This coming season, Alabama football has a lot of shoes to fill on offense.
In total, eight Crimson Tide players will need to step up into starting roles vacated by athletes that provided one of the greatest offensive seasons in program history in 2020. NFL-level talent like quarterback Mac Jones, wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and three of Alabama's Joe Moore Award-winning offensive linemen have all parted ways with the team and moved on to professional pastures.
And then there's the position of running back.
While Alabama's passing attack was what the program largely became known for last season, running back Najee Harris and the Crimson Tide's rushing attack was also something special. By season's end, Harris became the program's all-time leading rusher, holding the records for both rushing yards (3,843) and touchdowns (46), snapping the records held by Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram.
In both former Alabama players' defense, they both accomplished their records in one less season. However, the point still stands that with Harris now playing football in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the running back position is wide open for the taking.
The best example of Alabama's 2021 rushing attack came in December of last year in the Crimson Tide's game at Arkansas. Including Harris, the team utilized a total of four running backs — with three of those running backs returning this season.
While now-sophomore Jase McClellan led the team in rushing yards with 95 thanks to an 80-yard touchdown in garbage time, returning staple Brian Robinson Jr. reeled in three touchdowns in 13 carries.
This year, the job is Robinson's to lose.
After playing second fiddle to Harris last season, Robinson will finally get his chance to start in his redshirt-senior season. With 91 carries in 2020, Robinson totaled 483 yards on the ground — an average of 5.3 yards per attempt — and six rushing touchdowns. He was just as impressive in the short-range receiving game, amassing six receiving touchdowns on a team dominated by Waddle and Smith in the receiving department.
Behind Robinson sits McClellan and Roydell Williams, both of whom will be sophomores this season. Both players were two of the highest-rated running back recruits of their class and will likely split a decent amount of carries behind Robinson after having solid freshman campaigns in 2020.
The two question marks at the position for the upcoming season are redshirt-sophomore Trey Sanders and true freshman Camar Wheaton. Sanders missed the entirety of the 2019 season due to an injury suffered in fall camp, then rushed for 134 yards on 30 carries in 2020 before sitting out the rest of the season due to injuries he obtained in an automobile accident during the team's bye week.
Wheaton enters the program as a highly-touted high school prospect. Ranked No. 2 in the nation according to SI All-American, Wheaton joined Alabama's No. 1 recruiting class in 2021 and enrolled over the summer to see action in fall camp. With a packed running back room ahead of him with more SEC experience, it's difficult to judge just how much of an impact he will have this season.
That being said, having too many quality running backs to choose from is quite a good problem to have.
Crimson Tide Running Backs
- Returning: Brian Robinson Jr.; Jase McClellan; Roydell Williams; Trey Sanders
- True Freshmen: Camar Wheaton
- Departed: Najee Harris; Keilan Robinson, Kyle Edwards
This the second story in a series previewing the 2021 Crimson Tide by position.