In a league of passing yards upon passing yards, the art of the runner is slowly being forgotten. Just ask the NFL, where no running backs have been drafted in the first round the last two years, and free agent backs are making much less money in the open market.
As the rules of the game change, coaches find new schemes based around screens and options, and running-by-committee continues to rise, the running back position has become one of the most forgotten positions in the game. Even at Alabama, we've seen the team slowly transition away from a ground centered attack. Though T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, and Derrick Henry have put up solid stats the last couple of years, they are not the feature of the offense. While it seems, then, that a top-notch running back would not be as useful as it once was, never underestimate the difference in a back that gains 5 yards on a perfectly designed play, and one who breaks an extra tackle and gets 20 yards instead.
After this season ends, T.J. Yeldon will likely leave for the NFL. Though he will likely be a fourth round pick at best, most running backs typically declare a year early, as the NFL notoriously wants their runners to have as little "tread on the tires" from college as possible. Yeldon has already struggled with injuries throughout his entire career, and will likely want to leave to get into the professional league before the injuries get worse.
That leaves Alabama without a primary back. Derrick Henry will return as presumably the starter, but I am not convinced at this point that he has the skill set to do so. While Henry is a phenomenal change-of-pace guy, and is a big play waiting to happen, I think he struggles too much in traffic to ever be able to have an offense rely on him. Kenyan Drake has all the talent in the world, and runs like a bigger Jamaal Charles, but will be coming off of a nasty broken leg, and has struggled with fumbles his entire career.
Next in line are the the duo of Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny. Jones is a light-footed, compact, muscle hamster (to borrow the term from Doug Martin). He seems to have great potential, but can't seem to get out of Saban's doghouse. Tenpenny came in the same recruiting class as Jones and Henry, and was actually my favorite of the three coming out of high school. He popped an outstanding 132.39 SPARQ score (In case you missed it, here's what SPARQ is) and has a no-nonsense, one-cut, slashing running style, similar to the former barner, Tre Mason.
It will be up to those four guys to pick up the slack next year. If they can't there will be two very talented freshman nipping at their heels for the job (and running back is notoriously one of the easiest positions to transition to as a freshman).
|Last Name||First Name||Position||State||Stars||National Rank||Position Rank||Height||Weight||40-Yard Dash||20-Yard Shuttle||Vertical Jump||Power Throw||SPARQ||Z-Score|
*Scarbrough is actually from last year's recruiting cycle, but didn't qualify academically. He has been cleared to enroll in January. The ratings in his chart were from 2014.
Flowers is a prototypical back. He is pretty good at most everything, and does not really have any glaring weaknesses. He also does not have any standout attributes either. His speed is good enough to beat a linebacker to the sideline, but maybe not to take runs to the house at the college level. His elusiveness is very impressive, and he has an innate ability to set up a defender to go one way, and head fake back the other without losing speed, similar to the way T.J. Yeldon makes defenders miss. He is also a stout, physical runner with a nasty stiff arm, and does not shy from contact:
Flowers' best trait, however, is his patience. He is very comfortable behind the line of scrimmage and knows when to stay behind his blocker, and when to slide off of the blocker. His vision allows him to set up defenders to run into blocks, almost as if he plans his running paths in the second level.
He does, however, struggle some with balance. He tends to stumble over nothing far more often than he should, and also gets leg/ankle tackled far too easily.
Flowers did not participate in any tests, so I have no SPARQ data on him. I spent a long time trying to come up with a similar player, and never really found a solid match. His style is actually somewhat reminiscent to me of a smaller Shaun Alexander, but its still not a great match.
Labeled as an athlete, Scarbrough is just that. He is a Swiss army knife for the offense. Not only is he an explosive running back, he is also a very technically sound slot receiver and a willing and powerful blocker. His size, 6'2" and anywhere from 215-230, is a mismatch for whatever position he plays. If he adds a few more pounds, I could see him playing a similar role to what Aaron Hernandez did for the Patriots (before he got arrested an all that). Scarbrough has much better speed than one would expect from someone his size, and also ran a very impressive 4.09 shuttle, exemplifying his ability to accelerate to top speed.
He also runs with power and is built with a larger lower body than upper body (which is the opposite of a similar sized Derrick Henry).
His main weakness is that he doesn't have a true position. He plans on being a running back at Alabama, but he is not a normal running back, nor a normal anything for that matter. If Lane Kiffin can figure out how to best utilize him, Scarbrough could be a very terrifying offensive weapon in the future.
Other Players to Keep an Eye On
After monster running back Jacques Patrick picked Florida State over Bama last week, there's only one target still on the board. Damien Harris, the nation's number 1 overall running back from Kentucky, is an insanely talented runner. He is a close friend of Blake Barnett and that crew, and was seen hanging out with them during a "Roll Tide" chant in the opening. He will be visiting Bryant-Denny for the Iron Bowl. Patrick has the ability to be a starter from day one, and you can bet that I'll put up a whole article just on him if he decides to commit. Four star Florida State commit, Johnny Frasier, also announced he will be visiting Alabama this week. It's likely he's looking for a different team after Jacques Patrick committed to FSU.
I do not really know what to look for as much in offensive players as I do for defensive players, and don't understand offensive schemes as well either, so this article wound up being a little less wordy than some of my others. I have a plethora of Engineering exams next week, so I'll talk about the tight ends (all one of them) in a brief article. After that, I'll give you guys my favorite positions to evaluate: the linebackers and D-line.
Until then, hope you enjoyed hearing a little about the future running backs, and hopefully next time you hear from me there will be a new number one team in the nation. Roll Tide.