Justice Haynes: Kalen DeBoer's Next Ronnie Rivers
While not a household name, the degenerates will always remember Ronnie. Central California's finest was dynamite in DeBoer's Fresno State offence; KD's now got a player with similar skills at Bama.
I refuse to be sick—I'm wearing Valentino for crying out loud.
- Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Well, there’s no doubt about it, it’s been a tough month for Alabama Football fans. Though I can’t say that I feel all that sorry for them, I have been enjoying watching the blowback from Saban’s retirement, and the subsequent hiring of Bryan Harsin—sorry, I mean Kalen DeBoer.
I think the biggest travesty of it all is that the fucking autocorrect across all platforms is unrelenting in its insistence on printing out ‘Karen DeBoer’ every time I go to write that motherfucker’s name. And before you accuse me of being a casual who doesn’t know who coach KD is, I’ve linked here an article I wrote about his UW offence back in June.
I’ve not only been following coach since his days in Seattle, but I was also a big fan of his while he HC’d Fresno State. One of their RBs was a favourite of mine during the COVID season. That player—Ronnie Rivers, also known as Central California’s finest, coincidently played in a high school football game vs. former Alabama RB Najee Harris. Funny how the world works, isn’t it? It all comes around full circle eventually, sort of like a non-SEC team finally winning a natty again (hello!).
If my memory serves correctly (you can probably find this game on YouTube), Rivers broke a record and scored like eight TDs in that game. He actually outperformed Najee, which is pretty crazy considering Rivers was an unknown three star prospect, while Harris was one of the top ranked players in the country.
Coming back to the topic at hand—yes, Nick Saban officially retired last week and has been replaced by former UW head football coach Kalen DeBoer. This hiring has left a large portion (the bandwagoners) of CFB’s proudest fanbase waddling around aimlessly in uncharted territory. In fact, you might have encountered some of these fans, who unfortunately remain in utter denial “I refuse to be humble, I’m wearing the Crimson ‘A’ for crying out loud!”.
But this article isn’t about trashing on Alabama Football fans—who me? I’d never… No, I’m here today to spotlight a player that I know many are excited about. Former Buford and Blessed Trinity Catholic five star RB Justice Haynes.
Maybe the biggest — and less commonly known — piece of information is that DeBoer’s teams in the past have had, on occasion, a pig in the backfield. I would say overall he skews more to a committee, but as I mentioned, his history with Ronnie Rivers and now Dillon Johnson has me intrigued.
Haynes has a similar skill set to both, in that he is an able pass-catcher, and a very nimble and agile runner. Of course, he also has some power behind his pads—he wouldn’t be at Alabama football if he didn’t.
In this day and age, it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise if Haynes hit the portal. But as of writing this article, that hasn’t happened, and I’m going to assume he’ll be on the roster come September 2024.
Additionally, at the time of writing this article it has been announced that former UW OC Ryan Grubb is expected to be the next OC of Alabama. However, with the Arizona job now open, this could change on a dime. For today’s exercise, I’m just going to assume Grubb follows coach KD. So let’s get (roll) into this thing, shall we?
Coaching & System
I’m not going to lie, I almost mistook OC Ryan Grubb for Caleb Downs for a second there when I saw the above photo. My guy looks like a deep field safety prowling around for an unsuspecting WR coming over the middle.
Initial appearances aside, Grubb is actually on the offensive side of the staff. He has taken over OC duties from Tommy ‘I think we should go with Tyler’ Reese. Grubb has been with DeBoer pretty much every season since 2017, with a brief departure in 2019 when KD served as OC at Indiana. Grubb held the title of OC at Fresno State (FSU) from 2019 to 2021.
While 2021 was a bit of a disappointment for FSU tailback Ronnie Rivers, his 2019 and 2020 seasons were pretty sick. The integral part of Rivers’ profile was his pass catching. The Bulldogs (ironic name for a former team KD coached at) used Rivers everywhere.
In 2019, Rivers only received 177 carries (I just threw up in my mouth), he rushed for 899 yards and 13 TDs, but he also caught 43 passes for 348 yards and three TDs. Despite low carry volume over 12 games, that’s an average of 21.9 PPG in 1PPR formats.
During the shortened COVID season, Rivers ran for 507 yards and seven scores in what was essentially five games (left the sixth with one carry for -1 yards). He also caught 27 passes for 265 yards and two more scores. All told, his average would have been a pig-gasmic 31 PPG.
As mentioned, 2021 was a disappointment for Ronnie. I watched a lot of FSU games that season, since I had sought to tap the well once again, drafting Rivers with a third round selection, which I was pretty chuffed about at the time. Fun fact: this team was probably the best CFF squad I’ve ever assembled in one league, and my first three picks were Minnesota’s Mo Ibrahim (achilles first game), Buffalo’s Kevin Marks (bust) and Rivers (bust). You can only imagine what sort of magic must have been pulled off in the later rounds of that draft. A tail for another day, perhaps.
The TD production just wasn’t there for Rivers in 2021, despite pretty strong levels of volume still. He actually still cleared 1000 yards total, even though he only played in 11 games.
Prior to Grubb taking over as OC in 2019, ironically, the FSU backfield was a committee between Rivers and a young lad named Jordan Mims. You might be smirking reading that, as it was Mims who ended up being the eventual successor of Rivers late in 2021, and carried that momentum to a strong year in 2022.
Each of those years at FSU (2017 and 2018) where KD OC’d the Bulldogs were either a two way split or a three way split.
DeBoer’s 2019 Indiana squad had a volume pig-light in Stevie Scott. Scott finished the year clearing 1000 yards total (~800 rushing, ~200 receiving), scoring a total of 11 TDs. Those numbers are not too bad, though they probably wouldn’t warrant a spot on most CFF rosters.
KD and Grubbs joined UW in the 2022 offseason. That season, I had acquired via waivers all three of Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, and Jalen McMillan (this was before it was cool to like these guys, mind you), so I was watching a lot of UW football.
I actually watched every game, including the one vs. Portland State, when these motherfuckers held Odunze out with no prior warning. Picture this: it was a busy week for me, I was traveling from the Dominican Republic and forgot to set auto subs on, so of course it would be the week where a player is held out with no warning, right? But it’s okay, I eventually found it in my heart to forgive DeBoer when his boys went apeshit vs. Arizona.
One player who was a thorn in my side as a QB-WR-WR shareholder was RB Wayne Taulapapa, who scored just enough to be annoying, but not enough to warrant a roster spot. WT finished the year rushing for over 800 yards on 140 carries, scoring 11 TDs, and catching 24 passes for 225 yards and another score. His running mate—Cam Davis, actually out scored him with 13 rushing TDs. Disgusting.
The following season was much better for individual RB production. Former Mississippi State Bulldog (fucking hell, there’s a lot of mention of ‘Bulldogs’ today for a Crimson Tide article… this is probably also a good place to mention that UW’s mantra is #GoDawgs), Dillon Johnson rushed for nearly 1200 yards on 233 carries, scoring 16 times, plus adding 24 catches for 190 yards. His numbers averaged out to 18.7 PPG over 15 games, and that was with a hobbled performance in the championship vs. Michigan. His touch volume averages to just over 17 per contest. While not exactly what we’re looking for, 17 is not bad.
Closing Thoughts & Concerns
So of course, at a program like Alabama, there are other talented bodies in the room. We can look at Haynes’ classmate as one example. Former five star(ish) RB Richard Young from Florida remains on the roster. He didn’t get much play though. I like to default to the evaluators, as it’s their profession after all, but I’ve got to say, I never saw it with Young’s tape. He never looked impressive to me, and I could never understand his rating.
There is also Jam Miller, a former four star RB in the 2022 class. He probably represents the largest threat to Haynes getting designated pig duties.
The most likely scenario I would come up with if there was a gun to my head is that Miller and Haynes split work the way WP and Davis did at UW in 2022. But we can also imagine a plausible path where Haynes becomes DeBoer’s next Ronnie Rivers or Dillon Johnson, and finishes with around 200 touches, 1000 yards total and 10+ TDs. After all, Rivers himself split reps with Mims early on in his career, before becoming the designated pig later on. That could also mean that 2025 is the big year for Haynes rather than 2024.
A lot of things still need to play out in the coming weeks before we’ll have real clarity on the matter. Of note, the only offensive coach expected to be retained by KD is RB’s coach Robert Gillespie, so that probably prevents the RBs from hitting the portal, but who knows in this day and age.
What say ya’ll?
Oh, and shoutout to my guy Sal, who helped bring this topic to my attention.
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