Alabama Football: Projecting T.J. Yeldon's Production In His Sophomore Season
I made the statement after Alabama's Spring game in 2012 that Yeldon would be better than Crimson Tide alums: New Orleans Saints' Mark Ingram, Cleveland Browns' Trent Richardson and the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy when it was all said and done.
I'm sticking by that prediction and Yeldon's 1,108 yards in 2012 (an Alabama freshman record) supports my claim. The next phase of Yeldon's march towards stardom will take place during his sophomore season.
There are a number of factors involved in Yeldon building on his spectacular freshman season.
Yeldon is a Grown Man
No one should be worried about his physical development. Yeldon came to Tuscaloosa built like an NFL running back. At 6'2" 216 pounds, he's only going to get stronger.
While he isn't as fast as the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson or other speed merchants in the back field, he's far from slow. You will rarely see him run down from behind.
Even if a defensive back is able to catch him, tackling him is a different story. Yeldon has great instincts and he runs nasty. His leg strength and powerful stiff arm makes him productive after contact.
More impressive than Yeldon's speed and power is his vision. He has the innate ability to pick and anticipate openings. Though he has to stay at Alabama for at least two more seasons, he'll be physically ready for the NFL in January.
Second to None on the Depth Chart
Bama always has at least two very capable backs to share carries. Last season Yeldon played second fiddle to Lacy. This season Yeldon will be the man and Jalston Fowler or Dee Hart will emerge as the second part of the two-headed monster.
Either way, expect Yeldon to get between 220 to 250 carries this season. In comparison, Trent Richardson had 283 in 2011 and Mark Ingram had 271 in 2009.
Offensive Line Play
Generally, Alabama's offensive line under Nick Saban has been dominant. The team has had at least 2,378 yards rushing as a team since 2008.
Part of that is because they have had solid backs, but most of it is because of the stellar play of the big uglies up front.
While Bama lost studs like Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones to the NFL, they are still returning Anthony Steen—who is the only player on Bama's O-Line not to allow a sack in 2012, per Don Kausler of AL.com.
The Tide also have the Kouandjio brothers (Cyrus and Arie) who should be starting together. Cyrus is a potential top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft and Arie will battle a few teammates for a job.
The experience level will decline a bit, but I'd expect this unit to remain among the best in the nation.
One major factor the Bama offense will have is a deep threat. Amari Cooper brings an element to the offense the program hasn't had since Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones was there.
The kid is an absolute beast and he is ready to explode in 2013.
He had 59 catches and 11 touchdowns last season. His presence will only loosen up defenses for Bama's running game.
Cooper's brilliance is the reason Yeldon's carries should be a little less than Richardson and Ingram's in their best seasons.
State of the Opposing Run Defenses
Every team knows Bama is going to run the ball, but stopping it is another story. You have to have the horses of the defensive line to prevent the Tide from dominating up front.
From there, the linebackers have to be proficient tacklers. Because of Cooper's presence, committing safeties for extra run coverage is a no-no.
If you look at the teams Bama is set to face this year, only two (Arkansas and LSU) were ranked in the top 20 against the run in 2012.
God help Colorado State on Sept. 21. The Rams were ranked 106th in the nation against the run in 2012. Barring a miraculous improvement in that area, Yeldon should have a field day in the first half of that game.
He's not likely to see much more action after halftime.
While only so much can be put into last year's statistics, as opponents like Ole Miss and Auburn should be better against the run this year, a schedule similar to 2012 should allow Bama's star running back the opportunity to shine.
Fowler and Hart are talented players, but Yeldon should get between 50 to 55 percent of the carries. In 2012, he averaged 6.33 yards per carry and Lacy averaged 6.4.
With more carries, a slightly less dominant offensive line and an emerging threat on the outside, the impact on Yeldon's stats is hard to predict.
How many yards will T.J. Yeldon rush for in 2013?
Because of the elements that would suggest his yards per carry could increase (threat on the outside) and decline (less dominant O-Line fans more carries), it seems logical to predict Yeldon's yards per carry will only dip a little—if at all.
I'm betting on a six yards per carry average. Only one of Bama's leading rushers has averaged less than 5.9 yards per carry in the last five years.
At that rate with 235 carries, Yeldon should rush for roughly 1,410 yards in 2013. His touchdowns should increase to about 16 as a sophomore. He averaged a score every 14.5 attempts in 2012.
With those numbers, Yeldon would have 2,518 yards and 28 touchdowns through two seasons. That would be very close to the 2.533 yards and 30 touchdowns Ingram accumulated in his first two years active with the program.
Yeldon would still have at least one more season in Tuscaloosa to add to his numbers.
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