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SUPERLATIVES: 2020 Alabama Football Report Card — Running Backs

Smitty got the hardware, but the offense went through No. 22

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 11 CFP National Championship - Alabama v Ohio State Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Midseason Grade: A+
Final Grade: A

What we said at the halfway mark:

Running Backs — A+ No, Alabama doesn’t have the nation’s leading rusher, its leading running game, doesn’t lead in YPC, or lead in other statistical categories — save one: Najee Harris leads the nation in position player scoring. He is as automatic as it comes. If this offense ever needs to ride his shoulders, he’s shown he can bear the load. And he is criminally unfair as a receiver. Brian Robinson is running better and angrier than he ever has before. And Trey Sanders looks much more comfortable the more reps he gets. He will be involved much more down the stretch. If I need 4 yards on the ground, give me Najee over anyone else in the country.

Well, let’s take a look at how the ‘Bama rushing attack finished.

In the SEC, Bama finished 1st in total rushing yards, 1st in rushing scores (by a wiiiiide margin), second in YPC (5.0), and 4th in YPG despite being just 8th in rushing attempts. Najee Harris led the SEC in rushing yards, rushing scores, and was 5th among all backs in YPA (min. 100 attempts). More impressively, Mr. Automatic was second in the SEC in 3rd down conversions — 27 of 36 times he got the ball on 3rd, he converted. (Only Matt Corral was better, and he’s a quarterback). And on 4th down, he converted 75% of his attempts for a fresh set of downs.

In the air, Harris was a lethal weapon. He added 43 catches for almost 500 yards and four scores — and he was at his best as a receiver when ‘Bama was playing for titles: 16 of those catches and all four scores came against Florida, Notre Dame, and Ohio State.

You can’t coach this folks:

In short, the running game was as automatic as it got last year, with Najee carving out a legacy for himself as perhaps the best all-around ‘back of the Saban era. And he only got better as the season progressed.

So, why did the grade drop to A from an A+? Two things, really. The first is the loss of Trey Sanders following an automobile accident. Yes, his loss was offset somewhat by Jase McClellan, but losing the player who was expected to be in the mix for RB1 this season is a huge blow to team depth and his development. The second reason was the inconsistency of Brian Robinson. In short, he had games where he was ineffective, in fact, had stretches throughout the season where he disappeared — and Coach Sarkisian was usually able to diagnose it early and keep him on the bench.

Looking at just his season stats, they are respectable for a backup — 6 scores, 5.31 YPC. But all six of those scores came against teams with losing records, and in 7 games he averaged less than 5 YPC. That’s somewhat disconcerting too, given that 56 of those 91 carries came in the second half, and all but 10 carries came when Alabama had a double-digit lead.

Are these quibbles? Of course. But when you are coming off the greatest season in College Football history, these warts seem almost petty next to the post mortem other teams do at season’s end.

Is BRob RB1 in 2021? Who knows. But when the splits are examined this offseason, I wouldn’t expect a coronation for him either, especially when you’ve just spent over a decade being spoiled by an unbroken string of starting running backs that were the portrait of consistency and versatility: Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris. Is the veteran BRob at the level of any of these players? For now, no. But many players grew into greatness, like Damien Harris.

However, we can only assess 2020 for now, and that inconsistency is a demerit on this unit’s grade. So we “settle” for an A, huh?


Final Grade: Running Backs

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    (428 votes)
  • 26%
    (157 votes)
  • 1%
    B+ (which is already kind of trollish, y’all)
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
594 votes total Vote Now