It took a couple of games, but T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake have become yet another of Alabama’s signature one-two punches at running back under head coach Nick Saban.
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in 2009 were the first elite tandem Saban had. That followed with Richardson and Eddie Lacy in 2011 and Lacy and Yeldon in 2012.
Yeldon and Drake might not be the most talented duo Alabama has had under Saban. Neither particularly scream “NFL” like Ingram, Richardson and Lacy did (all of whom were drafted in the first two rounds their respective years).
But they are the most versatile, and it’s giving defenses fits.
The aforementioned Ingram, Richardson and Lacy were all known as physical backs who could break away in the open space. None of the trio ever shied away from contact, and it showed in their running.
Yeldon isn’t quite as physical as those three were, but he’s much more of a between-the-tackles runner. He hits the hole hard and makes people miss in open space.
He’s much more of a smooth runner and makes guys miss with his moves and misdirection, rather than raw power. Where Richardson or Lacy would look to run people over, Yeldon can make a quick move through the hole.
And when he gets to the second level, he can be absolutely nasty as he showed against Ole Miss:
Drake, meanwhile, is pure speed.
He has more speed than any featured running back under Saban and has shown flashes of it this season. He currently averages 7.62 yards per carry, which would be the most for any top two running back for Alabama under Saban if it holds up.
The only thing that has held Drake back is a penchant for goal line fumbles. He fumbled in the red zone against Kentucky and Tennessee, with both resulting in a turnover.
But he has also proven why he could be another great running back this season. His speed is the main reason for that, and it is deadly.
Highlight at the :45 mark.
Drake’s speed, combined with Yeldon’s power-run abilities, make the pair one of Saban’s most dangerous combinations. Rather than having two running backs who can punish you the whole game, swapping in and out to stay fresh, the Crimson Tide boast two running backs that are truly a change of pace. You can’t defend Yeldon the same way you defend Drake.
There were questions about who would be the No. 2 running back this season. Alabama carried a crowded backfield behind him with four highly touted freshmen and three returning backs in Drake, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart.
But Drake has grabbed a solid hold on the backup job, and against LSU he was the only other back to play in the game besides Yeldon—a high compliment from Saban. He will play as many backups as he can in certain situations, but only those he trusts the utmost in the biggest games.
And the scariest part? They’re both true sophomores. They’ll be back for more next season.