Would You Rather: Alabama/LSU Supporting Casts

Photo: © Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Dunno if you've heard, but we're gearing up for the Battle for QB1 over here at The Draft Network. And -- again, not sure if you've heard this -- but it's tomorrow.

While we've poured ourselves over every angle of Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow's impeding clash of the titans, it's time to step back a few strides and take a wider look at the offenses at large.

While Burrow has enjoyed abounding love from a draft media enraptured by his sudden rise, Tagovailoa has received arguably undue criticism for how easy his offense makes the work. I evaluated the two supporting casts we'll see surrounding these quarterbacks come Saturday, asking myself which group I'd rather play with, to see how much better Tua's teammates are than Burrow's -- if at all.

Running Back

I think I might like Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I'm excited to see him against a stout Alabama defense, though strong performances against great squads in Auburn and Florida should not go unrecognized. He's got a low-riding frame, good instincts in the hole and in space, and enough quickness to make the first defender miss.

But I'm not sure just how much I like Edwards-Helaire, relative to what Alabama consistently churns out. He's a good player and clearly draftable, but he's going against a true freakazoid athlete in Najee Harris, who is the better NFL player even if they continue to produce at roughly equivalent paces.

Harris has a size/strength/speed profile that just doesn't come around every year, and even as he hasn't dominated for the Crimson Tide the way players like Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, and T.J. Yeldon have in recent years, he's going to garner the NFL attention that Edwards-Helaire won't given the pro projections his athletic traits offer.

And even if you narrow the focus just to college ability for these backs, Edwards-Helaire doesn't have the second punch that Harris does in Brian Robinson Jr., with whom he's basically splitting time. So I like Edwards-Helaire, but it's tough to measure up against the 'Bama backfield, even in a quieter year for the Tide.

Would Rather: Alabama

Wide Receiver

This is the big one. The hard one. These WR corps are the reason you watch football, baby.

The Alabama Crimson Tide is fielding four NFL-caliber WRs; three are eligible this year. They've produced as such:

  • Jerry Jeudy: 52 receptions, 682 yards (13.1 average), 8 TDs
  • Henry Ruggs III: 26 receptions, 513 yards (19.7 average, Holy Mary), 6 TDs
  • Devonta Smith: 43 receptions, 721 yards (16.8 average), 9 TDs
  • Jaylen Waddle: 21 receptions, 297 yards (14.1 average), 1 TDs

The LSU Tigers are fielding three NFL-caliber WRs; one is eligible this year. They've produced as such:

  • Justin Jefferson: 55 receptions, 819 yards (14.9 average), 9 TDs
  • Ja'Marr Chase: 43 receptions, 749 yards (17.4 average), 9 TDs
  • Terrace Marshall Jr. (5 games): 22 receptions, 333 yards (15.1 average), 7 TDs

If we take away Waddle for a second (we'll put him back, chill out), then the Top-3 receivers for Alabama are averaging, on a per game basis: 15.1 receptions, 239.5 yards, and 2.8 touchdowns. The LSU Top-3 are averaging 17.4 receptions, 213.7 yards, and 3.8 touchdowns.

These are simply bonkers rates. Between these six players, you have five of the top six in receiving TDs in the SEC; three of the top four in yards/reception, and the top two in receiving yards. The breadth of SEC receiving runs through these two teams.

As such, it is plainly impossible to pick, and I resent the insistence that I must. The reality is such that the Alabama depth accounts for enough of an edge that the Tide must be favored here: Jaylen Waddle is certainly better than whomever WR4 is in LSU, and Devonta Smith at WR3 is a better player than Terrace Marshall, who is just fine in his own right.

Accordingly, even if Ja'Marr Chase is better than Henry Ruggs, and Justin Jefferson is superior to Jerry Jeudy -- two arguments you could make decent cases for -- they are not better by a wide enough margin to account for Alabama's wins at the bottom of the depth chart.

Fortunately for LSU, games are rarely won at WR4, and from a purely utilitarian perspective, the LSU/Bama receiving corps remain essentially interchangable. Consummate playmakers, at all three levels of the field, winning matchups without an end in sight. What a time to be alive, kids.

Would Rather: Alabama

Tight End

Tight End is weirdly, but no so weirdly, an easy one: LSU's got the better squad here. Alabama's leading tight end is Miller Forristall, who only has 12 receptions across his seven games this season. Of course, three of those are touchdowns, and one out of every four catches turning into a score is pretty good -- until you remember that Ruggs is scoring every 4.33 catches, and Jeudy is scoring every 4.77 catches, both at much higher volumes of targets.

That's pretty much par for the course among the Tide.

Meanwhile, in LSU, NC State transfer Thaddeus Moss is the fourth-leading receiver behind the three out wide weapons we detailed above. 21 catches for 246 yards and a score don't really parallel the sexy number of Marshall, Chase, and Jefferson, but the role Moss played during the few weeks that Marshall was out from injury prove that he can step up into bigger shoes when he needs to. While neither team focuses on their tight ends at all -- and why would they, given the alternative? -- LSU catches the edge here.

Would Rather: LSU

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Director of Special Projects

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.