So far, we’ve already broken down the offensive line, defensive line, receivers/tight ends, and linebackers. Today, we’ll be branching into the offensive backfield to talk about the guys that, between them, touch the ball on every play: the running backs and quarterback.
They’re everyone’s favorite players, so this is a set of guys that you’ve likely already watched all the highlights for and have your own opinions. They’re much more visible positions for fans, so we’re all a bit better at knowing whether a player is “good” or not when talking about the offensive backfield.
Here’s my typical spiel before diving into the article:
Over the years, I’ve used SPARQ as a metric for quantifying athleticism and normalizing just how athletic someone is relative to his position. If you want a more in depth explanation, click the link below:
If not, the TL;DR version is this: Bigger, faster, and stronger = higher score.
Unfortunately, this specific class of Alabama recruits were not as active in Nike’s camps as many other classes in the past, so less than half of the recruits actually have SPARQ scores this year. I do, however, have a huge database of previous recruits with scores, so for some players that took an incomplete set of tests, I can actually get a pretty decent estimate just based on previous athletic comps. But I’ll always denote which tests are verified and which are “fill-in-the-blanks”
Finally, for all rankings, I will use the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account the 247, Rivals, and ESPN player rankings. Each of the three differ slightly, so for solidarity, I stick with the composite every year.
The Tide signed three running backs in this class, two of which are top 100 players. And then there’s the QB, who, while not consensus with all the recruiting sites, was the #1 overall recruit by the 247 rankings (and #2 by the Composite). Obviously, there’s a lot of hype anytime Alabama signs someone ranked that highly. But its amplified when it’s a QB.
Unfortunately, Roydell Williams has no info out on the internet around his athletic testing, verified or not. He enrolled early, though, so we know that his officially listed height and weight is 5’10” 207, which is shorter and stouter than his recruiting profiles listed. As a junior in high school, Williams had one of those ridiculously dominant seasons where he rushed for 2757 yards and 32 touchdowns on only 291 carries. He was named Class 6A All-State in his final two seasons of high school.
At his size, Williams is about as prototypical of a running back as you’ll find. Watching him play, you’ll be reminded a lot of other short, stocky backs like Mark Ingram and Josh Jacobs, who use a blend of power and short-area explosiveness to make defenders look silly near the line of scrimmage.
Williams’ best trait is his ability to do a full 90-degree cut at the line of scrimmage to avoid a defender and hit a hole that wasn’t necessarily in his path. Once through the line of scrimmage, he bounces off would-be tacklers like a pinball and any defender standing flat-footed will end up on the ground as jukes past them.
He has enough breakaway speed to get long touchdowns in high school, but I don’t think he’s a true speed threat to just outrace people to the sideline. Once he gets into his long-speed, he doesn’t have much in the way of hesi-steps or small jukes to keep that speed and still make a man miss.
He’s also an aggressive pass blocker that seems to revel in not just blocking his man, but totally decleating them.
While Alabama is likely set at running back in 2020 with seniors Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, Jr., plus Trey Sanders returning from injury, I do think Williams will get a few touches this year.
In 2021, he’ll absolutely be part of the regular running back rotation, and may even become the lead guy in his junior year.
Jase McClellan was a last-second flip on Early Signing Day that had been a long-time Oklahoma commit. He’s a 5-star running back by some services, and just barely into the 4-star range in the Composite.
McClellan had a full set of tests where he got a 122.05 SPARQ score, and then improved on his forty, shuttle, and vertical on a second set of tests. So I included his best scores, but since he didn’t do a second attempt at the powerball, he never got an updated SPARQ number. My best estimate with the new numbers is that he’d be closer to a 129-130 SPARQ with the big improvement to his vertical.
While his 40 yard dash is more than passable for a running back, his shuttle, vertical, and powerball are absolutely outstanding. That kind of explosive athleticism is rare even in the NFL.
McClellan is a smooth, natural runner who excels at patiently picking an open spot and then immediately accelerating to top speed in the space of a few yards. That sudden explosiveness often leaves defenders grasping at air, and those close enough to try and arm tackle him are rarely successful.
When not accelerating into open field, McClellan is one of those guys that hops, fights, struggles, and wiggles his way out of tackles and always winds up with about 3-5 extra yards before going to the ground. It’s not always conventional jukes or just trucking folks, but they sure have a hard time bringing him down.
McClellan and Williams will likely be a tandem for pretty much their entire careers at Alabama. Early on, I think Williams will be the more college-ready to immediately contribute, but I think he splits time in a platoon in 2021 with Williams and Trey Sanders, and becomes an even more important change-of-pace back with Williams in their junior year.
Edwards, one of the lowest rated members of Alabama’s 2020 class, didn’t post any verified testing numbers, though he did supposedly run a 4.55 forty at a summer camp last year. At north of 210 pounds, he’s a bit bigger than the other two backs. He didn’t play all that much in high school until a breakout senior season that saw him rush for nearly 2000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Edwards would have been right at home in an old I-formation power-blocking offense of the 90s and early 2000s. He’s a straight line, full-head-of-steam kind of guy that is aiming to hit the line of scrimmage at top speed, and a hole better be opening for him when he gets there. If there’s any bit of space for him to get through, he explodes through the hole and woe be unto the linebacker hoping to make that stop after Edwards crosses the line of scrimmage.
He’s more than happy to take defenders head on, and is great at staying on his feet and continuing to push his way for extra yardage on every carry. If no one gets in his way, he’s got surprisingly good breakaway speed down the field.
That said, he doesn’t have much wiggle at all to his game, and once he has to stop to change directions or break a tackle or two, it’s not easy for him to transition back into top speed.
More than likely, Edwards takes a redshirt this year and is a solid backup option for Alabama for his career. Competing against Williams and McClellan in the same class will be tough for Edwards, particularly with how often Alabama uses zone blocking over power blocking.
Bryce Young, the crown jewel of Alabama’s 2020 recruiting class, is one of the most talked about recruits we’ve ever had. He’s the #1 overall player by the 247 rankings and #2 by the Composite.
He enrolled early, and Alabama’s roster lists him at 6’0” 190, but I think that both of those numbers are generous... He’s a small dude.
Aside from his exceptional 4.18 shuttle time (indicating elite change of direction abililty), Young’s other athletic tests were nothing special, and he’s right around league average for quarterbacks in terms of SPARQ. Which, hey, isn’t all too important for QBs.
As a senior, he won numerous player of the year awards on the heels of a season that saw him throw for 4528 yards on a 71.9% completion rate, 58 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions, and another 357 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. Just ridiculous numbers on a high school team that traveled the country to play all the other top high school teams in the US.
What can I say, there’s a reason this guy is one of the highest rated recruits Alabama has ever brought in.
Young has about as good of an arm as you’ll see in football. I saw him hit a 48-yard bomb in stride with pressure in his face, and I saw him hit another 44-yard bomb in stride while scrambling to his left. If he could hit both of those without having his feet set, I can definitely imagine that 55-60 yards in the air is no problem for him at all.
Like most short QBs, he has a preference for out routes, corners, and seam passes where his vision won’t be obstructed. He is still comfortable throwing slants and drags, but you’ll typically his receivers tend to run their slants a little more vertical than they might for a taller QB. His favorite throws are when he can get a defender to turn and run with his receiver down a seam, and he has the confidence in his arm to throw the ball the instant they turn their head— even if it’s decent coverage. If the defender’s not looking, it’s going right over their shoulder.
Again, due to his height, he’s also always going to have a tendency to like deeper drop backs where he has more room to maneuver and see around his linemen. He’s slippery and, though not really that fast in a straight line, he can make a big defensive lineman look absolutely silly trying to play tag with him. He rarely scrambles, but if an edge rusher pushes his tackle too far backwards, he’s aware enough to immediately take off through that hole that just got vacated and will pick up chunks of yards at a time against over-eager edge rushers.
Though not quite on Tua Tagovailoa’s level, he’s still much better than most high school QBs at not always locking on to a specific receiver before the throw. He doesn’t have that comfort that Tua has with using his eyes to fake the defense on every play, but he’s still generally diligent in being willing to look at multiple passing options.
If I HAD to pick nits, then I would say that I’d like to see him put more effort in executing play-action. The few times he did fake a hand-off, there was no selling of it at all.
Many expected and still expect Young to come in and win the starting job as a true freshman. He’s got the arm talent and predilection for making decisive throws, but he will still be a true freshman. I think there will be a bit of an adjustment period for him when facing a college level pass rush and all of a sudden these giant guys aren’t as easy to juke as they were in high school.
Plus, with spring practices cancelled, he won’t get that extra practice time to build the chemistry with the team needed to unseat Mac Jones.
So, he won’t start as a true freshman. But I do think he ends up becoming the #2 QB sooner rather than later, and we see quite a bit of him this year. If Mac struggles late in the season, I would not be surprised at all to see Saban do the same thing he did with Tagovailoa in 2017... and maybe a game or two earlier.
If not, then I expect Young to start as soon as Mac graduates or goes pro. And it’s really hard to predict anything short of a superstar-level season or two.