Alabama football has bountiful running back options behind Najee Harris

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Mississippi State safety Shawn Preston Jr. (12) forces  Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (24) out of bounds after Robinson gained a first down during the second half of Alabama's 38-7 win over Mississippi State Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 in Starkville. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

For four consecutive years going into 2019, Alabama had a top-two rushing attack in the Southeastern Conference by total yards gained. In 2016 and 2017, UA was good enough to crack the top 10 nationally by the same measure.

Last year, UA fell all the way down to seventh in the SEC and 55th in the nation. The Crimson Tide has the talent to change that in 2020.

In opening preseason practice this week, Alabama put on display a loaded running back corps that returns 87 percent of last year’s total rushing yardage, plus the return of an injured five-star freshman and three more highly touted signees. 

Players: Senior Najee Harris, senior Brian Robinson Jr., sophomore Keilan Robinson, redshirt freshman Trey Sanders, freshman Jase McClellan, freshman Roydell Williams, freshman Kyle Edwards.

Alabama running back Keilan Robinson (2) scores on a long touchdown run during Alabama's 66-3 win over Western Carolina Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

2019 stat: Harris was one of just 12 players in the nation to average at least 5.9 yards per carry over at least 200 carries last season.

Storyline: The battle for the pecking order behind Harris features talent that, as is often the case at UA, would likely be featured ball-carriers at most other FBS schools.

Last year, after Sanders’ injury, Robinson Jr. was left without much of a challenge to his No. 2 role, even if it only produced a fraction of the carries Harris got (96 compared to 209). Behind him, Robinson averaged 6.51 yards per carry over 39 attempts, proving productive as a freshman.

Sanders was making up ground on Robinson Jr. and making a case to be UA’s No. 2 back before his season-ending foot injury. Now he’s not the only five-star freshman running back, joined by true freshman McClellan.

In the four freshmen, UA has the top running back in the 2019 class (Sanders), two top 10 running backs in the 2020 class (McClellan and Williams) and Edwards out of talent factory Destrehan High School in Louisiana.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he plans to spread the workload through more running backs better than UA did last year. If he does, his problem will not be finding a capable back to handle the carries, but determining which ones receive more than the others.

If he is able, he will do something rare: only twice in the Nick Saban era have three running backs received at least 70 carries in one season.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson