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Alabama’s hiring of Bill O’Brien is about to launch Jahleel Billingsley on NFL Draft boards

Jahleel Billingsley of Alabama scores a TD versus Auburn in Iron Bowl
Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

In the 2020 recruiting cycle, the University of Alabama had a chance to get one of two incredibly athletic tight ends.

Despite it missing on Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington, maybe the Crimson Tide did not need them. It signed a capable playmaker at the position in 2019, and he exploded during the last seven games of his sophomore season. He caught one pass as a true freshman, but Nick Saban knew Jahleel Billingsley was closing in on grasping the offensive system. A native of Chicago, Ill., he arrived as a four-star and in Steve Sarkisian’s second year, the gifted play caller started to recognize Billingsley’s talent.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder totaled 18 receptions for 287 yards with three touchdowns.

Billingsley made every catch a priority as 14 of his 18 catches went for first downs or scores. He became aggressive in Alabama’s meeting against Kentucky, posting three receptions for 78 yards. Billingsley showed fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium that Najee Harris is not the only player capable of hurdling defenders. He averaged 26 yards per catch — including a long grab of 34 yards — in the Tide’s 63-3 victory over the Wildcats. After the matchup, Billingsley was instrumental in Alabama’s wins over Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Florida, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. His three touchdowns came against Auburn, LSU, and Notre Dame.

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Seventeen of his catches and 274 of his yards happened in the last seven games.

Sarkisian is with the Texas Longhorns, but the Tide’s latest hire will benefit Billingsley.

Bill O’Brien has produced a lot of success with tight ends in his coaching career. During two years at Penn State (2012-13), he tutored Kyle Carter, Matt Lehman, Jesse James, and Adam Breneman to 17 combined touchdowns. When it comes to touchdown receptions by a tight end, 38.6 percent (17-of-44) of scores by a Penn State quarterback under O’Brien went to a tight end.

The trio of Carter, Lehman, and James recorded over 20 catches under O’Brien.

In the National Football League, O’Brien was dynamic with tight ends for the New England Patriots. He served as offensive coordinator in 2011, helping Rob Gronkowski to 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a team-high 17 touchdowns. Before the demise and tragic death of Aaron Hernandez, O’Brien guided him to 79 catches for 910 yards receiving and seven scores in 2011.

He would be fired from the Houston Texans after four games in 2020, but O’Brien still had strong numbers with tight ends.

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Whether it was Ryan Griffin, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jordan Atkins, or Darren Fells, all of them caught at least 20 passes under O’Brien.

Alabama has had two tight ends drafted high in the Saban era. O.J. Howard was a first-rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft, and Irv Smith Jr. was taken in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Billingsley carries the physicality of both; however, his route concepts resemble a wide receiver. He can create separation on the line or be stretched outside as a vertical target.

As he continues to grow in his blocking abilities, Billingsley will be a huge conversation for the 2022 NFL Draft.

O’Brien is set to help him create draft value. One can make a case for Billingsley to be Alabama’s No. 2 option at receiver.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith

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