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Alabama 2018 Spring Football Preview: Running backs

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An embarrassment of riches is an understatement for his group.

AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Alabama had a deep and talented running back corps last year. Alabama has a deep and talented running back corps this year. Only one player from 2017 is gone, and he’s replaced by yet another blue chip freshman.

The Departed

Bo Scarbrough

The ever-tantalizing former five star recruit surprised approximately no one when he declared early for the draft. Scarbrough suffered several injuries over the course of his career including a torn ACL and a broken leg. That broken leg cut short what was easily the most productive stretch of his career (454 yards and six touchdowns in four games) and really handicapped the offense in the national championship loss. Scarbrough never quite looked the same in 2017, averaging 4.81 yards/carry (down from 6.50 in 2016) and never hitting 80 yards rushing in a game.

Returning Starter

Damien Harris

Harris the Elder, on the other hand, surprised many by deciding to return for his senior year. The former five star from Kentucky has been contributing since his arrival; and he now has a chance to do something no Alabama running back has ever done: rush for 1,000 yards three years in a row. Harris broke out in 2016, rushing for 1,037 yards on 7.1 yards/carry; and he was even better in 2017 after dropping honey buns from his diet. His 1,000 yards was obviously less than the previous year, but Harris averaged more yards per carry and had 10,000% more touchdowns (okay, this may be an exaggeration; but I’ve never claimed to be good at math), going from 2 to 11. His return is a huge boon for the Tide, bringing back great production and providing veteran leadership.

Other Returners

Josh Jacobs

Technically Jacobs is also a returning starter since he opened against Colorado State last season, but he was primarily a reserve. He was a lightly recruited three star from Oklahoma who committed to Alabama late, but he has played like a blue chipper. Jacobs burst onto the scene in 2016 but was held back by injuries in 2017. A lingering ankle injury hampered him all year; offseason surgery should have him ready to go for the start of the 2018 season. Jacobs is dangerous running and catching, and he’s dynamic in the open field.

Najee Harris

Harris the Younger flashed at various points throughout his freshman year, but he had no better performance than against Georgia in the national championship. Harris got plenty of playing time in the 4th quarter on the biggest stage, and he shined. He ripped off three runs of 11+ yards on the way to 63 yards. While Harris the Elder and Jacobs will both get plenty of touches, Harris the Younger will get his fair share, too.

Brian Robinson

Najee Harris got the hype, but Brian Robinson was no slouch. The four star true freshman sat the first three games before exploding in the beatdown against Vanderbilt. While his action as a running back was admittedly only the blowouts, he still had the second highest yards per carry on the team (not counting Robert Foster’s one 12 yard rush) with 6.88. Additionally, Robinson saw time at fullback and H-back as a blocker. He won’t be a feature back in 2018 barring an injury or two; but he will contribute, especially since the coaches liked his blocking enough as a freshman to rely on him.

Ronnie Clark

Clark’s career certainly has not panned out the way many thought it might. He was a 4 star, top 100 recruit coming out of high school; but injuries have really taken their toll. Clark has bounced between safety, running back, and tight end; but he’s likely to remain a running back after spending last season there. If his first career touchdown against Ole Miss did not warm the cockles of your heart, then you are a monster. Clark will again just provide depth and only see the field during mop-up duty.

Newcomers

Jerome Ford

The four star all purpose back out of Florida was a relatively late addition to Alabama’s 2018 Class, not committing until mid-December. Ford is a little undersized at 5’11, 195lbs, but so was Josh Jacobs - who also committed late in the process. He’ll find it mighty difficult to crack into the rotation his first year; but his speed should get him some playing time, whether in mop-up duty or on special teams.

Projected Depth Chart

  1. Damien Harris
  2. Josh Jacobs AND Najee Harris
  3. Brian Robinson
  4. Jerome Ford
  5. Ronnie Clark

This isn’t exactly a hard one to predict. The senior who’s rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons will be the #1, but Jacobs and Harris the Younger will both feature plenty into the rotation. Robinson looms in the wings and should continue to be used as a blocker.