Entering last season, after catching up on Spring practices and Fall camps, we were very impressed with Damien Harris, bullish even.
When healthy, second-year running back Damien Harris is your feature back by a decent margin. Last year Harris was tentative, didn't get north-south very quickly, didn't really show any burst, was not particularly solid in the passing game, and played like a freshman lacking confidence and understanding. But, after a year in the system, his blocking improved, he reads the hole better, and he showed the burst and power that made him the No. 1 running back in the 2015 class. His vision and footwork have also improved, and those are really what separates him from the rest of the group. He is your standard all-utility Saban back.
And, that would prove to be correct, as his sophomore slump and freshman breakout campaigns were reversed. Harris would be the starter in the backfield for most games, and when healthy was the most consistent option for ‘Bama. He was the Tide’s leader in rushing yards (1037), YPC (7.1,) and total yards from scrimmage (1136,). He was tied with Joshua Jacobs and Cam Sims for 5th overall receiver (14 grabs) and he was tied as the fourth-leading scorer on the team (Bo Scarbrough vultured a lot of his scores.) Harris was also second only behind Jalen Hurts in plays from scrimmage. Splitting time with Scarbrough, Jacobs and B.J. Emmons, Harris still had four 100+ yard rushing games, hit the 1000+ yard rushing mark with a tidy 146 carries, and had runs of 20+ yards in seven of the Tide’s contests.
His best game on the ground was the explosive effort against USC in the season opener, where Damien Harris had 138 yards (15.3 YPC) on just 9 carries. But, it would be the Arkansas game where Harris put all of his skills together. He had 122 yards (9.4 YPC) on the ground and hauled in two catches for 60 yards and a score.
The 56-yard touchdown on what looked to be a harmless swing/screen showcased all of Harris’ skills: his ability to find seams, vision, footwork, acceleration in the open field, and power to break tackles.
The former 5-star and No. 1 overall RB recruit is one of the true characters on the team: He’s thoughtful, bright, outspoken, team-oriented, and above all talented. Early evaluations have the low-mileage Harris a value in the 2nd or 3rd Round. It is doubtful he will be asked to carry the load by himself enough to raise that a 1st Round selection, but his blocking, pass-catching ability, and skills on the ground should have see him project as a solid second-rounder if he chooses to leave the Capstone after another big season.
And, we even have a bonuse No. 56 for you: Harris’ 1037 yards last season has now allowed him to join the fifty-five other young men who have rushed for 1000+ career yards at Alabama. He is presently the 46th all-time rusher at Alabama (1184 yards,) but a comparable 2017 campaign will see him vault to 16 or 17th all-time, with Glen Coffee and Siran Stacy — and that’s not bad company at all.*
56 days ‘til Alabama football
* Don’t worry, Jalen (937 yards) and Bo (904 yards) will join Harris in the 1000-yard club soon...my guess is sometime around the 3rd quarter of the FSU game for Hurts and probably early 4th quarter for Bo (feel free to bookmark this prediction.)