In the state of Alabama, there are a few important people that everyone knows the name of. There’s the governor. There’s Nick Saban. Then there’s the starting QB and RB for the Crimson Tide. And that’s pretty much it. One of these guys will touch the ball on every single offensive play, and they will be the most scrutinized and recognizable players on the team.
In this class, Alabama added a single quarterback and two running backs, though we’ll also look at a 3rd running back who has transferred in from Georgia Tech.
All heights, weights, and rankings come from the 247Sports composite, though I may mention other recruiting services if any of them have a particular noteworthy differing opinion.
The son of the head coach at UT Martin in Chattanooga, Ty Simpson has long been on the radar as one of, if not the, top QB for this class. Many thought he was a mortal lock to Tennessee early in his career, but he wound up committing to Alabama early in 2021 and was a centralizing recruiting force for the Tide throughout the recruiting cycle.
Simpson took his team to back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior, grabbing the title and MVP in his final high school game. In terms of a resume for a QB coming in, Simpson has everything a college coach could ask for.
Simpson is the kind of player that would put up about half a billion yards in a Lane Kiffin offense based around the read option. He’s got good speed, even better suddenness in his step, and has a great feel for setting up defenders and making them miss in the open field. At the mesh point, he’s deliberate with his play fakes and crisp when pulling the ball and bursting the other direction when keeping it.
As a passer, Simpson loves going deep, and has 0 issues with trusting his receiver down the sidelines any time they’re one on one without a safety over the top. He displays a very nice rainbow and touch on his passes that allow his receivers to run under them without underthrowing it, and can hit those fade shots anywhere from 15-55 yards down the field.
He’s also got a good feel for hitting receivers on slants and 10-yard in-breaking routes, and can get the ball around defenders in zone on those passes.
In the pocket, Simpson is nimble on his feet and is perfectly willing to step up into a clean pocket and make a strike across the middle with the consistent footwork that would make a 90s NFL QB proud. However, he’s not going to stand and face pressure while making throws like Mac Jones. He’s much more like Tua Tagovailoa in that he’s likely to try to whirly-bird around an incoming rusher before readjusting and going for a huge play down the field.
In high school, this works a lot. In college, he’s going to take some really bad sacks. He’ll need to work on how to balance his scrambling and big-play ability with more patience to hit a second read while getting pressured.
Of course, that statement can be said for pretty much every high school QB, most college QBs, and, honestly, most NFL starting QBs.
I’ve always been of the opinion that an offensive scheme should always be designed to fit the starting QB, and not try to force a QB to be something he’s not. Simpson will be best utilized with a lot of playaction, RPOs and read options that make his legs a threat, and one that allows him to challenge the field vertically once safeties start cheating up to stop the rushing threats.
Obviously, Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, will be the starter at QB for Alabama in 2022. And that’s a good thing, because I think there’s going to be an adjustment period for Simpson as he comes to terms with defensive linemen now being faster than he is, and how he needs to deal with that.
Come 2023, though, I fully expect him to be the starter for Alabama.
Miller committed to Alabama in late November, leading to the commitment of the top-100 player going a bit under the radar with the regular season going on and the other two running backs on this list getting the headlines the previous offseason and in December.
However, Miller boasts 4 straight years of high-level production at a 6A Texas football program and a track star to boot. He totaled nearly 6000 yards of offense in 4 seasons, with an absolutely nutty junior year where he averaged 10 yards per carry for 2000 yards in only 11 games.
You’ll have to forgive me in advance for the outpouring of praise you’re about to get, but Miller might well be my favorite running back recruit to come to Alabama since Trent Richardson. The dude is one of the most natural RBs I’ve ever seen.
Though he’s listed at less than 200 pounds, he’s built compactly and runs with a combination of balance, power, and quick feet that make him nearly impossible for 1, 2, or even three defenders to get him on the ground. He’s a wizard when navigating traffic in tight spaces, and often will disappear behind his blockers, shed a tackle, and then burst out into open field and outrace everyone to the endzone.
He can make a defender miss, sidestep another defender in the next instant, and finish off a run by plowing directly through a 3rd guy and picking up an extra 8 yards. There really isn’t a move in the book he can’t do, he’s tough, aggressive, slippery, and can change it all into a homerun gear when he gets the room to go.
The only reason he’s not a 5-star, top 15 prospect is his size.
To add some more cherries on the guy’s game, he’s a legitimate every down contributor. He’s a a freight train of a lead blocker on the perimeter when trying to spring wide receivers free on jet sweeps. As a wide receiver, he can play on the outside, obliterate press coverage, and track and high point a poorly thrown deep ball 40 yards down field, all while stiff-arming a DB into the dirt.
I don’t care what offensive scheme you run, this is the kind of glue player that can do it all and will do it with fire in his eyes. He did most of his rushing damage on zone runs in high school, and excelled at hitting cutback lanes at rocket speed, but I think he’d be totally fine with a power rushing scheme if needed. He’ll definitely be a regular in the passing game and as a blocker on the perimeter if the offense is one that relies on a lot of horizontal yardage.
While the running back group may be tough to break into this year due to the glut of returning players plus an All-American level transfer, I think Miller is a guy that we start hearing about very early and often in spring and summer ball this year, and the coaches find some way to get him on the field, whether that be special teams (gunner, returner, something) or as an occasional 3rd down back.
He’ll be a fan favorite for the next few years as well, and I think he’ll have at least two seasons as a major part of the rushing rotation.
Henderson was one of Alabama’s longest tenured commitments of the 2022 class, and was a 5-star prospect for most of the recruiting cycle before slipping a little in the rankings at the very end. He dominated 2A competition for the last couple of years as a RB, WR, LB, S, and even occasionally at QB, and could very well end up projecting to a safety rather than a running back.
Henderson is a long limbed, high-cut runner with a massive stride and insanely powerful acceleration into that top speed. He’ll remind many Alabama fans of former Tide running back, Kenyan Drake, as a guy who can use his long stride to obliterate pursuit angles and still make deadly downfield moves at top speed to send defenders sprawling in the open field. He’s aggressive with the ball in his hands, and is more than happy to plant his foot and explode across the body of a defender— either he makes the guy miss, or just trucks him. Either way, it’s that kind of rare athletic dominance that made Henderson a 5-star prospect.
He’s got natural hands as both a receiver and on defense, and even has a one-handed, diving interception on his resume.
As is often the case with these small-school iron man players, he’s going to come to college as a player with some habits developed from being able to out-athlete everyone around him (such as wanting to bounce the ball outside all the time, rather than following blocking design) as well as finding a correct position fit. He’s built more like lanky safety or a powerful receiver, but has most of his production as a running back.
I think Henderson could be best in a power blocking run game that allows him to follow lead blockers and pulling guards into big running lanes, where he can then translate that space into an explosion of yards in the second level. Patiently finding cutbacks and picking lanes in a zone blocking scheme would likely take him a couple of years to really start to learn.
He also has potential to be a deadly change-of-pace back, again, similar to how Alabama once used Kenyan Drake. Get him out in space and isolated on linebackers in the passing game, and he can be an athletic mismatch.
With him not enrolling until summer, being a small-school guy with many positions, and the running back room already being crowded, I don’t expect we see Henderson his freshman year. He’ll probably spend the year trying to bulk up to closer to 205 pounds or so and pick a position to focus on.
Finally, we get to the transfer portal guy. Gibbs averaged 150 all-purpose yards per game in his sophomore season at Georgia Tech as one of the lone bright spots on a bad team. He averaged over 5 yards per carry despite a horrid OL, racked up nearly 500 receiving yards, and averaged 26 yards per kick return.
Gibbs runs like a squirrel amped up on a can of Red Bull— if that squirrel also taped a couple of bottle rockets to his back and launched himself out of a slingshot.
He’s an electric player whose feet seem to blur at such a frenetic pace, and he can use that blend of speed and quickness with elite-level vision to navigate to open space, make someone miss, and then rocket away down the field. Get him to the edge of the formation, and ACC-level defenders just never stood a chance at corralling him in the open field. And though he lacks the size to truly be a downhill power runner, he’s still got elite patience and vision at the line of scrimmage to pick his spot and shoot through to pick up some tough yards when it’s needed.
In the passing game, he’s one of the most deadly screen pass runners in the entirety of college football, and is the ultimate dump-off safety valve for a QB looking to pad his stats with a free big play.
That all also translates to his game as a kick return man, as he’s able to navigate and plan routes through an entire field of traffic, and has the foot speed to make those cuts happen and burst into the lanes to make huge plays.
Gibbs is the perfect change-of-pace back and receiver out of the backfield as a guy who can rattle off huge plays and put some major stress on the defense on the edges of the field and moving horizontally. Further than that, his presence will lend to being an effective decoy on RPOs, two-back sets, and backfield motion.
Back in 2011, Bill O’Brien used running backs like Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, and Shane Vereen as receiving backs for the New England Patriots, so he has a history of making very good use of this type of back in the passing game as someone who can take over a game and frustrate defenses over and over with dump off passes and screens.
Gibbs will be part of the 1A-1B rotation as a starting running back for Alabama this season. I think he winds up 3rd on the team in rushing yards, 3rd or 4th in receiving yards, and is also the team’s starting kick returner on his way to an All-SEC bid as an all-purpose player.