Alabama Football: Damien Harris will have better NFL career than Nick Chubb

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07: Fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide cheer against the Louisiana State University Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07: Fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide cheer against the Louisiana State University Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama football’s running back Damien Harris made the transition to the NFL already, which will be the difference against Georgia for the championship.

In height and weight, there is not much difference between the Crimson Tide’s star rusher Damien Harris and Georgia’s top running back Nick Chubb. Harris is listed at 5’11” and 211 pounds, which almost twins Chubb’s 5’10” and 225-pound frame.

Yet, in the upcoming national championship game and in their years in the National Football League, Harris has already made an adjustment that will propel him to greater importance than Chubb.

Blasphemy? No. Outrageous claim? Possibly, but anyone could be an NFL scout if opinions were easy to calculate. There’s one detail between Harris and Chubb that continues to scratch at the back of one’s mind, trying to make its way to the surface.

Much of it has to do with the fact that people specifically mention Harris when discussing the Alabama running game. In Georgia, Chubb’s name continues to be mentioned alongside his rushing teammate, Sony Michel.

ICYMI: Tide basketball needs a road win in Athens

Chubb and Michel, in fact, will always be mentioned together throughout college football history:

Chubb is a heavy running back who gives a heavy punch up the middle. In 14 games, Chubb rushed 205 times for 1 320 yards and 15 touchdowns. The senior averaged 6.4 yards per carry, which was an improvement on the five-yard average from last season but still is lacking from his first two seasons of 7.1 and 8.1 yards, respectively.

In terms of receiving, the Georgia offense moved away from Chubb. In his freshman year, he caught the ball 18 times. That total looks like a mountain of catches compared to his 12 receptions in the next three seasons combined. Those pass attempts went to Michel, the lighter running back by 10 pounds. Michel made 48 catches in their sophomore and junior years, before catching only nine this season.

Michel’s rushing has also changed how Georgia has approached using Chubb. Michel had 63 fewer rushing attempts, but he had 191 fewer yards than Chubb. Michel has improved his rushing average to eight yards per carry, while Chubb has been used more for short-yardage situations. Michel is used for speedy runs to the edges, when Georgia is looking for breakouts to daylight.

It showed in this season’s Rose Bowl, as Michel had 11 carries for 181 yards against a weak Oklahoma defense. Chubb had 14 carries for 145 yards. Both young men were successful, but it’s interesting to point out that the final moments of the game were given to Michel. Chubb had the short runs, but the ball was put into Michel’s hands in the need for long, secured runs. That fact would include the game-winning run to win the national championship semi-final in overtime.

The same strategy was supposed to be used for Alabama football. Harris, a junior, was to share much of the running duties with senior wrecking ball Bo Scarbrough. The plan became apparent after last season’s national championship, when Harris was mostly ineffective after Scarbrough had to leave the game with an injury.

The plan, however, changed around the middle of this season. Harris attributed the program’s approach to his weight and lack of explosiveness with his feet. He decided to give up his love of the treat Honey Buns for his desire to be the focus of the Crimson Tide running game.

That focus translated to Harris averaging 7.6 yards per game, a step up from the 3.4 and 7.2 averages of his previous two seasons. It has also allowed him to stay in the game for more plays involving run blocking and picking up blitz packages. Harris is able to move his feet to the second level more quickly to block, making him useful for wide receiver runs near the sidelines or disguising him as a block to allow him access to the flats more freely for short pass attempts.

The adjustment was highlighted in this season’s Sugar Bowl, as Harris carried the ball 19 times for 77 yards against a very tough Clemson defense. Scarbrough could only muster 24 yards on 12 carries.

More from Bama Hammer

These factors lead these four men moving in opposite directions when the NFL draft takes place, this year. NFL offenses have moved away, for a number of years now, from using running backs like mules. No longer do NFL teams desire running backs to pound the ball inside the trenches for most of the game; instead, they want their running backs to be versatile in every situation. Often, the running back is now the utility player who needs to be quick as well as powerful, just like Harris was for Alabama this season.

Where does this all leave Chubb? He does have the potential athleticism to make the adjustment, but Harris has done it already. That means less time required to prep the running back on a new offensive system and more time spent using him for any and all important downs. Not just the short yardage plays.

Harris and Michel seem to have the quickness that the NFL is looking for, but Harris still has the power that Chubb brings. In essence, Harris is the combination of Chubb and Michel, if he were allowed to rest in between plays as much as the Georgia running backs get to do. The biggest advantage Chubb has had is having Michel being behind him to keep the running game at the same standard of energy.

Next: How important is Minkah Fitzpatrick and is he healthy?

The biggest advantage for Harris has been being able to bring both the thunder of Chubb and the lightning of Michel at any given moment. Just ask Scarbrough.