Trey Sanders Is Alabama's Next Great Running Back, but a Different Kind of Star

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2018

Trey Sanders
Trey SandersAndrew Ivins, 247Sports

The only thing more certain than Alabama being a national championship contender is the offense featuring an elite running back.

Trey Sanders ensured the remarkable decade-long trend would continue into 2021, announcing his commitment to the Crimson Tide during the early signing period that began Wednesday.

He became the seventh 5-star signee of Nick Saban's tenure at the position, joining Najee Harris, Damien Harris, Bo ScarbroughDerrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Trent Richardson. Alabama's loaded recent history of running backs doesn't stop there, though.

That's even before mentioning Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacyor even Kenyan Drake and numerous other 4-stars.

But Sanders, the top-rated running back of the 2019 cycle, is different.

Most of Alabama's former starsplus Harris and Harris currentlywere downhill bruisers who varied on the speed scale and rarely contributed as receivers. That's not a negative; it simply wasn't a significant part of their skill sets.

Ingram, Yeldon and Drake had versatility, all snaring 46-plus passes. However, neither Ingram nor Yeldon was particularly explosive, while Drake served mostly as a complementary piece.

Sanders fits a new mold. And he's not short on confidence, either.

AJ Spurr @21Spurr

“My freshman year at Alabama I will win the Heisman, I will be a finalist. I’m looking forward to going to New York.” - Trey Sanders (@6sixGod_) on his Alabama commitment

The 2019 Heisman Trophy hopeful brings an enticing blend of speed and strength, gliding past defenders yet powering through arm tackles. Sanders won't be tackled without getting wrapped up.

Though his quick feet allow for rapid change of direction, he doesn't unnecessarily dance in the backfield. Sanders usually looks to make one cut and hit full speed, but he'll jump-cut and show finesse to evade defenders, too.

Listed at 6'0" and 214 pounds, he's already built like a featured back. Sanders can already handle double-digit carries at the college level without being overwhelmed physically.

The critical difference is how Sanders looks comfortable catching the ball with his hands rather than catching it with his body, which is apparent on both screens and vertical routes.

Alabama has never utilized someone with his explosiveness, physicality and receiving skills out of the backfield. That combination gives him the statistical upside of Dalvin Cookan All-American at Florida Statewith a style reminiscent of Green Bay Packers rising star Aaron Jones.

Match those players, and Sanders would be in impressive company. Cook and Jones both topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 2016.

But the IMG Academy standout has his eye on something more—college football's most prestigious individual award. Never has a true freshman earned the Heisman Trophy, but he's aiming for it.

It's unlikely, for sure. Still, assuming junior Josh Jacobs declares for the 2019 NFL draft—joining senior Damien Harris—Sanders' only major competition for snaps next season will be Najee Harris. The returning Harris has only nine catches for 48 yards in two seasons.

Sanders has a clear path to playing time and catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman runner-up.

Tagovailoa will likely be targeting Sanders more than you think in 2019.
Tagovailoa will likely be targeting Sanders more than you think in 2019.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tagovailoa thrived in his first season as Alabama's starter, but running backs combined to make 36 catches. Just seven of those receptions resulted in gains of 15-plus yards, and the likely NFL-bound players accounted for them all.

If visions of Tagovailoa hitting Sanders on screens, flares and wheels have diverted your attention, surely you're not alone.

Yes, immediate greatness is a jarring goal for anyone. Sanders, even with dreams of becoming the best running back in Alabama history, shouldn't be saddled with those expectationsespecially before an NFL draft decision comes from Jacobs.

If he leaves, though, the Crimson Tide have a depth concern behind Najee Harris. Sanders can fill that void and begin his trek toward a lofty personal goal.

Alabama has boasted two Heisman Trophy winners, one other Doak Walker Award recipient, three other All-SEC backs and a total of seven NFL draft picks in this decadewith three more on the current roster.

That list of talent is staggering.

But there's never been one quite like Sanders, either. His potential road to excellence will be noticeably different than the other running backs of Alabama's dynasty.


All recruiting information via 247Sports' composite. Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.