Alabama landed two of the most impressive freshmen in college football in the 2012 recruiting cycle when they pulled in running back T.J. Yeldon out of Daphne, Ala. and receiver Amari Cooper from Miami.
Both players came to Alabama as early enrollees and took that time to work their ways into the starting lineup this year, but Yeldon had the early track to playing time. Despite that, Cooper is finishing the year as the more impactful player.
After starting the season in backup roles, they are now among the most dynamic offensive weapons the Tide has.
Yeldon brought a lot of news throughout his recruiting cycle, committing first to Auburn, only to sign with Alabama on National Signing Day. Cooper carried less drama, committing to the Tide and sticking with that pledge throughout the recruiting process.
Alabama expected both of these players to come in and make an impact, but the way that Yeldon and Cooper have taken over this offense at times has been impressive.
When DeAndrew White fell to an injury early this fall, the Tide had to push Cooper into a starting role before most expected he was ready for it. He answered the call, putting together a year that compares with Tide living legend Julio Jones.
Cooper finished the regular season with 53 catches for 895 yards and nine touchdowns. If he pulls in five more catches in the title game, he will have surpassed Jones’ freshman numbers.
T.J. Yeldon has been a masterful runner for the Crimson Tide this season, carrying the ball 154 times for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall. Yeldon has also helped the Tide in the passing game, pulling in 10 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Without Yeldon in the backfield, the Crimson Tide would struggle to move the ball as efficiently on the ground as they have this year. Yeldon is a perfect fit for the 1-2 punch combo with Eddie Lacy.
While the Tide could have survived with just Lacy in the backfield, they would be completely empty at receiver heading into the BCS title game without Cooper. If not for Cooper stepping up to the plate in his first season, Alabama would have no deep threat and would lose the play-action that it relies on for its big scores.
To finish the season, Amari Cooper put together the more impressive freshman campaign. While 1,000 yards is no easy feat for a running back, almost 900 for a freshman receiver is far more impressive—especially in a run-based offensive system.