Even if you’re numb to watching dudes work out in shorts, you were probably impressed with Justice Haynes.

The Alabama running back is fluid through his movements, he’s got that first step burst and he looks like he hasn’t skipped a workout since … ever?

See for yourself:

The 5-star true freshman is, by all means, impressive. So impressive, in fact, that when Jordan Rodgers asked Nick Saban about the early enrollee ahead of Alabama’s spring game, he apparently offered up the response of “oh, he’s good.”

Haynes becoming good wouldn’t surprise anyone. What might be a bit more surprising would be if be became “All-SEC good” from the jump. While it’s not impossible for a true freshman to do that in the SEC — Alabama native Quinshon Judkins accomplished that feat in 2022 — it’s also not what the realistic expectation should be.

After all, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris weren’t 1,000-yard rushers as true freshmen:

  • 2008 Ingram: 728 rushing yards, 12 TDs
  • 2009 Richardson: 751 rushing yards, 8 TDs
  • 2013 Henry: 382 rushing yards, 3 TDs
  • 2016 Jacobs: 567 rushing yards, 4 TDs
  • 2017 Harris: 370 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Who actually had the best season by a true freshman at Alabama during the Saban era? TJ Yeldon, who racked up 1,108 yards on the ground in 2012. He, of course, still wasn’t even the leading rusher on that team. Pre-Draft Eddie Lacy held that title.

(We should probably give Yeldon more credit for being a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman for a title-winning team. I realize that because of the fumbles, he gets lost in the shuffle of the great Alabama backs of the 2010s, but that dude was phenomenal when he held onto the football.)

History suggests that under Saban, it’s all but impossible for a true freshman to emerge as Alabama’s go-to back.

So what does that mean for Haynes? It means we should remember that he might not be primed to set the SEC ablaze just yet. Sure, he’s not entering a backfield as loaded as the ones we’ve come to expect in Tuscaloosa, but it’s not as if the running back room is desperate.

Nationally, we need to be talking more about Jase McClellan, who could be the 2023 version of 2021 Brian Robinson. That is, a guy who patiently waited his turn and ultimately became one of the most reliable players on a title-contending team. He’s not the physical specimen that Haynes is, nor does he boast the versatility of 2022 star Jahmyr Gibbs. But don’t forget that when Gibbs was banged up to end the season, McClellan averaged 34.5 snaps in those final 4 games, and he racked up an average of 86.8 scrimmage yards. He looked fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered 11 months prior to the start of 2022.

As long as McClellan stays healthy, one would think he’s got an extremely favorable path to get the majority of the backfield work. Of course, that’s not a given.

But even if McClellan isn’t necessarily some 300-touch guy like Robinson was, there’s enough evidence to suggest Saban has faith in him. In addition to the late-season reliance on McClellan in 2022, we also didn’t see the Tide add another tailback in the transfer portal, unlike last year when Gibbs came aboard following Robinson’s NFL departure.

Perhaps part of that decision was also rooted in a belief that Saban has in Haynes. Coming out of spring, he received about the highest compliment you’ll see the Alabama coach pay a true freshman:

That doesn’t mean Haynes will avoid true freshmen moments. If the Tide plan on getting back to more play-action passing, you’re gonna need someone who can pass protect. Last year in the Bill O’Brien version of Alabama’s offense, that wasn’t a staple. Alabama running backs logged a combined 73 snaps in pass protection all year with Gibbs and McClellan leading the way with 36 and 27, respectively (via PFF).

When you have a quarterback as cerebral as Bryce Young, you can get away with only having a handful of snaps per game with a running back in pass protection. A more common occurrence was seeing Gibbs and McClellan run routes out of the backfield. Gibbs had 256 snaps as a pass-catcher while McClellan had 152. While I don’t think we should expect an even split of pass-blocking snaps vs. receiver snaps for Alabama running backs, I do believe we’ll see more balance in the Tommy Rees version of the Alabama offense.

Hence, why there could be some growing pains for a true freshman like Haynes. He really wasn’t asked to catch passes in high school. His 28 catches in 4 prolific years doesn’t suggest he’s about to warrant a Gibbs comp anytime soon, but that’s OK. He doesn’t need to be Gibbs in order to establish a legitimate role.

An ideal scenario for the Tide would be if the veteran duo of McClellan and fellow Year 4 back Roydell Williams stayed healthy while Haynes also got a chance to see meaningful snaps early. Even if we’re talking about 15-20 snaps per game that first month, Haynes could still flash that immense potential with a few highlight reel plays. If we’re saying the words “Haynes is just too good to keep off the field” into October, that’s a massive win for the Tide.

Let’s see how he handles being, at best, in a timeshare from the jump. That’ll be an adjustment for a guy who exceeded 200 carries in his freshman season of high school (he finished his career with 7,574 rushing yards and 95 touchdowns). Suggesting Haynes is in line for a 2015 Henry-type workload would be ignoring the history of Alabama freshmen running backs, and it would also be disrespecting the opportunity that awaits upperclassmen like McClellan, Williams and even Jamarion Miller, who was the No. 4 running back in the 2022 class.

At the same time, there’s a world in which Haynes establishes himself as a much-needed playmaker for an Alabama offense that’s atypically lacking in that department. Well, at least in terms of the proven guys. Lord knows Haynes and former JUCO transfer receiver Malik Benson have immense expectations as newcomers.

It’s safe to say those expectations for Haynes reached new levels after his workout video made the rounds on college football Twitter. But it might not be fair to say that he’s destined 1,000-yard season as a true freshman. There should be plenty of time for that before his college career is over.

For now, though, we can expect Haynes to have moments that prompt the masses to echo Saban’s spring evaluation.

“Oh, he’s good.”