A number of elite running backs have emerged from Alabama's program. Take the current professional players: 2012 No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy.
But the 2014 college football season may see one of the deepest Crimson Tide backfields of all time. Between junior incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon, electric sophomore Derrick Henry and even Kenyan Drake, Alabama has three fully capable contributors to pound the rock in the SEC.
AL.com's Andrew Gribble and Michael Casagrande debated how carries would be shared between the formidable trio. They noted that last year Yeldon had 62 percent (207) of the carries, while Drake had 28 percent (92) to Henry's 10 (35 total carries).
Casagrande feels that in 2014, Yeldon, Henry and Drake will have carries distributed by percentages of 45-40-15 respectively, while Gribble says it will be even between Yeldon and Henry, with Drake getting 20 percent.
Yeldon has the edge to garner the most touches because he's proven himself ever since he set foot on the gridiron as a true freshman. In two years, he's averaged over six yards per carry, amassed 2,343 yards on the ground and scampered for 26 touchdowns.
Between that production and Yeldon's ability to catch the ball, he figures to be featured most. Gribble previously reported that Yeldon, not any of his fellow running backs, was under consideration for preseason all-conference honors, and he made the first team:
Getting ahead of this before it's unveiled. Derrick Henry is not listed on media's ballot for preseason All-SEC. Yeldon and Fowler are.— Andrew Gribble (@Andrew_Gribble) July 16, 2014
However, Henry made his own strong first impression as a freshman in Tuscaloosa—enough to garner the No. 50 spot in college football player rankings by ESPN.com's staff.
Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com provided his take on Yeldon, highlighting a weakness that could cause Henry to supplant him as the starter:
It's interesting hearing Nick Saban talk about #Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon. Raves about him in just about every facet except one: Ball Security.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) July 28, 2014
A stunning combination of size and speed saw Henry burst onto the scene in the Tide's loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Henry had eight carries for 100 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a 61-yard reception, where he did most of the work to find pay dirt.
That is likely why Henry joined Yeldon as part of the Doak Walker Award watch list, an accolade given to the nation's top running back, per TideSports.com's Aaron Suttles:
Correction: Alabama junior running back T.J. Yeldon & sophomore back Derrick Henry two of 53 players chosen to Doak Walker Award watch list.— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) July 17, 2014
Star wide receiver Amari Cooper also praised Henry's work ethic, as reported by Marquavius Burnett of The Anniston Star:
Cooper on Derrick Henry's work ethic: "This guy really wants it. He's hungry."— Marquavius Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) July 17, 2014
An offseason arrest may hurt Drake's cause to be among the team's top two ball-carriers in light of Henry's emergence. Nevertheless, it appears Drake is determined to become a big factor, in light of his recent Twitter posts:
The difference between mine and alot of other athlete accounts is that im not posting pictures or videos of how hard I "grind". Just do it— Kenyan Drake™ (@KDx17) July 29, 2014
I don't need validation of how hard I work to better my craft on and off the field. Twitter is twitter im just here for the fun of it— Kenyan Drake™ (@KDx17) July 29, 2014
As long as the Tide's offensive line remains among the nation's best, there's likely no stopping this offense, dialed up by first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Who will amass the most rushing yards in 2014?
Head coach Nick Saban prides his teams on defense, too. By the time even the most physical opponents get later into games, they will be too worn down. The Tide figure to dominate time of possession in most contests with fresh legs constantly rotating into the backfield. Their physicality up front and blue-chip ball-carriers promise to devastate the SEC's best.
In the unfortunate instance that any back gets hurt, there are plenty of options for the offensive staff to choose from. Both Yeldon and Henry could easily be workhorse, No. 1 backs at other schools, and Drake has similar talent.
All three will extend the length of their careers by contributing to a timeshare, though, forming a three-headed monster that the rest of college football will struggle to stymie.