AJ McCarron for a touchdown against Auburn in 2013 is the Bama record. His 124 receptions in 2014 and his 228 for a career are Tide records, as are his 224 yards receiving in a game (vs. Tennessee in 2014), 1,727 yards in a season (2014), and 3,463 yards in a career. He twice had three touchdowns receptions in a game (Florida and Auburn in 2014), tying the Alabama record. And his 16 TD catches in 2014 and 31 for a career are Tide records. He had 100 yards or more receiving in 14 games, also a Bama record.
If there is a leading candidate for “other end” in this group the case could be made for Kevin Norwood, who played behind Jones in his first season, Maze in his second year, and Cooper as a junior and senior. Everyone remembers T.J. Yeldon’s reception and run for a 28-yard touchdown in the final minute to defeat LSU in Baton Rouge in 2012, but before there was Yeldon there was McCarron and Norwood.
After a missed LSU field goal attempt with 1:34 remaining in the game, Alabama took over at its own 28-yard line facing a 17-14 deficit. McCarron smoothly led the Crimson Tide downfield for the go-ahead score, hitting passes on three successive plays to start the drive: an 18-yard pass to Norwood to the Alabama 46, a 15-yarder to Norwood to the LSU 39, and an 11-yarder to Norwood to the LSU 28.
LSU was familiar with Norwood. The previous January in the BCS National Championship Game in the Sugar Bowl, Bama defeated the Tigers, 21-0, with Norwood a big part of the offense with four clutch catches for 78 yards.
If this exercise is repeated in a couple of years, there likely will be another candidate for best wide receiver in the Saban Era. As a freshman last year, Calvin Ridley smashed the first-year marks of Jones and Cooper as Ridley pulled in 89 passes for 1,045 yards.
For now, though we would rank Cooper as tops, followed by Jones, Ridley, Maze, Hall, and Norwood.