Najee Harris is ranked as the best running back recruit in the country by many, but is he Alabama’s next star in the backfield?
Lane Kiffin may be gone from the Alabama Crimson Tide now, but don’t expect their offense to change too much under Steve Sarkisian. Under Nick Saban and with consistently No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, the Tide are always going to run first. We saw it with Trent Richardson, with Mark Ingram, with Derrick Henry, and even with Bo Scarbrough, the latter still on the team heading into 2017. And chances are, we’ll see it with Najee Harris again.
Despite the prolific production of Alabama running backs over the year, though, there are different levels of stardom among them. Richardson was great, but clearly not worthy of the No. 3 overall draft pick he was selected with. Ingram wasn’t the big back that others have been, but had the everything you’d ask for Meanwhile, Henry was a workhorse in the purest since and looks to be the lethal combination of speed and power as a simply massive human being. As for Scarbrough, the jury is still out as injuries have derailed his college career to this point—to a degree at least.
Put simply, there is a difference between being productive because you’re the running back for Alabama and being the star as the running back for Alabama. With Harris coming to the Crimson Tide with all of the fanfare, it’s fair to ask the question of which category he will ultimately fall into.
Watching Harris play at Antioch High School in California, the five-star back looks like a grown man playing among children. That makes sense considering your average high school football player can’t contend with a running back who’s 6-2, 224 pounds that can overpower anyone and shed any tackler before showing uncanny speed in the open field to break away from the defense—or, more aptly, to break away from his wake of destruction he left behind.
In comparison to player like Richardson, Ingram and Henry that have graced the Crimson Tide backfield previously and Scarbrough currently, Harris offers the same impressive combination of power and speed that make him a force to be reckoned with. What stands out when watching Harris, though, is how effortless even the most dominant runs look for him. Despite the skill and effort it clearly takes to compete at the level that he does, it still comes natural.
For as talented and as easy as owning high school defenses may have been for every Alabama running back, Harris is singular in this regard. Young men at any level shouldn’t be able to thrash competition at any level with the supremacy and effortlessness that Harris did at Antioch.
Clearly playing against SEC defenses and high-caliber out-of-conference opponents will change that as we should see Harris turn it up a notch in regards to intensity. However, the mere notion that he would have an extra gear to hit is frightening. His tape already shows one of the most fierce running back recruits in recent memory, capable of embarrassing defenses at will. So to have him take that to another level should have SEC defensive coordinators trembling.
Also working in favor of Harris is simply that the Crimson Tide won’t have Joe Schmoe in front of him grading the road. Right behind Harris in the 247 Sports Composite Rankings sits Alex Leatherwood, a massive offensive tackle that has the potential to start from Day 1—even in Tuscaloosa. Leatherwood merely headlines an offensive linemen recruiting class for a school that may well be nicknamed O-line U at this point.
While having big men able to open the holes is a major contribution and help to Harris’ potential, he still has to have the ability to burst through those holes and make plays once he’s through. By all accounts and from everything we’ve seen, Harris does. But just how good is he going to be? Will he be the next Heisman Trophy winner? Could he fall short of that while still being a stud?
Frankly, Harris is the best running back to come to Alabama as a freshman that I’ve seen, which obviously says a great deal. However, no player to walk the campus in Tuscaloosa has brought the complete package to the table like Harris does. The speed, the power, and the ease with which he wrecks opponents is unparalleled among his Crimson Tide predecessors.
This doesn’t guarantee that he’s going to be the best running back in the history of Alabama football. Proclaiming something like that would be blasphemous for a player who hasn’t played a college game entering arguably the most prestigious program in the country. However, what can be said is that, from what we’ve seen and what we can assume, the potential for Harris to take up that mantle over his career with the Tide is present. He could not only be the next great running back for Bama—he could be the greatest.