Alabama football: Saban happy to have Harris back
MOBILE — Three days after he captured his sixth national championship, Nick Saban sent five Alabama juniors into the NFL draft, equalling the most in his 11-year tenure.
The one he kept is vital.
Running back Damien Harris, the Tide’s first two-time 1,000-yard rusher since T.J. Yeldon, will return for his senior season.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Saban said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl — his first public comments since Harris’ decision. “I think that Damien wanted to finish his education, I think he likes college, he likes school.”
Harris told the Paul Finebaum Show earlier this month he “just wasn’t ready to leave yet” despite a national championship and another 1,000-yard season where he averaged 7.41 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns.
“I wanted to come back to this team and continue to try to do something even more special than what we’ve already accomplished,” Harris told the radio show. “I just wanted to come back. There’s a lot of people that I have a lot of love for. I love this coaching staff, I just really love being a part of this team … I just really wanted to be a part of this team for one more year.”
Before his decision, Harris was ranked the No. 5 running back prospect in the 2018 draft class and the No. 35 overall player, according to CBSSports’ rankings.
Four of the Tide’s five early entrants — defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne, receiver Calvin Ridley and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison — rank in the top-60 among players available in those same rankings.
The fifth, running back Bo Scarbrough, is the No. 18 running back available. Scarbrough declined to reveal his draft grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee when he announced his decision on Jan. 11.
“A lot of guys, man, they have it in their mind that they’re going to go out for the draft no matter what,” Saban said Wednesday. “I think you all know my philosophy on that — if you’re a first-round draft pick you should go, if not, you should stay in school and try to graduate. I think it’s getting tougher and tougher and more guys are making the decision to go out early and at least 50 percent of those cases, it’s not a good decision and people don’t make a team.”
Though Scarbrough departed, Alabama returns Harris — its leading rusher — along with rising sophomore Najee Harris, who led the team in rushing during its CFP Championship Game win against Georgia, and change-of-pace back Joshua Jacobs.
Damien Harris returns within reach of some program records, too.
On 327 career carries, he averages 6.7 yards. Among running backs with at least 400 attempts, Bobby Marlow holds the career program record with 6.3 yards per rush. Harris ranks 16th on the Tide’s all-time rushing list, too.