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Alabama Football: Who will fill the void left by Eddie Lacy at running back in 2013?

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, junior running back Eddie Lacy officially announced at a press conference on Friday morning that he would forego his senior year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.

The announcement comes as no surprise with it being rumored for a month now that he would be leaving. Lacy is currently projected as a first or second round pick in the upcoming draft.

The decision for Lacy to leave now is a great one for more reasons than one. He is undoubtedly playing his best football of the season, rushing for at least 130 yards and a combined five touchdowns in his last three games against Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame. It was thought by many that Lacy and Co. may struggle against Georgia and Notre Dame with both teams owning arguably the most feared and talented front seven in college football, respectively.

Despite a stellar season rushing for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns on 204 carries, including a 157 total yard and two touchdown offensive MVP showing in the national championship game, Lacy’s Alabama career might be best remembered for his nagging injuries.

For much of his career, Lacy has been a solid, but not spectacular running back like that of a Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson. It may come across as sounding like an excuse, but injuries almost certainly played a role in that.

Granted, lots of players play hurt on a weekly basis, but there never seemed to be a time when Lacy was at 100 percent until the end of this season. With the shelf life of an NFL running back being short-lived, it makes little sense for Lacy to return for another season just to get further beat up with no reward (other than possibly winning yet another national championship).

Last but not least, it only takes one glance at the roster to see that the backfield is getting very crowded. With six returning running backs along with three more highly-touted ones coming in, Lacy’s role in the offense could actually have decreased next year with so much talent competing behind him for some playing time of their own.

So who does that leave to fill the void? Obviously, the first person that comes to mind is T.J. Yeldon. In his inaugural season at Alabama, Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns along with scoring the go-ahead touchdown off an AJ McCarron pass in a come-from-behind victory at LSU. It’s a safe bet to pencil in Yeldon as the starter in 2013.

After Yeldon is where things really get interesting.

Next in line behind Yeldon is freshman Kenyan Drake, who started the season buried on the depth chart until early-season injuries to Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart promoted him to third-string. Drake carried the ball 42 times on the season for 281 yards and five touchdowns with a 6.7 yards per carry average. Based off his body of work this season, Drake is the leading candidate to co-star at running back with Yeldon just as Lacy-Yeldon, Richardson-Lacy, and Ingram-Richardson have done over the past three seasons.

Returning from knee injuries will be junior Jalston Fowler and redshirt freshman Dee Hart. Fowler was the third-string running back before being lost early in the season against Western Kentucky, but played a much more invaluable role than that as a fullback/H-back. Hart was the fourth-string running back, who was redshirted in 2011 after tearing his ACL before the start of the season. He tore his ACL for a second time this past September against Ole Miss. A former five-star recruit, there is no question that Hart has talent, but the knee injuries leave Hart a mystery until he can stay healthy.

The other two returning running backs are redshirt freshman Brent Calloway and freshman Trey Roberts. Calloway is a former linebacker turned H-back, who switched to running back to add depth at the position following the losses of Fowler and Hart for the season. With a reloaded backfield for 2013, expect Calloway to switch back to H-back full time barring any major injuries at running back next season. Roberts is a walk-on, who was the only running back on the roster this past season with no carries on the season. At the very least, expect him to provide ample competition for the other running backs.

With those players alone, the Crimson Tide would likely be set at running back for next year even in the case if some of those players got injured. But like they say, the rich get richer, and nowhere is that more evident for the Tide than at running back.

According to ESPNU, the Tide are picking up two four-star prospects in 5-foot-8, 190-pound Tyren Jones from Marietta, Ga. and 6-foot, 212-pound Altee Tenpenny from North Little Rock, Ark.

Although Jones or Tenpenny could be a starter in the future at Alabama, the crown jewel out of the three at least for right now is without question, Derrick Henry.

Henry, a five-star prospect out of Yulee, Fla., is rated as the No. 9 overall player on ESPNU’s top 150, and is probably one of the more interesting players to come out of high school in recent memory. Although his primary position in high school was running back, Henry is listed as an athlete by recruiting services, which can be attributed to his unusually large size as a running back at 6-foot-3, 243 pounds.

To no fault of his own, his build leads to speculation that he will play linebacker in college, although he possesses the speed and agility of a running back. Henry has said on several occasions that his goal is to play running back, which means that head coach Nick Saban must be planning on giving him every opportunity to play the position he desires, otherwise he would have committed elsewhere.

If Henry’s unique blend of size and speed doesn’t impress you enough, it should be noted that he broke the 59-year-old national high school career rushing yardage record of 11,232 yards by setting his own mark of 12,212 yards. Henry ran for a mere 4,261 yards and 55 touchdowns, averaging 327.8 yards per game this past season when he broke the record.

Feel free to miss Lacy next season for being the fine player that he is, but don’t expect the Tide to miss him too much when they have a wealth of viable options to keep the production going.

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