The Alabama Crimson Tide have had a surplus of running backs during the Nick Saban era. Alabama has ranked in the top-5 in recruiting each year since 2007, landing several five-star tailbacks to have some of the nation’s best depth at the position.
The Tide has produced four NFL running backs since Saban’s arrival, with T.J. Yeldon expected to become the most recently drafted this weekend. However, with so much talent, some former blue chip prospects become lost in the shuffle and fail to live up to expectations.
Rising junior Derrick Henry was expected to have a breakout season in 2014. Coming off a 161-yard, two touchdown Sugar Bowl performance, the sophomore was viewed as Alabama’s home run threat, despite being listed behind Yeldon and Kenyan Drake.
Henry did lead the Tide in rushing with 990 yards, edging out Yeldon’s 979. However, with Lane Kiffin’s pass-heavy offensive scheme, the sophomore’s season was an afterthought to the emergence of quarterback Blake Sims and dominance of SEC Offensive Player of the Year Amari Cooper.
It was the first time since 2010 that an Alabama running back didn’t rush for more than 1,000 yards or make 200 attempts. As a team, the Tide made more rushing attempts than the previous season, but that’s also considering Sims as a mobile option at quarterback, yet another differing factor in the new offense.
But with Yeldon, Sims and Cooper departing, Henry could finally see the breakout season many expected of him. Alabama once again faces questions at quarterback. Jake Coker is expected to take the reins in 2015, but that was the case last preseason.
Coker failed to secure the starting job, while Blake Sims went on to set the school passing record. If the former FSU transfer couldn’t win the job last year, will he be ready in 2015?
Yeldon’s departure may be the most important. Despite Kiffin’s admiration for the pass, Alabama didn’t abandon its running game but rather split carries between the two backs. Yeldon held the advantage with 194 carries, while Henry totaled 172. Henry is assumed to carry the load with Drake recovering from a leg injury and Bo Scarborough’s recent ACL tear.
With Cooper gone, the Tide loses its biggest playmaker. Alabama has strong depth at wide receiver — much like running back — but will need to replace the historic output of the conference’s best wideout.
Henry is one of the offense’s most experienced players and should assume Cooper’s role as top playmaker. The rising junior has the talent to be one of the conference’s best backs and should be given a larger role in Alabama’s offense in 2015.