Alabama is a buzzsaw that slowly rips apart opponents.
For Texas A&M to pull off a small miracle and win as 27-point underdogs Saturday, game-changing plays are going to be a must. Christian Kirk is the Aggies’ most electric player and the team’s best chance at producing those kind of highlights.
In the Johnny Manziel years of 2012 and 2013, Texas A&M played the Crimson Tide tough, even beating the team 29-24 the first time around. But Alabama won the last three games by a combined score of 133-37.
Kirk, a true junior, finished his first two career games against the Alabama defense with 16 receptions, 148 receiving yards, 11 rushing yards, 88 punt return yards, 57 kick return yards, one receiving touchdown, and one punt return touchdown.
While that sounds like a player who never comes off the field, that yardage came on a combined 24 touches.
Kirk is lightning in a bottle for Texas A&M and for the first time, he’s eligible for the next NFL draft. With a strong chance that Kirk will be available in April, his game against Alabama at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN is a great time for NFL fans to tune in.
Here are four reasons why:
1. Kirk is an entertaining jack-of-all-trades
Every time Kirk touches the ball, there’s a chance he’ll take it for six. It has been that way since the day he arrived at Texas A&M.
He scored a receiving touchdown and a punt return touchdown in his first college game and had a punt return touchdown in his first game against Alabama a little over a month later.
That 68-yard punt return touchdown is one of 15 plays for Kirk at Texas A&M that have gone for at least 50 yards. Kirk was one of only five players with at least six plays of 60 or more yards last season.
It’s probably a safe bet that Alabama will smash the Aggies on Saturday, but explosive plays from Kirk may be Texas A&M’s best chance at getting points on the board.
2. Kirk is also a polished wide receiver
Sometimes it can become a chore for NFL teams to find touches for a player who is good at a little bit of everything. While the goal can be to find the next DeSean Jackson or Percy Harvin, there are plenty of examples — like Cordarrelle Patterson or Dexter McCluster — who end up making little impact outside of a handful of plays.
The good thing about Kirk is that, like Jackson and Harvin, he can play wide receiver and everything else is just a cherry on top.
Last year, he finished with 83 receptions, 928 yards, and nine receiving touchdowns.
But at 5’11, 200 pounds, Kirk doesn’t have the size or strength of an ideal outside wide receiver. He’s closer in size to John Ross — a 5’11, 188-pound receiver who went No. 9 overall in the draft after running a record-breaking 4.22 40-yard dash. While explosive, Kirk probably won’t run that fast.
Kirk’s role in the NFL may instead come as a slot receiver, which isn’t a traditionally valued spot. But if he can reliably rack up receptions, make big plays, and offer value as a returner, he could make a huge difference anyway.
3. It’s also a chance to watch Minkah Fitzpatrick in action
The Alabama defense consistently sends players to the NFL, and Fitzpatrick is next on the list. While Kirk didn’t grab a spot in Dan Kadar’s 2018 mock draft, Fitzpatrick was a top-five pick and the first cornerback off the board.
Fitzpatrick definitely isn’t the only Alabama defender to watch. There’s also Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne on the defensive line and Ronnie Harrison at safety.
But the versatile skill of Fitzpatrick, who has played six different positions on the Alabama defense, could be the key to bottling Kirk. So far in 2017, Fitzpatrick has played strong safety for the Crimson Tide.
Two years ago, Fitzpatrick primarily played nickel cornerback for the team and finished his first matchup against Texas A&M with two interceptions he returned for a pair of touchdowns.
Even if Saturday doesn’t give us one-on-one matchups between Kirk and Fitzpatrick, it’ll be a chance to watch both in action.
If Kirk performs well, it’ll say a lot about his ability against top competition. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be too surprising against a defense that routinely chews up and spits out the best player on opposing teams.
4. There’s no clear-cut top receiver
Kirk didn’t show up in the first round of Kadar’s first 2018 mock draft, but the only receiver who did was Alabama’s Calvin Ridley.
Other first-round possibilities are Clemson’s Deon Cain, Oklahoma State’s James Washington and SMU’s Courtland Sutton. But at least for now, it doesn’t look like there’s a no-brainer selection like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, or Calvin Johnson guaranteed to land in the top 10.
Any fan of an NFL team that could use a spark on offense and big-play ability may find in April that Kirk is the best option.