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The 2017 NSD Class that won a National Championship: Najee Harris

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The nation’s number one freshman back had a coming out party when it mattered most

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 08 CFP National Championship Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In honor of/anticipation of NSD2018, we’re looking back at the freshmen class signed just a year ago, a class that came up big all year and especially on the season’s biggest stage.

As good as Tua was three weeks ago, Antioch’s (CA) Baby Beast Mode was just as impactful. He came out of the locker room at halftime down two scores with zero yards and went back into it with 64 big yards and as a national champion.

Here’s what we saw, what we projected, and what he eventually did on the year.

As big as Tua’s comeback was in Atlanta, he was just as critical in keeping Najee in Tuscaloosa to begin with. His was a recruitment that got stranger as the early enrollment period began, and that was made worrisome because despite his statements of commitment, he kept his cards close to his vest:

Najee Harris’ recruitment got decidedly weird the last six weeks of the season. Harris’ mother and brother were apparently very interested in keeping him close to Cal, and for a while the Bears were thought to be in the mix. All in the backdrop, was the push from Michigan — which had no elite back and very much is in need of one for Harbaugh’s scheme. Playing time, and a lot of it early, seemed to await at Ann Arbor. Then, there were the dueling plane trips and decision dates Harris made the first week of January, as he was deciding between Michigan and Alabama.

In the end (with a big assist from fellow early enrollee, and now-roommate, Tua Tagovailoa) Najee stayed true to his commitment and touched down at Birmingham’s Shuttlesworth Airport on January 7th.

WHEW.

Scout said of Najee as a recruit:

Has been compared to his former workout partner Joe Mixon (OU) and it’s easy to see why. He has size, power, toughness, speed and great hands out of the backfield. He runs with patience and balance, can make that first guy miss and does a great job making yards after contact. He has the length of a WR and can be moved around to cause matchup problems.

While we didn’t get to see the hands quite as much as I suspect we will in the future, the analysis was spot-on. Najee did display a lot of patience and is excellent after contact. He takes a lot of the qualities of ‘Bama backs and has melded them into a Saban’s Greatest Hits running back: He has the balance and hands of Mark Ingram, the great feet and blocking patience of TJ Yeldon, the raw power of Trent Richardson, he sets up the edges and is a monster when get into the open field like Bo Scarbrough, and topping it all off is his strength and elusiveness, which show up in his yards after contact like those of Derrick Henry.

Brent, normally wedded to the athleticism that a SPARQ score provides, gave perhaps his highest praise of a recruit that I can recall:

He’s one of the best recruits that Nick Saban has ever brought in for a reason. Najee Harris can do just about everything, and he does it all well.

Hurdle over defenders going low? No problem. Truck a defender going high? Check. Break some ankles in the open field? Sure thing.

And the list keeps on going. Through all of it though, his incredible balance and lower body power and flexibility is what really sets him apart. No matter how he gets hit or what kind of physics defying cuts he tries, he’s always going to stay on his feet and keep fighting for yards.

He has the footwork to pull off any move in the books, be it a cut, stutter, high-step, hop-step, spin, or a full out juke. He’s powerful enough to truck someone head on, or stiff arm a man to the ground from the side.

And past his running skills, he’s a well rounded player overall. He smoothly transitions the ball to either hand to keep it away from the defender, which is a rare quality even up to the NFL level, and should do wonders for preventing fumbles. He’s a willing and stalwart pass blocker.

Unlike Tua, where there was uncertainty but optimism about those contributions, it was a mortal certainty that Najee would get carries early in his carry, with both CB and BT penciling him in on an upgraded ‘Bama RB rotation on “the offense of the future.” The future, it appears, is now.

It’s easy to predict that a blue chip recruit will be a star. But, in the case of Najee Harris, even as a freshman he was quite literally every bit as good and versatile as advertised.

Najee made 10 appearances, carrying the ball 61 times for 370 yards (6.1) ypc and added another 6 catches for 45 yards. He finished the season with three scores. Safe to say all of those will be going up this year.