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Meet the New Guys: Quarterbacks and Running Backs

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Replacing basically all of last year's offensive production in Jake Coker, Derrick Henry, and Kenyan Drake won't be easy, but these three guys are the reinforcements.

Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts
Student Sports

With the conclusion of National Signing Day and recruiting season, Alabama football fans are about to begin the extended dearth of football until the annual A-day game later in the spring. In the meantime, we're going to take the next five to six weeks to get acquainted with each of the incoming freshmen (or JUCO players) for the recruiting class of 2015.

I will be speaking freely about Z-scores and SPARQ ratings in this article, which are numerical methods of quantifying how athletic a player is. If you missed my previous article explaining these measurements in more depth, check out this link.

This week, we'll be discussing the players at the two positions that get the most spotlight: quarterback and running back. With starters Jake Coker, Derrick Henry, and Kenyan Drake all leaving the team, the upcoming freshmen at these two positions will be in a prime situation to compete for playing instant playing time.

At running back, there are two new contenders: B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs. While Emmons has been a longtime Alabama commit and a well-known back, Jacobs rise to fame only happened within a few weeks of National Signing Day. Each are a totally different style of back, giving Lane Kiffin more new options to tailor his offense to in the future.

Joshua Jacobs- All Purpose Back

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
3 460 11 5110 200 4.63 4.22 35.5 34 94.17 0.88

Joshua Jacobs is the top rated running back from the state of Oklahoma, and was completely unknown as a recruit up until the end of January. He boasts a 0.88 Z-score, meaning that he is a decent athlete. He's considered an "all-purpose back," which typically means something along the lines of: "he's a little smaller than most running backs, and may never be a true lead back." However, in Jacobs' case, this may not necessarily be true. He actually lines up as a quarterback most of the time for his high school, but rarely actually passes the ball. However, at 5'11", 200, he is close to the prototypical size for a true running back.

Pros

Jacobs has truly incredible balance and footwork. In the open field, he can change directions without losing a step of speed, and really sells his jukes by faking with his head. Ankle tacklers and defenders that don't wrap up will rarely bring him down, as he seems to always manage to keep his feet beneath him. He has superb vision with the ball in his hands, and really understands the nuances of following a path set by his blockers.

With his elusiveness and athleticism, Jacobs is a big play threat virtually every time he touches the ball, which can be seen by his utterly ridiculous 15.7 yards per rush during his senior year.

Cons

He does not have the pure breakaway speed that you would expect from a player of his style, nor does he have the lower body strength to be a consistent inside running threat or break away from arm tackles. He has little to no experience in the passing game as a receiver or blocker, considering that he took direct snaps on almost every single play in high school. He also carries the ball wildly and way away from his body, which could likely lead to fumble issues early in his career until that mechanic is fixed.

Prediction

Joshua Jacobs is a naturally talented guy with incredible footwork and elusiveness, but lacks both pure athleticism and strong fundamentals. Though he was not used as a return man in high school, I could see him competing for a spot as a punt returner for the Tide. I also think he'll be in the running to somewhat replicate the role vacated by Kenyan Drake as a change of pace running back to take sweeps and screens around the perimeter of the field.

I predict that Jacobs will garner some playing time (maybe even an occasional snap in non-garbage time play) during his freshman season as Lane Kiffin attempts to find the best spot for him to contribute.

B.J. Emmons- Running Back

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 35 2 5110 220 4.52 N/A 32 N/A N/A N/A

As a disclaimer, B.J. Emmons is still not officially eligible in his academics to play for Alabama. While he is expected to be able to report in the summer, there is a solid chance the second-best running back in the nation may not join the Tide this year.

Emmons did not record any testing results with Nike, so he has no Z-score for comparison. However, with his 220 pound frame, impressive 40-yard dash, and apparent explosiveness in his play, I would guess he would have ended up falling somewhere around a 1.5.

Pros

Running with speed, power, decisiveness, and surprising finesse, Emmons earned his ranking as the 35th overall player in the nation for a reason. He can accelerate to his top speed with deadly efficiency, and has the lower body strength to turn that acceleration into enough force to not only break arm tackles, but often strike the defender before they get the chance to try and tackle him. While he may not be the fastest back around, he still has more than adequate breakaway speed. Emmons utilizes a nasty stiff arm, and also keeps a vast arsenal of moves such as jump cuts, spins, and well-timed speed bursts to keep defenders from ever laying a hand on him.

He also has some experience as a linebacker on defense, and as both a gunner and blocker on special teams - showing his willingness to compete at some of the less glamorous positions, utilizing his physical versatility.

Cons

He tends to avoid contact when at all possible, and doesn't always run downhill like one would expect from a back over 220 pounds. He had very few receptions in his high school career, so it may take some time for the coaches to teach him the nuances of the passing game.

Another small quirk is that he very rarely will switch the ball to carry it with his left hand, even when he runs to the left side of the field. A complete running back needs to be able to smoothly transfer the ball from one hand to the other while running to keep it away from defenders, and Emmons will need to become comfortable with that.

Prediction

B.J. Emmons actually reminds me stylistically of Eddie Lacy in high school, minus the spin moves. He's a physically ready back with a good chance to compete from day one to get significant snaps in the running back rotation his freshman year. If he qualifies, I think Emmons will end up receiving the 3rd most carries on the team by the end of the year.

Jalen Hurts- Quarterback

Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
4 176 3 6020 208 4.85 4.34 30.9 34 82.71 0.62

The dual threat signal caller out of Texas enrolled with Alabama at the beginning of January, and has already been with the team for over a month now. The charismatic coach's kid is known not only for his high football-IQ and leadership, but also for his athletic ability running the ball. Testing-wise, Hurts only managed a Z-score of 0.62, despite looking like a much more athletic player while playing.

Pros

Watch a couple of minutes of any of Hurts' highlight reels, and you will quickly understand why Nick Saban asked Hurts to play the role of "Dashaun Watson" on the scout team just days after Hurts had enrolled on campus. He is a fluid and elegant runner with the ball in his hands that can escape the pocket and work his way down the field with superior vision that keeps him well away from defenders until it is too late. He is more elusive than most quarterbacks, and has an uncanny ability to avoid taking hits.

As a passer, he has an exceptionally quick release that will be an absolutely perfect complement to Lane Kiffin's love for receiver screens. He has the arm and wrist strength to throw high velocity balls with stunning accuracy on almost any throw in the short-to-mid passing game.

He exaggerates and really tries to sell his ball fakes and play-actions, and is especially useful working out of a read-option style of offense because of that. Perhaps his most impressive trait, however, is his footwork within the pocket. Hurts is always bouncing on his toes, ready to either fire off a pass or bail away from in incoming rusher at a second's notice. He almost always manages to re-set his feet before throwing, so throwing off of his back foot is rarely an issue.

Cons

He may not have the pure arm talent of guys like Blake Barnett or David Cornwell. Hurts rarely attempts any sort of downfield throw, and does not have the touch or deep ball arm strength needed to hit streaking receivers down the field or deep out routes and fades.

He also has worked solely out of a read-option style offense, where if his primary receiver is covered, he was taught to take off running. At this point, it is a bit of an unknown if he has the ability to read a defense and move from his primary receiver to a secondary receiver to find the open man.

Prediction

I think that Hurts is smart enough and a strong enough leader that Coach Saban will give him a fair shot for the competition to become Alabama's starting QB. However, I think he'll end up being the first of the four QB's on the roster to be eliminated from the competition, and will end up redshirting his first year on campus.