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Alabama Crimson Tide 2021 Fall Football Preview: Running Backs

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Brian Robinson Jr. heads a talented, if largely unproven, running back room.

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

There have been several changes since Josh broke down the running back room in March. A summer enrollee entered the fold while two players transferred out. Despite that, the position group is still stacked.

The Departed

Keilan Robinson - Robinson was an exciting prospect that we did not get to see much of. The former 4 star played in some blowouts as a freshman in 2019, rushing for 259 yards with two touchdowns of 46 yards and 74 yards. He sat out last season, however, which gave some other players opportunities to prove themselves. Robinson returned to the team, and the staff experimented with him some at wide receiver. K-Rob only had a handful of touches at A-Day and hit the transfer portal in June.

Kyle Edwards - He entered the transfer portal shortly after Robinson did. Edwards was a 3 star recruit in the Class of 2020 out of Louisiana. Buried on a deep depth chart during a season without any cupcake games, he never saw the field last year. Edwards also only got limited work at A-Day, recording three touches.

The Starter

Brian Robinson - The Tuscaloosa native is finally getting his chance to be the guy for the Tide. He’s been the #2 running back behind Najee Harris the last two seasons and has looked solid. He accounted for 509 yards from scrimmage last season with 6 touchdowns. With Harris gone, B-Rob has been the #1 back; and Nick Saban has been complimentary of him throughout the offseason. Following Najee is a tough act, but I’m excited to see Robinson finally get to start. While he should be a quality starter, B-Rob probably won’t have the same dominant share of touches that Harris had; and that’s because of these youngsters.

The Challengers

Trey Sanders - According to Saban, Sanders is close to 100% healthy after suffering a hip injury in a scary car accident last year. The former #6 overall recruit in the Class of 2019 missed his freshman season after a foot injury, but he was starting to flash that 5 star talent last year. In consecutive games against Tennessee and Mississippi State, he rushed for 119 yards on 19 carries. His health is obviously the most important thing; and, with the other running backs Alabama has, there’s no need to rush him back. But if (when) Sanders is fully healthy, he’ll be a threat.

Jase McClellan - McClellan was a big beneficiary of Keilan Robinson’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season. While not getting a ton of work on offense, the former 4 star still finished as the Tide’s third-leading rusher and jumped immediately into Sanders’s role. In the first game after Sanders’s injury, McClellan got his first career carry, rushing 10 times for 99 yards with 1 touchdown (it was the fourth-most rushing yards by an Alabama back in his debut). A few weeks later, McClellan rushed for 95 yards on six carries, one of those going for an 80 yard touchdown, the Tide’s longest rush of the season. He continued to excite at A-Day, accounting for 108 yards from scrimmage (46 rushing, 62 receiving)

Roydell Williams - Williams also took advantage of the absence of K-Rob and Sanders and earned some touches last year. He had 19 carries for 71 yards with 1 touchdown while finding the field in blowouts. Williams will again face stiff competition for touches in 2021, but like McClellan he made his case at A-Day, totaling 108 yards (43 rushing, 65 receiving).

The Newcomer

Camar Wheaton - It will be interesting to see where the former 5 star back slots in. He didn’t enroll until the summer, but he has plenty of potential. And if the staff does ease Sanders back into things slowly, Wheaton should get some early opportunities, especially with Mercer in Week 2.

Depth Chart

  1. Brian Robinson
  2. Jase McClellan
  3. Trey Sanders
  4. Roydell Williams
  5. Camar Wheaton

B-Rob will open the season as the starter, and I think he’ll end the season as starter. However, the two running backs behind him will command more touches as the year goes on; and we won’t see Robinson dominating the touches like Najee Harris did.

For now, I’ll say McClellan will be the #2 guy because Sanders is still coming back from the injury; but if Sanders is fully ready from the get-go, I think it’ll be more of a 2a and 2b situation.