You may remember our own Marq Burnett posing the question last month asking Alabama fans to pick the two best non-Heisman Trophy-winning running backs from the Nick Saban era. His selections were Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon.
Considering the depth of talent the Crimson Tide have had at the position, it’s one of those questions that probably doesn’t have a wrong answer.
But who would you consider to be the best non-Heisman-winning running backs in Alabama history?
Fifty-eight Crimson Tide players have topped 1,000 career rushing yards, but only 11 have topped 2,500 yards:
- Derrick Henry (2013-15) — 3,591
- Shaun Alexander (1996-99) — 3,565
- Bobby Humphrey (1985-88) — 3,420
- Kennedy Darby (2003-06) — 3,329
- T.J. Yeldon (2012-14) — 3,322
- Mark Ingram (2008-10) — 3,261
- Trent Richardson (2009-11) — 3,130
- Johnny Musso (1969-71) — 2,741
- Dennis Riddle (1994-97) — 2,645
- Bobby Marlow (1950-52) — 2,604
- Johnny Davis (1974-77) — 2,519
Take out the two Heisman winners — Henry and Ingram — and add Damien Harris, who has 2,194 career rushing yards and is attempting the become the first Alabama player to notch three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and we have our 10 finalists.
Among those just missing the cut include Sherman Williams, Eddie Lacy, Shaud Williams, Ricky Moore, Glen Coffee and Siran Stacy.
However, there are numerous other things that should be taken into consideration. Among them:
• Humphrey still holds the Alabama record for career all-purpose yards with 4,958, edging Richardson (4,580), Alexander (4,433) and, believe it or not, cornerback Javier Arenas (4,006), who returned punts and kicks. Humphrey’s career average of 141.7 per game is almost 15 more than the next-best player, Shaud Williams at 127.3.
• Marlow has the best yards-per-rush average (minimum 400 carries) at 6.3, ahead of Henry (6.0) and Richardson (5.8). Harris is averaging 6.7, and has averaged approximately 140 carries the last two seasons, so he has a good chance to top the mark if he can stay healthy.
• In terms of honors, Richardson was the first Alabama player to win the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back. Alexander was the player of the year in 1999. Humphrey was a two-time All-American and selected as Alabama’s offensive player of the decade for the 1980s. Musso was an All-American and an academic All-American.
• Henry had the most 100-yard games with 16, followed by Alexander and Humphrey with 15, and Richardson with 12. Henry and Humphrey had the most 200-yard games with four, while Alexander did it three times.
• Alexander still holds the mark for most career carries with 727, ahead of Darby (702), Humphrey (615) and Riddle (612). Because the college football season can now last up to 15 games, one would expect that to result in more attempts. That hasn’t been the case. Among the top 10 in career attempts, only four players are from the Saban era: Henry (602), Yeldon (576), Ingram (572) and Richardson (540).
For a comparative look at how Saban’s used his running backs, here are the game, season and career rushing leaders for when was the coach at Toledo in 1990, Michigan State from 1995-99, LSU from 2000-04 and Alabama:
Rushing leaders by game
- Derrick Henry, Alabama at Auburn, 2015 — 271
- Alley Broussard, LSU vs. Ole Miss, 2004 — 250
- Mark Ingram, Alabama vs. South Carolina, 2009 — 246
- Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State vs. Penn State, 1997 — 238
- Derrick Henry, Alabama at Texas A&M, 2015 — 236
- Marc Renaud, Michigan State vs. Minnesota, 1995 — 229
- Glen Coffee, Alabama vs. Kentucky, 2008 — 218
- Derrick Henry, Alabama vs. LSU, 2015 — 210
- Derrick Henry, Alabama at Mississippi State, 2015 — 204
- Trent Richardson, Alabama at Auburn, 2011 — 203
- Justin Vincent, LSU vs. Georgia, 2003 — 201
Rushing leaders by season
- Derrick Henry, Alabama, 2015 — 395 carries, 2,219 yards
- Trent Richardson, Alabama, 2011 — 283-1,679
- Mark Ingram, Alabama, 2009 — 271-1,658
- Glen Coffee, Alabama, 2008 — 233-1,383
- Eddie Lacy, Alabama, 2012 — 204-1,322
- Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State, 1997 — 246-1,270
- T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, 2013 — 207-1,246
- Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State, 1998 — 272-1,167
- T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, 2012 — 175-1,108
- Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State, 1996 — 237-1,067
Career rushing leaders
- Derrick Henry, Alabama, 2013-15 — 602 carries, 3,591 yards
- Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State, 1996-98 — 755-3,504
- T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, 2012-14 — 576-3,322
- Mark Ingram, Alabama, 2008-10 — 572-3,281
- Trent Richardson, Alabama, 2009-11 — 540-3,130
- Eddie Lacy, Alabama, 2010-12 — 355-2,402
- Damien Harris, Alabama, 2015-17 — 327-2,194
- LaBrandon Toefield, LSU, 2000-02 — 511-2,149
- Glen Coffee, Alabama, 2007-08 — 362-1,928
- Marc Renaud, Michigan State, 1995, 1997 — 355-1,848
(Note: Jalen Hurts is close with 1,809 yards. If sacks didn’t count against him, the quarterback would already have 2,000 career rushing yards).
Even though it’s difficult to compare players from different eras, using different schemes and playing behind different offensive lines — and doesn’t take into consideration crucial elements such as blocking or holding on to the ball — one thing that transcends the years is the NFL draft.
Richardson was the third overall selection in the 2012 draft. Granted, it didn’t work out, but it still indicates what NFL teams thought of him and his ability.
Humphrey was a first-round selection in the 1989 supplemental draft. Alexander was the 19th overall selection in 2000. Alabama’s only other first-round running backs over the last 50 years were Ingram and Wilbur Jackson (1974).
Fans always are going to have their favorites (Musso remains extremely popular with the Crimson Tide faithful, and with good reason), but statistically that appears to be the appropriate order: Richardson, Humphrey and Alexander, who went on to be the NFL’s MVP in 2005, a very close third.