Back in August, we continued our annual tradition of previewing each position group for you, breaking down the depth chart and things to watch. Since we have two bye weeks this season, we are going to revisit each group, provide a brief progress report and even assign grades. We will also, of course, be asking for your grades and commentary.
Today, we will open with the running backs, which I previewed here.
After a bit of a rough outing in the season opener that saw him seemingly struggle with vision, Najee Harris has been outstanding. In the last four games, he has averaged a robust 7 yards per carry on the ground while adding 9/104 through the air. His highlight reel catch and run against South Carolina was the stuff of legends. Brian Robinson Jr. has done an admirable job as the clear number two. He has been asked to shoulder a good bit of the short yardage dirty work, but enjoyed something of a breakout game against Ole Miss with 69 yards on 11 touches. Both backs have been involved in the passing game, which is a welcome sight, and both are very difficult to tackle.
At times, both Harris and Robinson seem to make things harder for themselves in the run game due to vision issues. Both are more downhill runners than shifty, and the lack of a jump cut in the backfield similar to Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs sometimes limits their ability to get to the hole in traffic. Harris in particular has struggled quite a bit in pass protection, an area that must improve. Depth behind the two leaders has been nonexistent. Jerome Ford was lauded by Saban in camp and actually looked like the best runner of the bunch against Duke, but did lose a fumble and has only registered nine carries since, including zero in the past two games. Diminutive freshman Keilan Robinson has had a rough go of it in mop-up duty outside of a single 74 yard touchdown burst vs. hapless New Mexico State. His other 15 carries have netted a paltry 43 yards, though running behind the backup offensive line is certainly a contributing factor.
Najee is showing signs of becoming the superstar that he was projected to be coming off of his 90+ graded 2018 campaign per Pro Football Focus. Steve Sarkisian needs to continue to use him in the short passing game, as he is simply devastating in open space. Brian looks like more of a blue collar banger, which is important to have on the team. While we have seen some good signs recently, the performance has been fairly uneven thus far and the lack of depth is highly concerning. Hopefully Ford and/or Robinson will gain more of the coaches’ confidence over the bye week.
Of course, that is simply my opinion. Vote and give us your synopsis in the comments.
What grade would you give the running backs through Game 5?
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