Tracing the Evolution of Alabama RBs Under Nick Saban
Though it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, it’s hard not be impressed with the fact that Nick Saban has hauled in nine 4-star and three 5-star RB recruits since taking over at Alabama in 2007.
And this goes a long way in explaining why the Tide have, on average, ranked No. 27 nationally in rushing yards since 2007 versus a No. 70 ranking in passing yards during the same time frame.
Simply put, at least offensively speaking, Alabama has gotten in done on the ground.
This all means that Saban and Co. have had to be highly successful in not only attracting and signing top-tier RBs, they’ve also had to train them, coach them up and then let them explode on Saturdays in the SEC.
The following slideshow traces the evolution of RBs in the Nick Saban era at Alabama by way of taking a quick look at the 18 rushers signed by the Tide since 2007.
This sweeping analysis spawns two fairly clear trends.
First, a guy has to be patient to become the No. 1 or No. 2 RB at Alabama, an aim that is generally not achieved until the third year of eligibility.
Secondly, the Saban-led recruiting efforts at Alabama continue to raise the bar in terms of hauling in top-rated RB talent as time goes on, almost ridiculously so.
This means that patience will likely be even more of a virtue for the Tide rushers of the future.
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As a part of the Alabama signing class of 2007, Demetrius Goode came on board just after Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa in early January of 2007.
Goode signed his letter of intent in late January and was recruited by Kirby Smart, making him technically a Saban guy regardless of the fact that the new coaching staff had only about a month to put its first class together.
Goode was a 4-star rated back out of Chatham, Va., and after suffering a knee injury as a true freshman in 2007 he redshirted and spent three underwhelming seasons in the Tide backfield from 2008 through 2010.
Goode’s career numbers at Alabama amount to 272 total yards of rushing and a single TD from the 2010 season.
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Jeramie Griffin, a 3-star guy from Batesville, Miss., is another back who visited and committed to Alabama just after Saban took over in January 2007.
A member of the class of 2007 along with Goode and Jamar Taylor, Griffin redshirted as a freshman, reeled off 29 total yards as a sophomore in 2008 and then suffered what amounted to a career-ending knee injury prior to the 2009 season.
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A back who actually committed to Alabama during the final stanza of the Mike Shula regime, Jamar Taylor was a 3-star rated recruit from Lakeland, Fla., in the class of 2007.
Taylor’s only participation at Alabama came during the spring game (he enrolled early) and he ultimately transferred to USF before the 2007 season kicked off.
Taylor played for the Bulls from 2007 through 2009 and accumulated 477 yards rushing and five TDs as a collegiate player.
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The first back on our list that was recruited by a Saban-led staff with a full recruiting cycle; Ivan Matchett came to Alabama via the class of 2008 as a 3-star rated athlete from St. Paul’s HS in Mobile, Ala.
Ultimately, Matchett never played a down for the Tide and went on medical scholarship in August of 2009 effectively ending his playing career.
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Another guy from the class of 2008 who never saw the field at Alabama, Jermaine Preyear was recruited as a 3-star back from Davidson HS in Mobile, Ala.
Preyear grayshirted as a freshman in 2008 (meaning he delayed his enrollment until January of 2009) and ultimately transferred to Alabama State where he racked up 152 yards of rushing and three TDs in a single season of participation.
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When initially recruited in 2007 and 2008, Mark Ingram was advertised as a 4-star athlete from Southwestern Academy in Flint, Mich.
This fact that is at least somewhat ironic due to the fact that Ingram eventually totally outpaced the two guys who signed as actual running backs with the class of 2008: Ivan Matchett and Jermaine Preyear neither who ever played a down for the Tide.
Ingram was the first of Saban’s wildly successful feature backs at ‘Bama and had immediate impact as a true freshman contributing 728 yards and 12 TDs, making him the team’s No. 2 rusher in 2008.
As a sophomore, Ingram did about everything a collegiate running back could possibly do to cement his place among the greats of the game.
Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 TDs in 2009, won the Heisman Trophy and helped lead Alabama to the SEC title and the BCS National Championship.
And, let’s remember that the 2009 Crimson Tide offense ranked No. 12 nationally in rushing yards versus No. 92 in passing yards.
Due to an injury, Ingram got a late start to the 2010 campaign but still managed to amass 875 yards and 13 TDs in 11 games, making him Alabama’s leading rusher for the second consecutive season.
Ingram was selected as the 28th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and has just wrapped up his second season in the pros.
Mike Marrow at Alabama's 2010 spring game
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The only signee at running back in the Alabama class of 2009 that didn’t wind up being a huge success story, Mike Marrow was initially recruited as a 3-star back out of Central Catholic HS in Toledo, Ohio.
Marrow redshirted at Alabama in 2009, transferred to Eastern Michigan in 2010 and finally landed at Nebraska in 2011.
After sitting out two seasons due to NCAA transfer policies, Marrow rushed for 30 yards on 10 touches in what was technically his junior season at Nebraska in 2012.
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The first of the two running backs from the class of 2009 to eventually earn the coveted starter role, Trent Richardson of Pensacola, Fla., was the first of the three 5-star rated RB recruits that Saban has managed to lure to Alabama.
Richardson was the No. 6 overall ranked signee in 2009, the No. 2 rated running back (Tennessee signee Bryce Brown was No. 1) and the No. 1 ranked guy from the state of Florida.
Richardson played in all 14 games as a true freshman in 2009 and rushed 144 times for 749 yards and eight scores, which was enough to earn him the No. 2 slot on the team.
As a sophomore in 2010 Richardson again backed up Mark Ingram and this time got 112 touches that netted him 700 yards and six scores.
In 2011, Richardson finally got the starting role and didn’t disappoint with 1,679 yards and 21 TDs on an unbelievable 283 carries, a total which gave him the most touches of any RB at Alabama during the Saban era.
In addition to the career highs as a junior, Richardson picked up his second BCS national championship ring and took home the 2011 Doak Walker award.
Much like other backs who have flourished in the Saban era, Richardson had to wait his turn behind Ingram for two seasons and exploded when he finally got his opportunity in his third year.
And, again much like other RBs in the Saban system, Richardson left a collegiate season on the table and was selected as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie with Cleveland in 2012 and nearly matched his jacked up carries total from 2011 with 267 touches in his first year as a pro.
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The second of the two big wins at running back for Saban’s class of 2009, Eddie Lacy came to Alabama as a 4-star rated back from Dutchtown HS in Geismar, La.
Lacy redshirted as a freshman in 2009, became the No. 3 back in 2010 with 406 yards and six scores on 56 carries and moved up to become the No. 2 guy in 2010 with 674 yards and seven scores on 95 touches.
As a junior in 2012, Lacy finally ascended to the role of featured back and blazed a trail to 1,322 yards and 17 scores on a workhorse like 204 carries.
It says a lot about Saban’s depth at running back when you consider the fact that Lacy, a guy who would have been the starter all three years on most BCS squads, waited behind Ingram and Richardson as a freshman in 2010 and played second fiddle to Richardson in 2011.
Lacy opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and despite a hamstring injury he’s projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
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A 4-star rated back that came to Alabama in the class of 2010, Jalston Fowler waited his turn as a true freshman and a sophomore only to get injured at the beginning of his junior season.
Fowler is a product of Vigor HS in Prichard, Ala., who was the No. 3 overall rated back in 2010.
Fowler rushed for 111 yards and a single score as a true freshman behind the stacked trio of Lacy, Richardson and Ingram.
As a sophomore, Fowler moved up the charts to become the No. 3 guy under Richardson and Lacy picking up 385 yards and four TDs on 56 carries.
With Richardson off to the draft and Lacy plagued by injuries, it looked liked 2012 would be the year that Fowler finally would get enough carries to become the next go-to back at Alabama.
But, all this promise was dashed by a knee injury in the first home game of the 2012 season versus Western Kentucky.
With Lacy off to the pros this year and T.J. Yeldon primed to be the next guy on tap at Alabama, don’t forget about Fowler who very well could be the No. 2 guy or more depending on how things shake out.
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Corey Grant was a highly touted prospect recruited by Kirby Smart as a part of the class of 2010.
Grant, who hails from Opelika, Ala., carried a full 4-star rating and was the No. 5 overall rated running back in 2010 and after redshirting as a freshman would have had to grapple with Richardson, Lacy and Fowler for carries in 2011.
Instead, Grant opted to transfer to Auburn where he sat out the 2011 season and finally debuted as a sophomore in 2012 with 29 yards on nine carries.
Grant is an example of a quality guy almost pushing himself out of the Saban system due to the inherent stockpile of talent at RB that seems almost inevitable.
If history is any indicator of how things will go moving forward, every couple of years Saban and Co. will recruit and develop enough starting grade RBs that there won’t be room for guys to move through the usual three-year process to a starting or No. 2 role.
And these guys, like Corey Grant, will move on.
Demetrius “Dee” Hart
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The second of the three 5-star backs Saban has signed thus far at Alabama, Demetrius Hart signed with the class of 2011 as the No. 1 overall rated all-purpose RB in the nation.
Hart is a product of Orlando, Fla., and is one of two 5-stars hauled in by Jim McElwain who also scored DB Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix.
Hart enrolled at Alabama in January of 2011 was expected to hit the ground running but suffered an ACL injury in the summer and was forced to redshirt.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Hart got 21 touches for 88 total yards before suffering another injury versus Ole Miss, but it’s important to remember that the top of the charts where stacked, again, this time with Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
With three full seasons of eligibility left to play, you’ve got to think that Hart, if he can stay healthy, will get his shot at top billing, especially with Lacy gone and the full pressure of the starting role on young Yeldon’s shoulders.
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The first of the two top-rated backs to come from the class of 2012, T.J. Yeldon represents Saban’s third and most recent 5-star recruiting win at RB.
Yeldon came to Alabama from Daphne HS in Daphne, Ala., and was the No. 2 overall rated back in 2012 behind Johnathan Gray who went to Texas.
With Trent Richardson off to the 2012 NFL draft, Eddie Lacy in and out of injury issues and Jalston Fowler out for the season early, Yeldon took the rare opportunity to soar in the Saban system as a true freshman and exploded.
Yeldon finished the 2012 season with 1,108 yards and 12 scores on 175 carries, making him the No. 2 man on the BCS title team.
With Lacy becoming the next three-year RB from Alabama off to the draft, Yeldon, though he’ll definitely have some stiff competition from a slew of guys on this list, looks to have at least two huge seasons remaining as a collegian.
If all goes well, and given a beastly O-line, Yeldon could be a realistic Heisman candidate and more.
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The “other” RB from the class of 2012, 4-star Kenyan Drake from Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, Ga., was another back hauled in by Kirby Smart.
Drake got the nod to start as a true freshman, and though his 281 yards and five scores on 42 carries may not seem like the stuff dreams are made of, he was the No. 3 guy in 2012 which is no small thing moving forward.
Indeed, if Yeldon gets hurt or falters, the ball will likely be in Drake’s hands who is less injury-prone than Hart or Fowler.
Either way, Drake is in excellent position with three years of eligibility left and already in the No. 3 slot; if he plays his cards right in the Saban system he needs to stay healthy, pump out yards when he gets the ball and then be very, very patient.
The good news is the rewards are rich for those who follow the formula.
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The first of four 4-star RBs signed as a part of Alabama’s top-ranked class of 2013, Derrick Henry and company represent the next chapter in the history of Crimson Tide rushing under Nick Saban.
Henry is a 4-star guy from Yulee, Fla., who earned a No. 5 overall ranking among RBs in 2013 and with 12,212 career yards in HS he’s now the nation’s all-time leading rusher.
As an early enrollee at Alabama, Henry is a back who’s going to be able to hit the ground running this spring and perhaps in the fall.
But, it’s important to keep expectations realistic as the Tide will be stacked in 2013 from a RB standpoint meaning that Henry, regardless of how good he is, will need to be patient.
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The next guy up from the class of 2013, Tyren Jones, is a 4-star prospect from Walton HS in Marietta, Ga.
Jones was the No. 11-rated back this season and opted to sign with the Tide instead of closer-to-home Georgia.
With Derrick Henry enrolling early and two other 4-star RBs signing on in 2013, Jones will likely redshirt and then need to make some big waves to launch a campaign to be a No. 1 or No. 2 guy in 2015 or 2016.
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Another 4-star RB from Georgia signing on with the Tide in 2013, Alvin Kamara hails from Norcross, Ga., and may have the edge over the other three signees from this past haul.
Yes, Kamara comes to Alabama as the No. 2-rated back in the nation (just behind 5-star Taquan Mizzell who went to Virginia) and his quickness may make him a candidate to hit the field as a true freshman.
As we’ve already overstated, no back will have an easy time earning carries at Alabama over the next couple of seasons, especially if the class of 2014 is a fruitful in RBs as this last haul, but, Kamara is a special player who might not have to be as patient.
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The final RB to be recruited by Saban and company at Alabama is 4-star Altee Tenpenny who comes to Tuscaloosa via North Little Rock HS in Arkansas.
Almost ridiculously, Tenpenny was the No. 8 overall rated back in the class of 2013 meaning that the Tide hauled in the No. 2, the No. 5, the No. 8 and the No. 11 rated RBs earlier this year.
Tenpenny is another guy who will probably redshirt in 2013 and then have to find a way to make waves in an ocean full of top-shelf RBs.