Even though T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper came to Tuscaloosa almost exactly one year ago amid much fanfare, even the most ardent Alabama football supporters could not envision what they would accomplish in their first year on the college level.
After the duo combined to net 2,238 yards from scrimmage and score 24 touchdowns in 2012, Crimson Tide opponents can only cringe at the thought of facing Yeldon and Cooper for at least two more seasons.
Their ability to transition to college and become instant impact players was a huge factor in helping the Tide repeat as national champions.
But what is in store for their encore this fall? And, which player will have a stronger sophomore campaign?
Being that Alabama has forged its offensive identity under Nick Saban by featuring a stable of thoroughbred running backs, Yeldon’s role figures to increase in 2013 as he steps into the lead role vacated by Eddie Lacy.
As has seemingly been the case since Mark Ingram left the Capstone, the next back in line looks equally as impressive—if not potentially better—than the player he is replacing.
That sentence alone is an absurd sentiment, but Yeldon’s talent is every bit as freakish as recent Tide greats like Ingram, Trent Richardson and Lacy.
At 6’2”, 216 pounds, Yeldon has everything Saban covets in his lead backs—with size, speed and the ability to make plays in the passing game all being areas that the former 5-star recruit excels in.
While the offensive line must be rebuilt after losing three starters, Yeldon is still expected to carry on the tradition of elite Alabama tailbacks that will be mentioned amongst the nation’s elite at the position.
Meanwhile, Cooper finished the 2012 season on a tear—finishing with more than 100 yards in four of Alabama’s last five games (including three games against Top Five teams) and eight scores in that stretch.
With quarterback A.J. McCarron returning for his senior season, plus a surrounding cast of receivers that will return intact, Cooper will still be one of the most feared weapons for secondary units in the SEC.
However, being that he is a now a known quantity to opposing defenses, it is much tougher for receivers to maintain an elite level of production in comparison to running backs.
Even the great Julio Jones suffered from a dip in production in his sophomore season after breaking out as a freshman (Clemson’s Sammy Watkins suffered a similar fate in 2012).
But, Cooper is such an elite talent that Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier may be forced to feature him in favor of their usual committee approach to the receiver unit.
With a pair of game-breaking talents spearheading the offense, Alabama’s attack is likely to remain one of the country’s most explosive and balanced attacks.
As for which one will have the better season, history suggests Alabama’s running backs have always fared better statistically than the Tide’s receivers.
And although Cooper has a realistic shot to become the most prolific receiver to ever suit up for the Tide before his collegiate career concludes, I will side with history and give the slightest of nods to Yeldon to enjoy the better sophomore season.