Ryan Williams: Kalen DeBoer's Next Rome Odunze
One of the best high school prospects to ever come out of the state of Alabama is a perfect fit under the new Tide regime.
My powers will pass to Maximus, to hold in trust until the Senate is ready to rule once more. Rome is to be a republic again.
- Marcus Aurelius, Gladiator (2004)
While it was expected that there’d be some roster friction with Nick Saban’s surprise retirement, I don’t think anybody (even Auburn fans) expected the volume of roster bleeding we witnessed in the following days of that shocking announcement.
What was extremely puzzling, at least for me, was that key WRs were the ones jumping ship. Mr. 007 left for Texas to play under Steve ‘Tamper King’ Sarkisian. You’d think this ungrateful SOB, Sark, would have some respect for the program that took him in like a rehabilitation clinic and resuscitated his coaching career. Alas, all is fair in love and war, or at least, if you have a lot of disposable oil money.
The other major casualty, at least at one point, was the reclassified 2025 prospect Ryan Williams, of Saraland, AL. Williams — in only three years — finished his time in high school with one of the most prolific production profiles you’ll ever see at the high school level. We’re talking numbers that would make even Yulee’s Derrick Henry blush.
I want everybody who’s reading this to make sure they're seated before proceeding, I’ll give you a few seconds… ready? Ok: in Williams’ 10th grade year, he caught 88 passes for 1,641 yards and 24 touchdowns, ran for 700 yards and 15 touchdowns on 57 rushes (12.3 yards per carry), returned two punts for touchdowns and passed for a score while leading his high school to a state title.
He is the first player in the 42 year history of the award to be named Alabama’s Mr. Football for two seasons; and again, he is leaving early—he hasn’t even played his senior season yet.
This son of a gun put in more work than Maximus after he found out Commodus’ punk ass ordered the murder of his wife and child. Neither took any prisoners along the way, and Williams and Maximus each share the commonality in that they both think Auburn is fucking lame.
“I've seen much of the rest of the SEC. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Bama is the light…”
Is apparently what Williams told the Tide staff upon his return visit after he decommitted (this information was passed along to me by the VP interns, so it is 100% trustworthy).
Coaching & System: A New Dawn Of The Roman Empire
It was happy times at Dillard’s Chophouse in Tuscaloosa, where Saban and the newly appointed head football coach— Kalen DeBoer, celebrated KD’s coronation a few weeks ago.
But it wasn’t happy days for everyone. In particular, the young star lord— Lane Kiffen, was unfortunately passed over in the considerations for the next Alabama head football coach.
Upon Kiffen’s arrival on campus to celebrate Saban’s retirement, he was greeted by the GOAT himself. Saban wasted no time in his communication to Kiffen:
“Are you ready to do your duty for Bama?”
Kiffen, now with a glean of excitement in his eyes, thinking that this was the day he would be named the next head football coach of Alabama, replied:
Before Kiffen’s dreams could even materialize in his own imagination, Saban — in a matter of fact manner — told him of his plans for the future.
“You will not be emperor.”
Like a Roman Gladius carving through his chest, the contents of Saban's message reverberated throughout Kiffen's core. Unable to fully process what was happening in the moment, Kiffen’s brain went into auto pilot, and he simply replied:
“Which wiser, older man is to take my place?”
Despite Kiffen’s best efforts to maintain an even-keel demeanour, Saban could see the disappointment on Lane’s face, but he also knew that time was of the essence, and that this message needed to be passed along before it was too late. Hugh Freeze had spies everywhere, and there was no telling how much NIL money they blew on escort services—wait, no, I mean: there was no telling how far their reach expanded, they could be on Alabama’s campus right now recruiting Crimson Tide players to jump ship.
“My powers will pass to DeBoer, to hold in trust until my protegé—Tommy Reese, is ready to rule once more. Alabama is to be a CFB super power once again.”
The Kalen DeBoer/Ryan Grubb System
It’s no secret that the UW boys are bringing a strong pedigree of production at the WR position. For precision’s sake, I’ve provided some statistics below for context.
From the years 2017 to 2023 (excluding the COVID season), DeBoer’s WR1 averaged 82.3 catches, 1173 yards, and 8.67 TDs per season. That’s an approximate average of 19.35 PPG (1PPR) over 13 games (I assume most of those teams made their conference championship or bowl game). The individual season stats are provided below (catches-yards-tds).
2023: Rome Odunze (Washinton) — 92-1,640-13
2022: Rome Odunze (Washinton) — 75-1,145-7
2021 Jalen Cropper (Fresno St.) — 85-899-11
2019 Whop Philyor (Indiana) — 70-1,002-5
2018 KeeSean Johnson (Fresno St.) — 95-1,340-8
2017 KeeSean Johnson (Fresno St.) — 77-1,013-8
In the one year where DeBoer and Grubb were split apart (2019), FSU’s lead receiver accumulated around 500 yards. Of the six seasons listed above, Odunze’s recent campaign is by far the best season. It’s probably not reasonable to ever expect any WR to duplicate the numbers Odunze put up in 2023, but the average over the last seven full seasons gives us a pretty good indication of the potential caliber of profile we’re dealing with here when speaking on DeBoer and Grubb’s WR1.
That is to say, unless Ryan Williams (or any other Alabama WR) has an overly enthused father on Twitter, who is going to threaten to leave unless his son is featured, I wouldn’t expect 1600 yards receiving and 13 TDs any time soon.
That being said, if somebody’s going to do it, it would probably be someone like Ryan Williams. It’s unlikely that that will ever occur off the arm of Jalen Milroe, though. Sure, maybe we see one of the greatest transformations over an offseason CFB has ever seen with Milroe’s development as a passer, or maybe, he’ll be improved next year, but not enough to move the needle here in a relevant way.
I suppose it’s also possible that he isn’t even the starter next season, but that seems like a quick way to lose the locker room (well, whatever’s left of it). I suspect Milroe will get the nod for 2024—you take whatever comes with that, and then you build toward a 2025 National Championship push.
Of note, former UW WRs coach and co-OC JaMarcus Sheppard has also been brought over with DeBoer. That doesn’t really change anything here, given he’s been a product of the same system as a play caller.
Outlook For 2024 & Beyond
With Milroe coming back (most likely) as the starter, and Williams really still being a high school athlete, 2024 feels like a long shot for Williams to come anywhere close to the WR1 numbers we saw above.
First of all, it is not likely that he will step into the WR1 role this season. That’s hard to do as a true freshman, let alone one who reclassified up a year. Second, the passing attack and the transition from one regime to the next I think is going to provide some growing pains, especially early on in the year.
That brings up a more general point I wanted to highlight, which is, I’m not really sure there will be a value in this WR room next season given Milroe’s limitations as a passer (last we saw of him, at least), and DeBoer having to mold his scheme around Milroe in his first year.
However, 2025 not only looks like a good year for Bama to make another run, but for a player like Williams to ascend. How many of you out there knew of Odunze prior to his junior season at UW? I’m guessing not many. Odunze’s big breakout year came in 2022, his third on campus, and first under DeBoer. I’m guessing Williams’ first under DeBoer won’t be quite as fruitful, but the second should be go-time.
One thing that is working in Williams’ favour this upcoming season is that the room in front of him has cleared out pretty nicely. The aforementioned serial womanizer, Isaiah Bond, has taken his talents to Austin (my sources tell me he’s a big fan of alternative comedy), JaCorey Brooks, who was sliding on the depth chart, but was still involved, transferred to Louisville. Shazz Preston, who failed to carve a role for himself, moved on to Tulane. Former JuCo star Malik Benson now plays for Florida State. Jermaine Burton is moving on to the NFL.
There’s hardly anybody left, frankly. UW transfer Germie Bernard (6’1) arrived this offseason. There is Kendrick Law (5’11), who will probably compete with Kobe Prentice (5’10) for the starting slot receiver role. Cole Adams (5’10), who was sort of an after thought as a recruit, remains in the room.
Converted RB Emmanuel Henderson (6’1) is still a work in progress, but maybe this is the year we see him take a leap forward (I’m going to go with ‘probably not’ on that one).
Jalen Hale (6’1) was a big time recruit last cycle, and has the requisite size to occupy a boundary role à la Odunze. He’d be my bet to be a starter on the outside come September 2024.
Last but not least is Gainesville’s Jaren Hamilton (6’1), who was also a 2023 recruit. Like Hale, his size immediately puts him in contention to occupy a certain role in the offence that a lot of the other names in the room can’t do.
So all in all, if you really break it down, the path would appear pretty clear for Williams. It could be a situation where he slowly wins more and more reps as the year goes on, and eventually breaks out in November or late October. But even still, the limitations of the passing offence with Milroe will continue to loom large.
One thing I will say, as someone who watched more NC State football this past season than I expected to going in, is we could look to a player like Kevin Concepcion, who, in his freshman season, absolutely torched CFB, despite shoddy QB play (starter lost his job in October, new starter decided to transfer a month later).
That was a situation where we had two QBs (Brennan Armstrong and MJ Morris) who struggled to pass the ball effectively, despite being decently productive CFF QBs due to their legs, playing under a staff with a penchant for strong QB/WR production, and an elite level talent at WR. We have a similar situation here at Alabama, however, even with how bare Bama’s WR room is, it wasn’t quite as bare as NC State’s was headed into last Fall.
I’ll put a little nugget here to see who’s really reading and paying attention: I actually think Germie Bernard will be the WR I want from this room this season. Bernard had a breakout game last year (his sophomore season) vs. Arizona, securing eight of his ten targets for 98 yards, while also taking five rushes for 12 yards and a score (23 points). In totality, he finished the year averaging 7.2 PPG, catching 34 of his 45 targets for 419 yards and two receiving TDs, and also ran (an eye-brow raising) 13 times for 43 yards and two more scores.
Those who watched UW play the past two seasons will know that DeBoer and Grubb will often times use their best WRs as rushers just to shake things up, and get the ball in their hands more in the red zone. Odunze himself scored a rushing TD in both 2022, and 2023. Jalen McMillan scored one in 2023, and so did Jaylin Polk.
Point being, if a WR gets rushing usage under DeBoer and Grubb, that’s a good sign. Although, of the UW WRs, none of them had nearly as many carries as Bernard. That’s extremely intriguing to me, as 1) I love WRs who get rushing usage just as a matter of principle and 2) handoffs don’t require any passing prowess from Milroe. And, wouldn’t you know it, the example I invoked earlier— Kevin Concepcion, was heavily featured as a rusher in his offence too (he had almost as many carries as receptions in fact).
A lot of people will fixate on the new shiny toy (Williams), and some will only read the headline of this article. That’s good, because it’ll allow us (the savvy pigs) to go stealth mode and acquire Bernard.
I don’t see myself drafting any shares of Williams unless it’s a dynasty format this summer. I will take some dart throws on Bernard, most likely. As far as the future (2025 and beyond), I think Williams is a really exciting profile.
A Fatal Conclusion to the Saban/Kiffen Saga
Concluding the above conversation, Saban turned to Kiffen and asked:
“My decision disappoints you?”
Kiffen replies: “You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues of being a head football coach: Wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them.
But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness—I’ve leveraged the portal better than anyone this cycle. Courage, perhaps not on the football field, but... there are many forms of courage, like shitposting on ‘X’. Devotion, to my offensive scheme and to you.
But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then it was as if you didn't want me as your offensive coordinator.”
Saban quickly consoles Kiffen, attempting to control the situation before it gets out of hand: “Your faults as an OC and recruiter, are my faults as a HC”.
A less than satisfactory answer prompts Kiffen’s hand, and before he knows it, he is stabbing Saban in the jugular with a precision-engineered pen, proving that even mundane tools can become lethal instruments in the hands of a disgruntled coach.
Moments pass, and Kiffen then wanders aimlessly through the campus, pondering what he has just done. He eventually finds himself in the office of one Kalen DeBoer.
Overcome with guilt, Kiffen immediately confesses his crime to coach KD:
“Lament with me, Brother, our great Father has died.”
DeBoer looks at Kiffen, processing what has happened. He notices the blood stained pen in Kiffen’s hand. Sixty seconds of silence feels like an eternity and then…
DeBoer erupts with laughter “Oh thank fucking god! Can you imagine trying to run this program with that vampire looming over my shoulder all the time!…
I’ll put a good word into uncle Kirby for you. Oh, and the next time you see his punk ass, tell him that if he texts Jaheim Oatis one more time, I’m coming up to Athens personally to spar gladiator style, you feel me?”
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