That makes 11, so the Big Good Surprise is a back-up.
My selection is is running back Jase McClellan, a 5-11, 212-pound sophomore running back from Aledo, Texas. In last year’s 13-0 national championship season, McClellan saw most of his playing time on special teams, but also had 23 rushes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. He played in every game. His 80-yard TD run against Arkansas was Bama’s longest run from scrimmage in 2020. In the first game in which he carried the football, against Kentucky, he rushed 10 times for 99 yards and a touchdown.
This prediction depends in part on the success of others, quarterback Bryce Young running a multiple offense, the line doing its part, and, particularly, McClellan being a change of pace from the pounding the defense has received from Brian Robinson.
Honestly, I don’t think that McClellan being a “surprise” is the question. The real question is whether or not he’ll be able to outright wrest the starting job away from 5th year senior Brian Robinson before the end of the season. He really does have that blend of explosive talent, size, and smooth balance that could turn into more than just a capable runner, but a superstar player.
2020 record: 13-0, national champions
2021 preseason FPI: 1
Key September games: Sept. 4 vs. Miami; Sept. 18 at Florida
Season outlook: Another year, another championship, another rebuild. Replacing DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Mac Jones on offense won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to recreate the magic of Steve Sarkisian calling plays. But Nick Saban went out and got a former college and pro coach in Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator. John Metchie is back at receiver, along with veteran running back Brian Robinson. All eyes will be on projected starting quarterback Bryce Young, though. The dynamic former five-star recruit was Jones’ understudy last season and has all the tools to be an all-conference player. How he deals with the learning curve of major college football will go a long way toward determining whether Alabama reloads and competes for another championship. — Alex Scarborough
The ESPN staff has picked Alabama as the clear #1 in the preseason, which usually isn’t great for the Tide’s title hopes in 2021. Things just seem to go better every time the media tries to bury Saban and his squad over the offseason.
In any case, I also can’t see how any journalist can really pick any other team with how thoroughly Alabama dominated the entire college football landscape last year.
Also, I know it was just a single blurb about the Tide, but the fact that Scarborough didn’t so much as mention the Alabama defense and how much talent they are returning in 2021 seems a bit of a disservice.
He was asked point blank, “Does it feel hopeless at times given how great Alabama is?”
Kiffin answered in a way that only he could.
“A little bit, you know, at times, recruiting, especially when he announces that his backup quarterback from last year is getting $1 million. That’s going to be a little hard to recruit against. I mean, he just accidentally threw that out there,” Kiffin quipped.
The reference, obviously, was to Saban’s announcement last month - a day before his appearance at SEC Media Days - that Bryce Young had NIL deals worth close to seven figures.
Kiffin went into his time at Alabama and how the Crimson Tide’s offense changed during his time in Tuscaloosa, which, in turn, changed the way Saban recruited. He joked that recruiting change made it more difficult for the rest of the league.
“Now, it’s an issue for all of us,” he said. “It used to be you had a chance to beat them on offense because they were so conservative. Well, now they are winning all these awards and everything and scoring 50 points a game. So, now, no one beats them on defensive players or offensive players.”
To be frank, Alabama’s most successful position groups in the NFL in the Nick Saban era are probably wide receivers and running backs (Julio Jones, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Mark Ingram, Josh Jacobs...... etc), so even with as much flak as the Tide caught for a conservative offense in the past, they’ve still put out elite talent.
In any case, seeing all the offensive awards come in for QBs, receivers, and running backs the last few years has to be a HUGE boon for attracting even more top talent.
Las Vegas added a third former Alabama running back to much less fanfare last week.
When running back Theo Riddick decided to retire rather than play a ninth NFL season, the Raiders signed BJ Emmons.
An undrafted rookie from Florida Atlantic, Emmons had signed with the Seattle Seahawks in May. He was available for Las Vegas after being released on June 16.
Speaking of former Tide running backs, coach John Gruden has really gone all in with former Saban recruits at the position group. Josh Jacobs has quickly become one of the top backs in the NFL, and Kenyan Drake has had some stellar seasons in Miami and Arizona before making his way to become a 1-2 punch with Jacobs in Vegas.
Now, former Alabama recruit B.J. Emmons, who only played his freshman season for the Tide before transferring, has found his way out west as well.
Roll Raiders Roll, I guess?