Alabama opens the 2016 season against Southern Cal, frequently known as “Tailback U.” But in recent years, can anyone match the tailback performances turned in by Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide?
In the past seven years, Alabama has had two Heisman Trophy winners and four national championships, and the tailbacks on those teams have been quite instrumental in the team success. And speaking of team, Crimson Tide running back success has been aided by outstanding blockers and an offense that has included quarterbacks and wide receivers making opposing defenses repsect the passing game.
This is part of our series looking at the top players at various position in the Nick Saban era, with a very difficult suggesting of the ranking of the tailbacks. It does not include, for instance, Kenyan Drake, who was not a starter, but who might have been in the conversation except for injuries that limited his career.
It is notable that Bama’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, was a backup as a freshman before winning the award as a sophomore, and that Derrick Henry, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, was a two-year backup before taking the award as a junior.
Our ranking is certainly subject to disagreement.
Derrick Henry had only one year as Bama’s starting tailback, but what a year as he won the Heisman Trophy and led the Crimson Tide to the 2015 national championship. As a junior last season he rushed 395 times for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns, smashing not only Alabama records, but also Southeastern Conference marks held by the likes of Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, and Tim Tebow. He also caught 11 passes for 91 yards. As a sophomore behind T.J. Yeldon, he rushed for a team-leading 990 yards on 172 runs with 11 touchdowns, and also caught 5 passes for 133 yards and 2 TDs. As a freshman in 2013 he had only 35 carries, but picked up 382 yards – 10.9 yards per rush – and scored three TDs, and also had one pass reception in the Sugar Bowl, which he turned into a 61-yard touchdown.
2. Mark Ingram
Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner helped Alabama to an undefeated season and the national championship in his 2009 sophomore year as he rushed 271 times for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns. He added 158 carries for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns and 21 receptions for 282 yards and a TD as a junior. First round draft choice taken by New Orleans in 2011 NFL draft.
After backing up Mark Ingram in his freshman (2009) and sophomore seasons, Richardson was Alabama’s leading rusher in the 2011 national championship season when he ran 283 times for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 338 yards and 3 TDs. In the 2009 national championship season he had 145 carries for 751 yards and 8 touchdowns and 16 receptions for 126 yards, and as a soph had 112 rushes for 700 yards and 6 touchdowns and 23 receptions for 266 yards and 4 TDs. First round draft choice, third player taken overall, by Cleveland in 2012 NFL draft.
Eddie Lacy paid his dues as the back-up to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in 2010 when he had 56 carries for 406 yards (7.2 per carry) and 6 TDs and back-up to Richardson in the 2011 season with 95 carries for 674 yards (7.1 ypc). In the 2012 national championship season he had 204 rushes for 1,322 yards (6.5 per carry) with 17 TDs and caught 22 passes for 189 yards and 4 touchdowns. Second round draft choice by Green Bay in 2013 NFL draft.
5. T.J. Yeldon
T.J. Yeldon is probably best remembered for a run he made after a pass reception than for any tailback rush. As a freshman in 2012, Yeldon took a screen pass from AJ McCarron and took it 28 yards for a touchdown in the final minute at Baton Rouge to defeat LSU, 21-17, Bama’s closest call in a national championship season. Yeldon was the backup to Eddie Lacy that season and rushed 175 times for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs. As the starter in 2013 he had 207 carries for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns and 20 pass receptions for 183 yards. In his junior year he rushed 194 times for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns and had 15 pass receptions for 180 yards and a score. Second round draft choice by Jacksonville in 2015 NFL draft.
6. Glen Coffee
Coffee split playing time with Terry Grant in 2007, then became the starter in 2008 and rushed 233 times for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns. His backup that year was Ingram, who had 143 carries for 728 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman. Taken in third round of 2009 NFL draft by San Francisco.