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2018 Alabama football unit previews: Running Backs

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A young Harris teeters on greatness while an older one is already there.

NCAA Football: Alabama A-Day Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

This Alabama team certainly lost a lot of talent to the NFL last season, and there are some inevitable roster holes that will need to be filled if the Tide are to repeat as national champions. The running back position, however, has no such problems. Called the strength of the team recently by offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, this unit is a deep and talented bunch that will strike fear into the hearts of defensive coaches everywhere. We will start out with the unquestioned leader of the pack.

The Captain

#34 Damien Harris, Sr.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Media Day Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harris surprised many when he decided to return for his senior season. A 5’11”, 210 lb. fireplug often compared to Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Damien makes up for a lack of top end speed with uncanny vision and agility. His jump cut is a thing of beauty, and he rarely gets taken down by the first man. He is coming off of consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, averaging over seven yards per carry in each. In 2017 he averaged a TD for every 12 carries.

Of course, it is impossible to talk about Damien without mentioning the way he carries himself off the field. Easily the most thoughtful and articulate interview on the team, Harris comes across as a guy who will be highly successful in the business world when his football playing days are behind him. He will be a critical senior leader for the 2018 campaign and is a shoo-in to have his handprints at Denny Chimes when the season is done.

The Phenom

#22 Najee Harris, So.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The younger Harris was humbled a bit last year after coming in as the top overall recruit in his class, garnering only a bit role until he blew up in the second half of the CFP title game. That performance served as his coming out party, and this season should be huge for him as the #2 back for an Alabama team that loves to rotate its ballcarriers. Put the 6’2”, 225 lb. Najee in full pads and stand him next to Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you will have a hard time distinguishing beween the two. Harris has everything you want in a back: size, speed, power, agility, vision, and gamebreaking ability as a pass catcher. Add in his humble demeanor, thousand watt smile and backstory of unimaginable adversity as a child, and you have the makings of a future face of an NFL franchise.

The second line

#8 Josh Jacobs, Jr.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Jacobs brings a different dimension to the offense as more of a scat-back who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the most elusive returning RB in the country coming into last season. He has amazing wiggle with the ball in his hands and can be a devastating receiver. Unfortunately, he has also had some horrible injury luck. He had surgery to repair a severe ankle sprain shortly after the season and still isn’t able to fully participate in practice. Hopefully he will get healed and be able to make the explosive plays we saw in 2016.

#24 Brian Robinson, So.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in with Najee Harris, Robinson has been universally underrated but is an outstanding running back. He is built like Najee at 6’1”, 220 lb. and has excellent speed and power, plus great hands out of the backfield. He averaged a robust 6.8 yards per carry last season. Depending on Jacobs’ health, he will either be the clear number three or Jacobs’ 3A, and looks to be in line for a much bigger role in 2019.

#5 Ronnie Clark, RS Sr.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of injury luck, Ronnie is back for his fifth and final season after overcoming two ruptured Achilles’ tendons in his college career. A fan favorite thanks to his perseverance and status as a local product from nearby Calera, the crowd exploded when he got into the end zone for the first time last season. He will provide depth to an exemplary group.

The Newcomer

#27 Jerome Ford, Fr.

Jerome is more of an all-purpose back in the mold of Jacobs, and may well be a redshirt candidate this season. The 5’11”, 206 lb. four-star out of Seffner, FL is solidly built and known for his speed and agility. If he is to carve out a role this season, it will likely be on special teams.

Synopsis

To put it bluntly, this group is loaded and will be as good or better than any unit in the country, with a massive offensive line to run behind. Whoever emerges in the infamous QB battle will have the luxury of a top notch running game to lean on. They are going to be a pleasure to watch.