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CFF Discussion - Will there be a VOLUME PIG in Alabama's RB room this SZN?
Alabama's been a gold mine for CFF RBs in the last decade, I give some thoughts on the room headed into 2023
Big wheels keep on turnin', carry me home to see my kin
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Musician
Ah yes, sweet home Alabama. It was unavoidable, wasn’t it? Eventually VP would have to cover the program everyone loves to hate. Nowadays, when I listen to Alabama fans, it almost brings me sadness. It’s like watching a grandparent go senile. They’ve lost it, and they don’t even realize it.
At the family gathering they’re trying to give you some advice about life, and attempting to have a real conversation with you, meanwhile, you’re over here with a cloth cleaning up the porridge coming out of their mouth, and pretending like you give a sh*t every time they start another story with “back in my day…”.
Sure, you still placate them and act impressed whenever they execute the most trivial of tasks “wow, very good grandpa, you poured the milk all by yourself! (beat Vandy by double digits)”, and even occasionally instilling some tough love “grandma, I told you to stop trying to steal your neighbour’s sweets! (hands off UGA DC Glenn Schumann)”.
Alabama fans lost their minds last December as the Tide were left (deservedly so) off the CFP rankings list. The rest of CFB, however, rejoiced. Not because anyone was afraid of Bama (see Tennessee and LSU games), rather, it was because Alabama had not earned it. They did not deserve a playoff birth, and the fact that they tried to backdoor in was very un-Alabama standard of them. That’s what I’m referring to above when I say that looking at this program right now brings sadness (and a little bit of joy) to this UGA fan’s heart.
But, I am a college football (CFB) purist first and foremost. That means I love all of CFB; yes, even Alabama football.
In 2020, I prioritized RB Najee Harris on my CFF teams. Harris is likely the most elite CFF player I’ve ever had over the full course of a season. His usage under OC Steve Sarkisian’s offence was absurd that year, including a cool 5-TD performance vs. Ole Miss.
Lately, it’s been Alabama’s WRs that have garnered the most hype amongst the CFF crowd. This is likely due to Jameson Williams’ monster season in 2021.
CFF managers sought to return to the well once again in 2022, but were left disappointed as none of Jermaine Burton, JaCorey Brooks, JoJo Earle or others lived up to the hype.
Hold on, I think I hear grandpa going on another deluded rant about if Jameson Williams was playing, Alabama’s defence would have stopped two-star walk on Stequavious Bennet from scorching their entire roster in the natty. Let me go tend to him real quick…
Alright, we’re back. Turns out grandpa accidentally sh*t himself (allowed Jalin Hyatt to score 5 uncontested TDs) while I was away. Don’t worry, I cleaned up the mess for him.
Headed into 2023, the identity of this team is going to be different under new OC Tommy Rees. As the Tide seek to develop QBs Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson (overrated!… wait, who said that?), it is not unlikely that this program will lean heavier on the ground. There are a lot of chefs in the kitchen, though, including known traitor Justice Haynes, who is a premium five-star freshman, and his running mate, Richard Young, who I don’t think is very good at football (more on that later).
Before delving into the personnel, let’s first look at the new OC’s track record at the RB position.
Coaching & System
Tommy Rees was actually the ND QB as recently as 2013. He’s a young coach, and his trajectory appears to be on the ‘up’ as he rose through the ranks at ND in swift fashion. He now finds himself at one of the top programs in the country.
Lucky for him, the bar for improvement with the Tide isn’t set too high, as Bill O’Brien looked lost out there for much of 2022. O’Brien *got promoted* to the Patriots’ OC position this offseason and, as mentioned earlier, I expect a philosophy change on offence this season.
Here are a few comments from RB Jase McClellan on what he’s seen from the offensive philosophy so far in spring:
One thing we’re harping on on the offensive side of the ball is being physical. Being mentally prepared, less penalties before the snap and just toning that stuff down and bringing up the physicality.
Getting back to the basics . . . Running the ball, being physical up front and being balanced, passing the ball.
Alabama should be a much more run-heavy outfit under Rees compared to the O’Brien years, and even more so when you consider that (apparently) they are lacking an elite QB option.
Rees was OC of the Fighting Irish between 2020 and 2022; before that he was the QB coach from 2017-2019.
In 2022, Rees’ offence featured three RBs who carried the ball over 100 times, yet none saw close to 200+ carries.
The 2021 season was better, though, as Kyren Williams got the bulk of the work:
Williams also caught 42 passes (49 targets) for 359 yards and 3 TDs in 2021, bringing his average to approximately 23 FPG in 1-ppr formats.
In 2020, Williams also saw the lion share of carries, rushing 211 times for 1125 yards and 13 TDs in 12 games. He also caught 35 passes (39 targets) for 313 yards and another score. His 2020 FPG average was just over 21.
So in two out of the three seasons Rees OC’d Notre Dame, there was a bellcow RB in Williams. In fact, as those were the only seasons he has served as an OC, we can actually say two-thirds of the time he’s been the play caller, Rees has featured a volume pig in his backfield. I suppose that’s good news for us, but my inclination is that volume pig workloads aren’t Rees’ vibe. Even more so when considering how packed the RB room at Alabama is right now.
(Sr.) Jase McClellan - 5’11, 212
McClellan is entering his fourth year of CFB. The Aledo, TX native was a late flip in his recruiting cycle from Oklahoma to the Crimson Tide, and his skill set coming out of high school was extremely promising. His last name is also very annoying to type out, so I’m going to refer to him as ‘JM’ from now on.
JM played in 13 games last season and ran the rock 112 times for 655 yards and 7 TDs, and added an additional 174 yards through the air on 14 reception (17 targets) and 3 TDs (11.9 FPG). This is his best season so far of his career with the Tide and there were some rumblings that he was considering heading to the NFL draft.
As far as I know he is returning to the Tide for another season in 2023, though, and as the older head in the room, one has to think it will be likely that he is listed as the RB1 on the depth chart.
That may or may not be of any consequence, however, which I will explain in some detail below.
(Sr.) Roydell Williams - 5’10, 212
Williams is also entering his fourth year of CFB with the Tide. In 2022 he played in 13 games, rushing 56 times for 250 yards and 4 TDs, he also caught 5 passes (9 targets) for 37 yards (4.4 FPG).
For some reason all these Bama RBs are listed at 212 pounds on Fantrax. As we learned at the combine this past winter, we should take these measurements with a grain of salt.
I’d be surprised if Williams see’s major volume on a consistent basis this season. In fact, I think he is a transfer portal candidate. We’ll see what happens, but either way, I don’t think he’s going to be a major factor. He will have a role in the offence if he stays though.
(So.) Jamorian Miller - 5’10, 201
Miller, not to be confused with the other JM, is a rising sophomore out of Tyler, TX. He completed his freshman season with 12 games played, in which he ran 33 times for 223 yards and 2 TDs (2.9 FPG). His pass game usage was minimal as he caught 1 pass (2 targets) for -1 yard.
Now that Miller is in year two, he should be seeing an increased role in the offence. There is not much to go off of from last season so I can’t comment much on what I think he will do.
(Fr.) Justice Haynes - 5’11, 200
I’m a big fan of Haynes. I’m just going to go ahead and give the UGA legacy RB the nickname the ‘black CMAC’, as he reminds me of Christian McCaffrey with his smooth stride and natural pass-catching hands.1
He has the profile to be a workhorse at the collegiate level as he was an incredibly productive high school player, and demonstrated durability in the presence of immense workloads during his time at Roswell and Buford. In a few years when Chris Collingsworth refers to Haynes as the black CMAC on Sunday Night Football, just remember where you heard it first.
In fact, Haynes compared himself to CMAC during his recruitment, and was told by CMAC’s former coach that he could play a similar role:
Coach Taylor coached Christian McCaffrey, and he says that I can play a similar role as him — go play receiver, running back and block. I can be used like that.
Ironically, Coach Taylor was with Notre Dame at the time of that quote. Now, Haynes finds himself under another former ND football coach in Rees. I like that Rees has a history of high-end pass usage for one of his RBs — Kyren Williams, and I think (eventually) Haynes could do something similar. I don’t think he’ll be very CFF relevant in year one, however; save for a couple out-of-conference (OOC) games vs. FCS opponents. I expect him to have a role in the offence, though.
(Fr.) Richard Young - 5’11, 200
Unlike Haynes, Young is a freshman RB in this room that I am not very high on. I remember following his recruitment as UGA was one of the programs he was considering. Obviously, Alabama and UGA’s staff know more than I on this topic, but I can only trust my eyes here, and I was not very impressed with what I saw from Young’s high school tape.
I am a bit concerned that he and Haynes decided to join this class together, as it signals to me they do not have the desire to be a 300+ touch / season player in college. I am still going to hold out hope on Haynes, as I think he could thrive as a bellcow at Alabama. What I would ideally like to see is Young transfer out next offseason, which would clear the runway for Haynes.
I guess it goes without saying at this stage, I do not see Young being CFF relevant in 2023.
Programs like Alabama are a double-edged sword for CFF
Something to keep in mind is that Alabama is one of these programs that has the luxury to rest its best players in a lot of games during the season, and they do. It is sort of the opposite of acquiring a Group-of-Five (G5) stud, where in that case you worry about games that they’ll be overmatched in. With the Alabamas, Georgias, Ohio States, even Clemson a few years ago, the fear is that they’ll be in a lot of blowouts going the opposite direction. In these games, the starters typically get the curtain call just after halftime and sometimes sooner. That is very bad for CFF.
We saw this frequently with Alabama’s usage of Jahmyr Gibbs last season. Albeit it was under a different OC, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it will be more of the same in 2023. When I drafted Najee Harris in 2020, it was an all-SEC schedule, and Alabama’s defence was very poor that season, which was a perfect formula for CFF. In 2023, Alabama plays Tennessee-Chattanooga and USF which are both weak OOC opponents, and they could also be in blowouts over Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas, to name a few.
So, let this be a word of caution and something to keep in mind when contemplating drafting players from the biggest programs. It can be a double-edged sword, as the players may be elite, but they will also be taken out of many games very early. Justin Fields’ 2019 season is another good example of this. Prior to learning optimal CFF draft strategy, I drafted Fields early in drafts in 2019. There were many games where he would be projected to score over 40 fantasy points (FPs) only to be taken out of the game at halftime or early in the third quarter at ~20 FPs. It doesn’t matter how good players are, if they are not playing full games, you will lose a lot of CFF matchups.
VP’s final verdict: COMMITTEE (but it was close)
Sorry chaps, but I have to call it like I see it. I don’t see a major volume pig in this backfield this season. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a glimpse of what the rotation would look like in Gibbs’ absence during the bowl game vs. Kansas State. Outside of Gibbs’ 15 carries in that game, JM carried the ball 7 times for 42 yards and a score, Miller carried 3 times for 44 yards, and Williams carried 5 times for 23 yards.
My stance is that JM will be RB1, but that his volume will be eaten into enough by the other runners that he will not eclipse 200 carries. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was the Audric Estime of this team (see 2022 ND rushing stats above). I am not extremely firm in my committee stance, however, as I was slightly torn toward JM being a bellcow for this team due to his receiving upside. There could be a world where JM averages 20 touches a game but 5-7 of those are via receptions.
That being said, from I understand from reading some of the Alabama beat reports, JM is a more physical runner and is more akin to a typical bellcow style of runner that can get the job done between the tackles compared to Gibbs. The knock on Gibbs, as many of us know, was that he struggled between the tackles — that may have limited his usage a lot last season.
Not that this quote is of much consequence, but when asked about the RB room, Saban had this to say:
All four guys (JM, Williams, Miller, black CMAC) have had really, really good springs. They’re all very productive players. All those guys can contribute to the team in some ways. They’re doing really, really well. As long as we can stay healthy at that position, I don’t think that’s an issue on our team.
That’s about what I’d expect any coach to say. The reason I include it is because it doesn’t sound like Saban will be shopping the portal for a transfer RB this offseason.
In the future, I think the black CMAC could eventually be a volume pig, here’s hoping Young transfers out sooner rather than later.
Like I said, this one was close for me. If I have to draft one for 2023, it would be JM 100%, as it looks like he’s at the top of Alabama’s RB hierarchy. He’ll likely have some big performances during the season, but I just don’t think he’ll be a guy to rely on every week.
The good news? Alabama’s spring game is today, so we should have more information to work with very soon. If JM goes off this afternoon feel free to reach out and tell me what a moron I am. Fair warning though: I don’t know if I’ll be able to hear it with two championship rings on my ears.
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There was a time (last August) where Haynes’ commitment to the Tide would have really bothered me, these days, with consecutive championship rings on my fingers, my only inconvenience is turning door handles properly (shout out Three Year Letterman).