2020 Alabama Player Profile: Running Back Najee Harris
The Alabama Crimson Tide were bound to have one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC and the nation. The LSU Tigers became that high powered offense that the Tide were expecting to be in 2020. Tua Tagovailoa’s hip injury left the Tide devastated without a dynamic pocket passer under center. Mac Jones stepping in for the Tide went better than most fans were expecting. A lot of that came from the reliability of our 2020 Alabama player profile, running back Najee Harris. He performed well in a role where the running backs’ impact was limited due to the versatility of the quarterback. Last season, Harris rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns on 209 carries. He also caught 27 balls for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
There was a chance that Harris could’ve been a second or third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He is a running back that has great speed, agility, and acceleration. He also showed his potential as a receiver. Last year, he caught five receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the win over South Carolina. Harris showcased his reliability in his hands as a receiver and acceleration after catching the ball. Instead, he decided to stay for his senior season for the Crimson Tide in 2020. Harris saw the huge opportunity to boost his NFL Draft stock for the 2021 NFL Draft, to potentially win a National Championship, and to be a leader for the Crimson Tide. He is the most established running back in the nation after Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Harris was named second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC by Athlon Sports.
Becoming a big-time leader
Last season, Harris was a key member in his first year as the starting running back for the Crimson Tide. The offense revolved around Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, and several members of the offensive linemen. Harris was crucial for the Tide’s offense as the main rusher as well as an extra receiver in the backfield. Not only is Harris one of the experienced players on the team but he is one of the most talented players on the team. With players like senior offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, senior wide receiver Devonta Smith, and junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle returning, Harris remains as one of the most predominant featured offensive players for the Tide in 2020. The last time a running back was the face of the Crimson Tide was in 2015 when Derrick Henry bulldozed his way to the Heisman Trophy.
The running back position becomes a top priority for Alabama
With Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts as the starting quarterbacks, the offense wasn’t focused on the run first scheme from a running back. With Jones entering as the starting quarterback, the schemes of the offense will be more traditional. Harris has a chance to become a more explosive running back as he gets more carries in 2020. Last season, Harris had four games where he had 20 or more carries. Hubbard had 11 of his 13 games last season for the Cowboys where he had 20 or more carries. While Jones possesses attributes of an athletic, dual-threat quarterback, his skill sets fit the schemes of a pro-style offense. Harris will be a pivotal contributor to the Tide’s offense as the face and first go-to player for the Tide’s offense.
Harris will likely carry a majority of the Tide’s overall carries for all running backs and quarterback rushes in 2020. For the past few seasons, the Tide have utilized a multi-back scheme with a dual-threat quarterback for a dynamic offense. Alabama’s rushing offense ranked 56th in the nation (168.7 rushing yards) this past season. The rushing offense will increase in production as Harris gets more carries as the scheme adjusts to Jones’ playstyle. Alabama’s offense will utilize a run-first offensive scheme since 2015 with Henry in his senior season. The Tide has had five seasons in a span of seven seasons from 2009 to 2015 where the Tide had a 1,000-yard rusher in their traditional style offense. They had one season in 2012 where they Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon both rush for over 1,000 yards.
Harris, who is in the spotlight of our 2020 Alabama player profile, is a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy for the 2020 college football season. While he isn’t the best running back in the nation compared to Hubbard and Etienne, he is one of the most valuable and dangerous backs in the nation. In the 2009 season, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart won the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best running back but it was Alabama running back Mark Ingram that won the Heisman Trophy. What makes Harris one of the most dangerous backs in the nation is the ability to be a high-volume runner as well as a dangerous receiver in the passing game. Look for Harris to be one of the top offensive playmakers outside of the quarterback position. His production on the field will help determine the Tide’s capacities as an explosive offense.