The Alabama Crimson Tide’s running back position contains a wealth of talent. It’s probably the deepest running back stable in college football in 2017. And for good reason too.
The Crimson Tide’s backfield is headlined by Heisman candidate, Bo Scarbrough. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound back proved why he is seen as one of the most feared runners in college football heading into 2017 at the end of last season.
Scarbrough ran for 454 yard and six touchdowns on 63 carries in Alabama’s last four games (Auburn, Florida, Washington and Clemson). During the National Title game against the Clemson Tigers, Scarbrough racked up 93 yards and two scores before he exited the contest due to a broken fibula. If he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, the Crimson Tide would have probably ended up as the national champions as they were up a 24-14 at that point in the game. If he can return to that type of form, he will be a force to be reckon with.
While the junior-to-be is receiving the most hype out of all the backs in the Crimson Tide’s backfield, freshman Najee Harris is a close second. Harris, who was a 5-star prospect, was one of the most sought after recruits in the 2017 class. Since enrolling early, he has been impressing his teammates and coaches early on.
Crimson Tide cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick has stated that Harris is hard to tackle in the open field and that he possesses great athleticism, while wide receiver Cam Sims has compared the young running back to former Heisman winner and Crimson Tide back Derrick Henry.
Although the hype surrounding Scarbrough and Harris is warranted, it also means a 1,000 yard rusher is getting overlooked: Damien Harris.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior was the workhorse of the Crimson Tide backfield last season. Harris ran for 1,037 yards on 146 carries and started 11 games before Alabama decided to ride the hot hand of Scarbrough heading into the College Football Playoff.
Few realize how valuable Harris was to Alabama’s success last season.
Entering 2016, all the talk surrounding the Crimson Tide was, “Who is going to be the next signal caller?” That job was eventually won by freshman Jalen Hurts. However, that quarterback battle completely overshadowed the fact Alabama didn’t have a veteran running back to rely on offense. And of course, Harris was the won to step up for Alabama. He was the back who knew the offense the best.
On the season, Harris averaged nearly 70 yards per game. But that number increased to 86.3 yards when Alabama took on one of the 10 ranked opponents it faced in 2016. Not only that, but Harris topped 100 yards rushing four times, which was the most out of all the backs who saw playing time for the Crimson Tide last season.
However, his four big performances USC, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M all came within the first two months of the season. Harris also only notched double-digit carries once however the last six games of the year (Chattanooga, 13 attempts for 91 yards).
If Harris does in fact get regulated to the second or third running back position, it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened to a 1,000 yard back at Alabama. T.J. Yeldon went through the exact same thing back in 2014 when Derrick Henry replaced him as the Tide’s top back.
Yeldon ran for 1,235 yards in 2013 while Henry was still getting accustomed to the collegiate game. Things started to click for the then-freshman Henry until bowl practices. After that, in 2014, Henry ran for 990 yards while Yeldon notched 979 yards. However, Yeldon didn’t have to deal with such a deep stable of backs like Harris has too. Alabama also boasts talented sophomores Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons and freshman Brian Robinson.
Now, Harris has been limited this spring due an ankle injury. With that still holding true, younger guys like Najee Harris have been getting most of the reps with the No. 1 offense.
Even with all these players are taking reps behind him, when Alabama takes on the Florida State Seminoles on September 2 down in Atlanta, Georgia, it would be a surprise to see another back other than Damien Harris take the field with the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 unit. He is still Alabama’s best every-down back and the clear cut leader of the position.
Harris is someone coaches, teams and fans shouldn’t forget about. If they do, he may in fact torch them on the ground come the 2017 season.