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Can Najee Harris become all-time career rusher for Alabama football with a 10-game season?

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

This story originally published Aug. 13, 2020.

In a 12-game season plus between one and three postseason games, the odds were in Najee Harris’ favor to break the University of Alabama’s career rushing yards record. All he needed was to repeat his 2019 season, as those 1,224 yards would have put his career total of 3,601 10 yards past Derrick Henry.

But now Harris has fewer games to hit that mark, if he gets any at all. And possibly more important, he has more competition in his own backfield than he did this time last year. If UA begins its preseason practice on Monday as it is currently scheduled, the running backs alongside him in the position group have just as much to do with his record chase as any usage numbers may come from the season.

Brian Robinson Jr. was the lone option to spell Harris last season, given unproven freshmen behind him, paving the way for Harris to take 209 carries, with Robinson taking 96 and Keilan Robinson finishing with 39. Both players could see improvements from that workload, since it was a career high in carries for Brian Robinson Jr. and Keilan Robinson’s freshman year; if those improvements come, it could justify more carries for either (or both) of them.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) leaves the field following Alabama's 47-23 victory over South Carolina in Colombia Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

It's also possible Harris' 2019 workload was a reaction to Trey Sanders' season-ending foot injury in preseason camp. Sanders was making a viable case to be UA's No. 2 back before the injury, and his return alone could give UA another option to limit Harris' carries.

Then there are the talented incoming freshmen vying for playing time. Jase McClellan enters as a top 50 prospect nationally that UA flipped from Oklahoma on signing day; Hueytown’s Roydell Williams was a top five prospect in the state of Alabama and a top 10 running back in the nation. Kyle Edwards is a three-star prospect out of Destrehan, Louisiana. The freshman duo of Keilan Robinson and Jerome Ford (since transferred to Cincinnati) from last year didn’t offer much of a challenge to the top backs on UA’s depth chart, but this group could be different.

If UA is to play its full 10-game schedule, Harris would have to take 20.9 carries to reach the 209 carries needed to run for 1,224 yards last season, a significant jump up from 16.08 carries last season. UA has only subjected two running backs to that workload in the last decade (Derrick Henry in 2015 and Trent Richardson in 2011); doing it to Harris would already be atypical, and a preseason camp could show UA has enough running back talent to not need Harris as a workhorse.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson