In terms of potential, there’s no doubt that the Alabama football team might have a special group at running back this season.
Even with a couple of position changes, there are still six backs, all of whom could make significant contribution.
“We’ll be at practice and I kind of look back and it’s like, ‘We’ve got this many guys?’” junior running back Damien Harris said. “There’s a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys who are ready to work hard.”
Harris is coming off a 1,000-yard season. Junior Bo Scarbrough had an eye-opening postseason until suffering a fractured leg in the national championship game. Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons got off to good starts.
Plus in the recruiting Class of 2017, Nick Saban added Najee Harris, who was hailed by some as the nation’s best prospect, plus local standout Brian Robinson, another big back who’s tough to bring down.
“We do have a lot of good running backs,” Saban said. “We went from not having very many to having a whole bunch.”
When it’s all said and done, this collection could end up challenging to be called the best set of running backs Alabama has had under Saban, if not ever. Since 2007, a few position groups clearly stand out, and for a variety of different reasons.
Here are the five best groups in the Saban era:
1. Offensive line in 2012
Alabama’s 2008 offensive line had future NFL players Andre Smith and Mike Johnson. The 2011 unit featured most of the same players with William Vlachos at center. But the 2012 line was an NFL line with bulk that was unparalleled in Crimson Tide history. Reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones moved from left tackle to center to make room for Cyrus Kouandjio, with Chance Warmack at left guard, D.J. Fluker at right tackle and Anthony Steen at right guard. They’re a big reason why Alabama simply ran over Notre Dame in the national championship game.
2. Defensive line in 2015
It was almost unfair the way Alabama was able to attack opposing offenses in waves, as the Crimson Tide went 10 deep plus rotated in pass-rushers in obvious passing situations. The group included A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson, D. J. Pettway, Da’Shawn Hand, Joshua Frazier and Darren Lake. Ryan Anderson was the “Jack” linebacker, which is hybrid defensive end/linebacker position in Saban’s defensive scheme.
3. Running backs in 2010
It wasn’t so much because of their production, as no one had more than 875 rushing yards, but the names on the depth chart made this a jaw-dropping group. It featured reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr., future Doak Walker Award winner Trent Richardson, and human wrecking balls Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler. Ingram tallied 1,658 rushing yards in 2009, Richardson 1,740 in 2011 and Lacy 1,322 in 2012.
4. Linebackers in 2016
Alabama has essentially become Linebacker U under Saban, with three Butkus Award winners since 2009, and six consensus first-team All-Americans (plus a couple of non-consensus). However, last year’s corps was led by Reuben Foster, with Anderson and pass-rusher Tim Williams on the outside. All three were selected within the first 78 picks in the NFL Draft. When Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a torn ACL in the SEC Championship Game, he was replaced by Rashaan Evans, who made 11 tackles in the national title game.
5. Linebackers in 2011
There are numerous groups of Alabama linebackers that could have made this list, like the 2009 unit that was led by Rolando McClain. However, the 2011 corps had C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest all as interior linebackers, with Courtney Upshaw leading the outside linebackers at Jack.