Alabama Football: Can the Crimson Tide Replace Trent Richardson?

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Alabama Football: Can the Crimson Tide Replace Trent Richardson?
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I hope you got a good look last night because it very well could have been Trent Richardson's last game for the Alabama Crimson Tide before declaring for this year's NFL draft.

The Tide will immediately need to address the gaping hole that will be left after Richardson leaves. Fortunately for Alabama, it will have legitimate options on its depth chart to fill the void.

First, let's look at what kind of production the Tide will be losing with Richardson's departure. In three seasons at Alabama, Richardson has 3,034 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns with more than half of those totals coming in 2011. He spent two of those three years behind Mark Ingram and still put up numbers similar to Ingram's three-year career (3,261 rushing yards, 42 touchdowns). Richardson has also racked up more than 700 yards after contact this season. 

Richardson is a sure-fire top five pick in the NFL draft and a Heisman finalist this year. He also was the recipient of the 2011 Doak Walker Award for the nation's best running back.

His legacy at Alabama will be tough to replicate for his potential replacements, but Alabama can turn to several players who could become an heir to Richardson's success.

 

T.J. Yeldon

He'll only be a freshman heading into next season, so his prospects of receiving a lot of carries are slim to none. However, T.J. Yeldon perhaps has the most potential to duplicate the success of Richardson.

He's 6'2" and 205 pounds, but showed the athleticism of a speed back in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He hurdled over defenders on more than one occasion and still ran with great power and vision. Yeldon was tough to bring down all game.

As far as freshman go for Alabama in 2012, Yeldon might have the best chance of any of them when it comes to making an instant impact on the field. 

 

Dee Hart

Hart came into this season as the No. 1-rated running back in high school, but he suffered a knee injury in the summer that kept him sidelined for the entire season.

Hart's strength lies in the receiving game. He has excellent hands and can make a lot of plays out of the slot. However, his lack of size could be unsettling for some Alabama fans as they are accustomed to bigger bodies, like Ingram and Richardson, running the ball.

Hart is still a few years away from making a big impact in the running game. He needs to add more size before I can believe he will be able to carry the ball 25-30 times per game.

 

Jalston Fowler

Butch Dill/Getty Images

Fowler received mostly scrub time this season, but wow is he a physical runner. He's absolutely huge at 245 pounds and you can only imagine how tough it is to bring him down. The interesting thing about Fowler was his acceleration from the start of his runs. He explodes out of the backfield with such force that it's almost impossible to keep him from gaining positive yards.

His skills might be a little raw at this point, but he put up 385 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 56 carries. If he can improve over the offseason, I think Fowler could make a real run at the starting job next season.

 

Eddie Lacy

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The logical choice for Richardson's replacement next season will be Eddie Lacy. He has the most experience in games since he was Richardson's backup all season, and Lacy's No. 2 spot on the depth chart leads us to believe he'll move up once Richardson leaves.

Much like Richardson, Lacy can handle the relentless, power running style of the Crimson Tide offense with his large frame. His 631 yards and seven touchdowns were impressive as a backup this season, but I haven't been able to see enough of Lacy to convince me he can be the productive No. 1 back Alabama fans are accustomed to having.

He's definitely the favorite to be the starter next year, so he'll have plenty of opportunities to prove he deserves it, but Lacy hasn't made me a believer yet.

 

Conclusion

It is clear Alabama has several players that have the potential to continue the tradition of an outstanding running attack, but I feel their players are maybe another year or two away from being able to duplicate Richardson's success. Long term, T.J. Yeldon has the best chance to be the "next Trent Richardson." However, Fowler and Lacy will create significant problems for any team over the next few seasons. 

So can the Crimson Tide replace Trent Richardson?

My answer is yes, but not immediately. Crimson Tide fans will have to be patient while waiting for their running backs to develop. None of them have the pure skill and vision that Richardson had early in collegiate career.

Regardless, the future looks bright in Tuscaloosa as Alabama continues to reload in the backfield.

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