With Najee Harris Returning, Alabama Might Have Deepest Backfield in College Football
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it came to Najee Harris making up his mind about whether to return to Alabama for a final year or turn pro early, the numbers were the difference.
Harris didn’t get the draft grade he hoped, and there were too many other top running backs in the mix led by Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. There’s also J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin and Cam Akers from Florida State among others.
Harris finished 25th in the nation in rushing by totaling 1,224 yards on 209 carries and 13 touchdowns. The touchdowns were tied for 21st, the 5.86 yards per carry were 30th and the 94.2 yards per game were 33rd.
In terms of the SEC he was sixth, with Ole Miss freshman John Rhys Plumlee first at 113.7.
However, Harris was Alabama’s most consistent offensive playmaker in 2019. He led the team in explosive plays (carries of 13-plus yards and receptions 17-plus), and had a first down or touchdown on 85 of his touches.
He topped 100 rushing yards in four of his last six games against SEC opponents, just missing in the other two while still averaging 5.0-plus yards per carry, and capped the season with 136 rushing yards on 24 carries and two rushing touchdowns against Michigan.
“Najee has gotten a lot more confidence as he’s gone through the season,” Nick Saban said late in the season. “Not necessarily in his ability to run the ball. I think he’s always had confidence in that part of what he does. I think it’s understanding the plays, how to hit the hole, how to read plays.”
Consequently, Harris’ return as a blocker and ability to pick up the blitz will help Alabama a lot with Mac Jones taking over at quarterback. Factor in the running back's playmaking ability, the offensive line returning all but one starter, and he’s a huge, dynamic offensive weapon for the Crimson Tide in 2020.
“I think all running backs really need to get in a rhythm,” Harris said.
“Every game’s different, certain teams play certain runs different. So you really don’t know what to expect yet. That’s why more in the game you understand how they’re blocking it. Every running back needs a certain amount. Not even a lot, maybe three carries or so. Just to see how they’re playing it, how the secondary is playing it, how the D-line is slanting. Are they pressing or just holding their blocks, or just moving off. It’s really just learning (that) more into the game you learn how certain plays are being blocked, it’s gathering of information.”
Although chances are Harris will get the ball more, Brian Robinson Jr. is back for his senior year, Trey Sanders should be ready for the spring after missing last season with a knee injury, and Alabama has added three high-profile running backs in the signing Class of 2020.
It should translate into the most talented, and deepest group of running backs in the nation.
Alabama Running Backs
Name, Recruiting Class, Stars, Rank
Najee Harris, 2017, 5, 2
Trey Sanders, 2019, 5, 6
Brian Robinson Jr., 2017, 4 145
Chadarius Townsend, 2017, 4, 175*
Kellen Robinson, 2019, 4, 244
Jerome Ford, 2018, 4, 370 [transfer]
Jase McClellan, 2020, 4, 43
Roydell Williams, 2020, 4, 86
Kyle Edwards, 2020, 3, 420
* Rankings are 247composite; *-indicates ranking was at another position
Tide in Transition
This is the seventh story in a series on BamaCentral: