Report: Damien Harris Returns to Alabama, Opts Not to Declare for 2018 NFL Draft

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2018

Alabama running back Damien Harris celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

In a somewhat surprising move Wednesday, Damien Harris will return to the Alabama Crimson Tide for the 2018 college football season, as Matt Zenitz of AL.com reported.

The decision comes two days after he rushed for just 17 yards on six carries while catching two passes for 21 yards in Alabama's 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the CFP championship. 

Harris ran for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior in 2017. He was part of a three-headed monster on the ground for the Crimson Tide that included Bo Scarbrough and dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Because Alabama head coach Nick Saban had so many productive runners from which to choose, the Tide didn't showcase Harris in the same way they have past stars such as T.J. Yeldon, Trent Richardson, Derrick Henry and Eddie Lacy.

Harris' 7.4 yards per carry illustrated his effectiveness when he did have the ball in his hands. Zenitz marveled at his efficiency:

NFL draft experts also took notice of his potential. In his most recent big board, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Harris as the No. 23 overall player in the 2018 draft class. Miller also listed Harris as the fourth-best running back and considered him the "biggest riser" at the position.

Harris' 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of a 59-0 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Sept. 23 encapsulated why he could be an NFL difference-maker. He patiently waited for a hole to open before exploding into the second level and breaking free.

CBS Sports shared a replay of the run:

Assuming his stock didn't plummet during the predraft process, Harris could've been a Day 2 pick next spring, which makes his decision to go back to school a little unexpected. 

Harris may hope he can play himself into a first-round grade next year, when the running back class might be a bit thinner at the top. Bryce Love, Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice are all draft-eligible in 2018, and were they all to declare, that would eliminate a lot of competition for Harris in 2019.

Harris' return ensures that what was going to remain an effective Alabama running game will get even stronger.

Najee Harris largely took a back seat as a true freshman in 2017. He was the No. 2 player overall in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and Saban will likely give him a bigger role as a sophomore.

Between Najee and Damien Harris, the Crimson Tide will be just fine should Scarbrough forgo his senior year and head to the NFL.    

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