Round two for the RBR All-Saban team will focus on the running backs— the lifeblood of the offense for much of Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa. While quarterbacks have dominated the media’s attention across the national landscape of college football, at Alabama, it’s been the running backs that have racked up awards Heisman Trophies.
As such, it should make for a rather fun debate over which of these ball-toting maestros is actually the best of the bunch. Here’s the rules for the contest:
The rules are fairly simple here, but also they absolutely will not be totally consistent. I’m making them up as we go and each position will be handled differently. I will choose the top candidates for spots on the All-Saban team, and different members of the RBR staff will present their argument to you as to why his player should be considered over the others. There is no criteria on the type of argument, so anything from stats, to important plays, to NFL performance is fair game.
For the running backs, I think that we should have a starter and rotational back up on the first team and the same for the second team. Kind of a 1A and 1B type of thing. For the first set of arguments, Alabama has had three running backs that stand above the rest in Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Derrick Henry. We’ll hear the arguments for each of these guys, and then you’ll vote on which two are on the first team and which ends up on the 2nd team.
Following that, we’ll have a free-for-all for that 4th spot. Looking at Alabama’s running backs over the years, it’s going to be a tough job to figure out who really gets that #4 ranking.
CB969 on Derrick Henry:
No one running back dominated and single-handedly won games like El Tractorcito. With a body like a linebacker at 6’3” and 242lbs, and speed of a deer, his relentless and punishing running ability killed clocks and broke the wills of many a man. Drop him for a loss? Guess what. He’s coming right back at you again. And again. And again.
Henry came to Tuscaloosa as part of the legendary Class of 2012 rated 5-stars and ranked No. 12 overall. He was so good that fellow freshmen RBs Alvin Kamara, Altee Tenpenny, and Tyren Jones saw the writing on the wall and would all eventually transfer out.
With Nick Saban’s inclination to roll with incumbents, he played behind T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake as a freshman. Even still, Henry showed flashes of what would come averaging 10.9 yards per carry on 35 attempts on the season.
In his sophomore campaign, Henry saw more touches finishing the year with 990 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns plus two receiving scores. Three times, he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark and had 149 total yards in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State.
2015 was El Año Del Tractorcito. Saban favorite Yeldon was off to Jacksonville and Drake was coming back from an injury. That allowed Henry to step up into the spotlight. With Alabama returning only three starters on offense, Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knew it would be a tough row to hoe. Looking back, why were they so concerned? Henry merely ran over and around every poor soul who dared step in his path. He would lead the nation in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Four times he went over 200 yards rushing in a game - all of which were SEC West foes and three ranked teams. A favorite Henry game has got to be the Iron Bowl in which he unyieldingly pummeled woeful Auburn defenders into submission.
For his Herculean efforts, he rightfully was awarded the Heisman Trophy, the Doak Walker Award, Walter Camp Award, and named unanimous All-American. Oh, yeah. And the 2015 National Championship.
At a school known for running the ball, Henry did it the best. He holds the school records in career yards (3,591) and career rushing scores (42), and did it in only three seasons. He obliterated the single season records in yardage with 2,219 and ground scores at 28 - BOTH of which are also SEC records. Ponder that for a moment. I’ll go make a sandwich while you put the pieces of your mind back together. Best Saban era running back? Pshaw. Best ever.
DrWhosOnFirst on Mark Ingram:
Ingram helped build the Alabama dynasty. A member of the Class of 2008, he came down to Tuscaloosa from Flint, Michigan and bought into what Nick Saban was creating before it existed.
As a freshman, Ingram made an immediate impact, providing a solid 1-2 punch with Glenn Coffee ahead of him. He rushed for 728 yards on 143 carries and led the team with 12 rushing touchdowns. Then, in 2009, Ingram went on to win Alabama’s first ever Heisman. He had 271 carries for 1,658 yards (6.12 yards/carry) and 17 touchdowns, adding 334 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns while also being the team’s third-leading receiver. Ingram missed the first two games of his junior year with a knee injury; and those two games almost definitely cost him a second-straight 1,000 campaign, as he finished with 875 yards.
Ingram had 46 career touchdowns (Henry had 45). He had 3,931 career yards from scrimmage (Henry with 3,876 yards). Henry’s 2,219 rushing yards in his Heisman campaign far eclipsed Ingram’s 1,658 yards, but Henry did have 124 extra carries.
Henry was ridiculous in 2015 and deserved all those carries, but he also had to take all those extra carries because there was really no one else. The rest of Alabama’s backs carried the ball 152 times in 2015; Ingram’s primary back-up, Trent Richardson, had 144 carries alone in 2009.
Henry put up more raw numbers, but Ingram was more efficient (6.6 yards/touch vs. 5.7 yards/touch). Of course, the flip side is that Henry didn’t get the same rest as Ingram and didn’t have someone like Richardson also wearing defenses down. Then again, Henry had Lane Kiffin calling plays for him compared to Jim McElwain.
Ingram proved he could put the team on his back, though. Against South Carolina, Ingram ran the ball 24 times, including the final six offensive plays for the Tide with most coming out of the wildcat, for 246 yards.
Ingram finished his career with 3,261 rushing yards and 670 receiving yards. He also rarely had negative plays; in 564 carries, Ingram lost just 63 yards. And nobody holds a candle to Ingram when it comes to protecting the ball. He had 634 touches and fumbled the ball just three times, good for 211.3 touches/fumble (Henry is third with 123.8 touches/fumble).
You can’t go wrong with either Ingram or Henry, but give me Ingram.
Brent on Trent Richardson:
Sure, Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry get all the hype for winning Heisman trophies. But Trent Richardson’s 2011 season as a whole was possibly the most impressive single-season effort of them all. Ingram had Julio Jones, a veteran QB in Greg McElroy and a young Richardson to help him out on offense, and Henry had genius offensive coordinator, a QB with a huge arm, and Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart catching deep bombs to loosen up the defenses. Meanwhile, Trent Richardson was breaking in a very young A.J. McCarron and was the team’s 3rd leading receiver behind Marquis Maze and Brad Smelley... Not exactly fear inspiring targets.
Richardson’s 2011 season was better than Ingram’s Heisman-winning 2009 in pretty much every statistical category. In his two games against LSU (possibly the best Non-Alabama defensive team of the last decade), he put up nearly 300 total yards and the Tide’s only touchdown in the series— All while Alabama’s passing offense was totally anemic.
My favorite thing about Trent Richardson was how his highlight reels never really did justice just how good he really was. Sure, he had some impressive big plays, but some of his best runs were of the 6-yard variety that should have been a tackle in the backfield and it wound up taking the entire team to bring him to the ground. And he did it all game, every single game.
But hey, big plays are fun, too.
So, you’ve heard the arguments for each. What order will you put them in?
What order should Alabama’s top-three running backs be in?
1A- Mark Ingram, 1B- Derrick Henry, 2A-Trent Richardson(85 votes)
1A- Ingram, 1B- Richardson, 2A- Henry(8 votes)
1A- Richardson, 1B- Ingram, 2A- Henry(3 votes)
1A- Richardson, 1B- Henry, 2A- Ingram(34 votes)
1A- Henry, 1B- Ingram, 2A- Richardson(449 votes)
1A- Henry, 1B- Richardson, 2A- Ingram(140 votes)
That was the easy part. The real question now will be: who gets to share that 2nd team spot with one of the big three?
Josh on T.J. Yeldon:
T.J. Yeldon will probably never get enough credit from Alabama fans, mostly because the team fell short of the ultimate prize in his last two seasons. There was so much to love about T.J., though. First off, he flipped from Auburn just before the dead period in 2011 which set off one of the most fantastic meltdown threads ever.
Here it is for your enjoyment. Please read and take it into consideration when you vote.
Yeldon was a complete back at Alabama, adding 494 receiving yards and outstanding pass pro to his 3.322 rushing yards. Most importantly, despite working as the understudy to Eddie Lacy as a freshman, he made two clutch plays that may well have saved a championship season. One was a critical 4th-and-4 that he earned on second effort against Georgia in the SEC Championship game.
Do I have to remind you of the other?
You want versatility from a third running back, and T.J. has it in spades. His career stats are superior to the other three in this category as well. This choice is easy, folks.
Roger on his favorite, Najee Harris:
Najee Harris, National number one player in the country when he graduated from Antioch High School in 2017. An Alabama commit who was rumored to be a possible flip to Jim Harbough and Michigan. Harris was not a typical teenager, he didn’t participate in social media and has never been one to seek the spotlight.
Najee never addressed the rumors, but just boarded a plane and matriculated in Tuscaloosa. As a freshman Harris backed up Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough and tallied 370 yards on just 61 carries, and was the leading rusher in the National Championship Game. In 2018 Harris again backed up Damien, and well as eventual first round pick Josh Jacobs. Najee had 91 carries for 661 yards, finishing just 30 yards behind Damien as team leader.
In 2019 Najee finally got his time to shine, and led the team with 1,224 yards on 209 carries and scored 13 touchdowns rushing. Putting the rumors of bad hands to rest, Najee added 27 catches for 304 yards and seven more touchdowns. Harris also showed a willingness to block and became an asset in pass protection.
Najee Harris will enter the 2020 season 15th in school history in all time rushing yards. With 2377 yards in three season, the rising senior will need only 1214 yards to rise to the top and pass Derrick Henry’s 3591 all time yards. Anyone in that neighborhood deserves strong consideration for a spot on this team. Also no one has as many highlights literally hurdling over opponents as Najee Harris does. This kid is the real deal, and deserves a spot on this team. Vote Najee
BamaBrave4 on Eddie Lacy:
15th in rushing yards all-time in school history in just 3 season is impressive for Najee, no doubt, especially since he has had only one full season as the starter. But, you know who is 13th on that same list despite having to back-up two of the top three in this group for his first two seasons? Big-man Eddie Lacy, the definition of the power run game.
*Terrible Highlight Music Warning*
Lacy was given the nick-name ‘Circle Button’ due to his incredible spin move (as displayed numerous times in the video) for a guy his size. He is also a two-time National Champion, and played a significant role on both of those back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. Only one other running-back (Trent Richardson) in the Saban era can say that. Hell, very few other running-backs in history can say that. 8th in Alabama’s career rushing touchdowns list, Lacy is one of the few guys in consideration that followed-up his incredible career at Alabama with a successful pro career. It might have been short-lived (what running-back’s pro career isn’t these days?), but Lacy’s back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2013-2014 helped him crack into the top-ten all-time in Green Bay Packers’ career rushing list. Let me know when any of the other contenders for the fourth spot do that.
This is about recognizing the best and most iconic players in the Nick Saban era. When you think of Alabama running-backs during this historic dynasty run, you think Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy. Najee might supplant him depending on how things go next season; but for now, the choice is clear.
Brent on Damien Harris:
A five-star recruit who spurned his home state Kentucky to come to Alabama, Damien Harris spent his first year as a freshman as the primary back-up to Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Which is to say he didn’t play much. But as a sophomore, he immediate broke out and averaged an absolutely ridiculous 7.1 yards per carry for over 1000 yards while splitting time with Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs (plus QB Jalen Hurts taking away some of his carries).
And lest you think that was a fluke season, he followed that up in 2017 with an even more ludicrous 7.4 yards per carry for 1000 yards again. Again, this despite the fact that Hurts was taking carries and the Tide’s passing game didn’t exactly force a defense to be playing off the line of scrimmage.
His senior year saw a slight drop in his rushing numbers due to the phenom that was Tua Tagovailoa commanding all of the offensive stats, but he doubled his output in receiving yards and still went over 1000 total on the season. How many non QB players in Alabama history have gone over 1000 yards in three straight seasons?
His 7.4 yards per carry in 2017 was better than anything Lacy, Yeldon, or Najee did in any single season (and better than Richardson’s, Ingram’s, and Henry’s best seasons as well). He never quite had the volume of some of the other guys due to a change in offensive philosophy, but Damien was by far the most efficient.
I had to make some hard cuts here, as nearly every starting Alabama RB deserved to be in consideration. Glenn Coffee had a 1300 yard season, but I think most agree he didn’t quite have the sheer talent that some of these other guys did. And Josh Jacobs actually was drafted in the first round (better than everyone else on this list), but he was injured for most of his second season and never actually started or broke 1000 yards in a season. If you disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Who was Nick Saban’s 4th best running back at Alabama?
Eddie Lacy(288 votes)
T.J. Yeldon(142 votes)
Damien Harris(82 votes)
Najee Harris(81 votes)