Can Alabama receiver John Metchie III take the next step in 2021?

Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver John Metchie III (8) makes a catch against the Florida Gators at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver John Metchie III (8) makes a catch against the Florida Gators at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Alabama Crimson Tide has had a plethora of receivers drafted in the first round in recent years. Can John Metchie III take up the mantle as the next great Tide receiver and solidify himself in the first-round conversation of the 2022 NFL draft?

Last year, the Alabama Crimson Tide had one of the most prolific offenses in the nation and one of the most dynamic in the entire Nick Saban era. The wide receiver contingent was most notably led by two 2021 standout top-10 picks: Heisman winner, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle, before he injured his ankle in the fifth game of the season against Tennessee last year.

Less notable, but perhaps still crucial to Alabama’s national title run last year, was the Tide’s number three receiver John Metchie III. Even though he was overshadowed by his two better-known teammates, Metchie had no shortage of contributions during his sophomore season last year. He accumulated 55 receptions, 916 yards, and 6 touchdowns in 2020. He will be sure to improve on those numbers next year with another year of development under his belt; he will now be the Tide’s featured weapon in 2021.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Metchie has a unique combination of game-breaking speed, big-play ability, and ball skills, making his upside attractive for many NFL offenses. In 2020, Metchie averaged 16.7 yards per reception which was tied for 7th in the nation for receivers with over 50 receptions.

Metchie had multiple touchdowns last season where he was able to create separation on go routes and he was able to successfully track the ball in the air to score long touchdowns. He put this talent on display most notably in his games against Georgia, and his first career touchdown against Texas A&M, where he reeled in a long pass for a 78-yard touchdown. Metchie showed a great deal of potential in yards after the catch scenarios with his speed and explosiveness, but he stands to further improve on making decisions with the ball in his hands.

Metchie’s ball skills overall are also a strength. As mentioned earlier, he has a superior ability to track the ball on deep passes, making him a reliable target there. He also can make difficult catches on errant throws. His hands could be somewhat better as he did accumulate 5 drops last season, so that will be something to watch out for in 2021.

He is also not the strongest receiver which will ultimately limit his potential as a contested-catch man, but Metchie partially makes up for it with his fearlessness in getting into physical situations along with his natural ability to reel in difficult catches.

Metchie did not provide Alabama with the route running ability and release that DeVonte Smith had nor the sheer explosiveness that Jaylen Waddle had, but if he continues to develop his route tree, sure up some of those drops, and continue to fill out his frame, Metchie will almost certainly be a mid-first round pick by the time the 2022 rolls around.

Where Metchie Could Land?

For the third year in a row, the 2022 draft class at the wide receiver position looks to be deep with talent. The class will likely be highlighted with Ohio State’s two standout stars: junior, Garrett Wilson, and senior, Chris Olave. Other incoming juniors who showed flashes of elite physical traits are USC’s Drake London and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks. Even Clemson’s Justyn Ross can enter himself in the first-round conversation next year if he can demonstrate his neck injury will not hamper his ability to play. Georgia’s George Pickens may be in the conversation as a first-round pick, but there is more uncertainty there as he tore his ACL in spring practice and may miss the entire 2021 season.

At this point, Metchie is probably in the second tier behind the two Ohio State receivers, but an elite season as the featured guy in 2021 can vault Metchie into the top tier. Right now, Metchie is probably in the conversation of a mid, to late-first-round pick, or early second-round pick.

If John Metchie positions himself as a mid-late first-round pick, two teams to look out for would be the Las Vegas Raiders or the New England Patriots. The Raiders have historically tried to fill their roster with fast and dynamic receivers, most recently drafting fellow Alabama receiver, Henry Ruggs III in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. After a so-so rookie year for Ruggs, the Raiders may dip back into the wide receiver draft market again next year. Though they signed John Brown in free agency, Brown, Ruggs, and Hunter Renfrow receiving trio does not inspire confidence.

It is a similar story for the Patriots, who signed Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor to fill a desperately thin wide receiver room in the offseason, but I see both as more band-aid rather than long-term solutions. If the Patriots select Metchie he would also be reunited with his college quarterback, Mac Jones.

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Other wide receiver needy teams at this point are the Lions, Jaguars, and Colts, but they are more likely to draft Metchie if he falls to the second round – given that they are unlikely to be playoff teams.