One would think that after having five players drafted in the first 35 picks of the 2012 NFL draft, the Alabama Crimson Tide would have had at least a slight drop-off heading into this college football season, as they faced the tough task of replacing that outgoing talent.
While one game may not make for a strong evaluation, it sure does not appear that Alabama has dropped off in the slightest, having defeated the Michigan Wolverines—a team who came into the game ranked eighth in both major polls—41-14 on Saturday night. One of Alabama's new players, true freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, is a big reason why.
The first of those five Alabama players to be selected in the draft was running back Trent Richardson, an all-around complete back who was selected with the fourth overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. Richardson’s explosive combination of power and athleticism will certainly be missed, but through one game, it looks like Yeldon is the perfect replacement.
On just 11 carries, Yeldon ran for 111 yards, as the Michigan defense had little to no answer for stopping him in the Crimson Tide’s rout. Even those statistics, however, are not indicative of how truly good he could be.
At 6'2", 216 pounds, Yeldon has great size for a running back, but he is more of an outside the tackles speed back than a power back. He has tremendous speed and athleticism, especially for a back of his size, and proved to be a very tough player to stop tonight.
Yeldon appears to be a very fast back on tape, and he supplements that speed with the ability to make very quick cuts that make defenders miss. He will likely become an even more powerful back as he continues to grow, but he displays the ability to play through contact, and his size is certainly an asset.
Yeldon is not the only running back in place to help fill the void of Richardson’s departure. Junior Jalston Fowler is a 6'1", 242-pound bruising back between the tackles whose power, combined with surprising speed, helped him gain 67 yards on eight carries on Saturday.
Another junior, Eddie Lacy, only gained 35 yards on nine carries against the Wolverines, but he is another back with a great combination of size, power, downhill running ability and speed at 220 pounds.
Among them, however, Yeldon is the only back likely to become the next Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson, as in a collegiate star and NFL first-round draft pick.
It is important to remember that Yeldon’s performance came against a Michigan defense that is not nearly as stout as many that he will face in the SEC, but nonetheless, his performance was fantastic for a player in his first collegiate game.
Rivals.com ranked Yeldon was the No. 12 overall recruit and a 5-star player, so while he stood out more than expected in his first game, Yeldon becoming Alabama’s next star running back would not be a surprise.
Dan Hope is the Patriots gameday correspondent, an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a regular viewer of college football games every Saturday. For live analysis of the best college football teams and players every weekend, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.