Alabama has had a history of great running backs and under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have become the new “Running Back U,” replacing USC at the top of the list. During last week’s game, as T.J. Yeldon was tearing up LSU (133 yards, two touchdowns), many college football fans took to social media to debate Yeldon’s place among legendary Tide tailbacks of the past. While it may be premature to declare the sophomore a legendary player for the team, it’s worth taking a look at where others were at in their second season. Where does Alabama’s current star running back stand amongst his predecessors at this point in his career? Let’s compare.
In Alabama’s championship season last year, T.J. Yeldon was the second-string running back for Alabama behind Eddie Lacy who now plays for the Green Bay Packers. At the end of Lacy’s sophomore season in 2011, he had racked up 1,080 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in his collegiate career. Right now, T.J. Yeldon has 1,970 rushing yards and 24 scores in his Bama career and his sophomore season is not even complete yet. While Yeldon has had more carries than Lacy had at this point, which makes his stats look better than Lacy’s, it seems that he is projected for the better college career.
Before Lacy, the starting tailback for the Tide was Trent Richardson. You may recognize the name, “T-Rich” was a finalist for the Heisman in 2011. At the conclusion of Richardson’s sophomore year in 2010 he had rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns, adding four receiving touchdowns to the list. That gives Yeldon 519 more rushing yards on 58 more carries, with Richardson gaining more yards per carry. This one is almost too close to call, because Richardson and Yeldon have two different running styles, with Richardson’s being significantly more powerful. This will even be tougher when Yeldon graduates, with a big debate likely brewing in a couple of years. Slight edge to Trent Richardson, but if Yeldon can win a Heisman and another national championship, the edge may swing his way.
Prior to Richardson was Mark Ingram. Ingram went a step further than Richardson by winning the Heisman Trophy in 2009, his sophomore season. After that year, his career totals were at 2,386 yards and 29 touchdowns. For those scoring at home, that’s 416 more yards and five more touchdowns than Yeldon. Yeldon has three more games to get those yards and touchdowns. Can he get it? It’s possible. Will he? Not likely. But throw in the fact that Ingram had 99 more carries, as well as being the starter his freshman year and the playing field evens out a little. Once again, Ingram was a bit more powerful, but if Yeldon wins the Heisman and has a better junior year than Ingram’s, he’s right back into this debate. Slight edge to Ingram.
Though he didn’t play in the Saban Era, Shaun Alexander is still considered by many as the greatest tailback to ever wearing the Crimson Tide uniform. The leading rusher in Bama history, Alexander went on to have a very successful NFL career where he was the best back in the league for a few seasons in the mid-2000’s. But by the end of his sophomore season in Tuscaloosa, Alexander had rushed for 1,004 yards and nine touchdowns, not getting feature-back carries until his junior year. In his last two years of college, he ran for 2,561 yards and 32 touchdowns, an incredible feat for a player in the late 1990’s where the passing game had started to really come into play. Alexander’s performance in Crimson Tide lore shows that Yeldon still has a long way to go, but that he has a definite shot of unseating the all-time leader in rushing yards if he continues to put up these numbers.
In conclusion, by comparing T.J. Yeldon to Bama legends at this point in Yeldon’s career, it’s easy to see just how much #4 has already accomplished as a member of the Crimson Tide and how much he still has to grow. By the time his career is over in Tuscaloosa, writers and fans may be calling Yeldon the greatest running back in the history of the program.