Slot receiver, Darius Hanks
Success of the passing game will surely depend on the contributions of established playmakers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze. They are both accomplished playmakers and when they are on the field, both garner attention by adjustments in the defensive alignment. At times, both Jones and Maze will draw double coverage.
Their success directly depends on the success of the third option, Darius Hanks.
If McElroy drops back to pass, he must establish a threat at every receiver position or as the game progresses, options will be taken away. Moreover, if Hanks doesn't get the looks from his quarterback or if he drops catchable balls, his confidence will be shaken and he will become an ineffective option.
While the tight end is a viable option for a check down receiver, the skill of a slot is more likely to advance the ball further down field.
When WR's Julio Jones and/or Marquis Maze are double covered by the same side cornerback and safety, the option on defense is to cover the slot receiver with a linebacker or an extra defensive back. In addition, with double coverage on the WR, deep routes by Jones and Maze will open up routes underneath, 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
This is the ground that must be exploited by the slot receiver (or the tight end).
The advantage of getting the ball to the slot receiver (as opposed to a tight end) is that this athlete usually possesses speed and quick feet that will allow him to separate from a linebacker. Hitting the slot receiver on a timely route, in stride, will allow him to gain at least 7-10 yards, generally more than 10 yards on a well timed play.
Darius Hanks can get it done in this department. Now getting it done on a regular basis will open up other options in the passing game.
First downs come easier when chunks of yardage are eaten up play after play.
With deep routes and double coverage on wide receivers, every play to this speedy playmaker turns into a potential score provided that downfield blocking available.
Hanks has breakaway speed and is savvy enough to separate from midrange coverage. If he establishes a threat over the middle, the safety will have to compromise on his double coverage of the wide receiver or the defensive scheme will require an extra defensive back (nickel or dime package).
Once this happens, the wide receiver is put in the position to make plays against one-on-one coverage or the power running game can take advantage of the exchange of a linebacker for a smaller, quicker defender.
If that happens, all bets are off as to how many points the Tide can post, and sustained drives will chew up valuable game time. If time of possession favors the Tide, PSU is doomed.