Position Rankings: Running Backs

The Roundup's 2017 position group previews continues with the running backs as we examine the depth charts for the 12 Texas FBS schools. We look at who's coming back, a baseline statistical profile for each group, and mix in a little film study.  

1. Texas A&M

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
312 1961 6.29 93% 95%

Trayveon Williams has a chance to be real special. As an 18 year old playing in the rigors of the SEC, Williams didn't blink. Historically the SEC is big boy football: between the tackles, physical, not for the faint of heart. In his first SEC game Williams went for over 100 yards and averaged 12 yards a carry against Arkansas. He followed that up with 98 yards against South Carolina and over 200 yards against Tennessee. For the season Williams ran for 1,057 yards at 6.8 per carry. Williams caught the ball fairly well for a first year player at 19 receptions and catching 67% of his targets. 


Superlatives:

Best Power 5 Back: Kyle Hicks

Best G5 Back: Jeffery Wilson

Top Newcomer: Patrick Carr

Williams is direct at the line of scrimmage, very little wasted movement, and when he gets to the second level he can make players miss. Williams is a home run threat. A year in A&M's offseason program should make him even more dynamic. 


Williams' emergence pushed Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford down the pecking order to some extent. Ford was still productive, albeit in a reduced role. He rushed for 100 yards against LSU and over 600 yards on the year at over 5.3 yards per carry. Ford seeks contact more than any other Aggie rusher. He's a violent runner who rarely gets dropped by the first defender. 

Behind Ford and Williams, Kendall Bussey and Kwame Etwi give some semblance of depth. Etwi has averaged over six yards per carry in his two seasons. Bussey, a highly regarded redshirt sophomore from New Orleans, averaged eight yards a touch in 2016 in very limited mop up duty. 

2. TCU

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
247 1393 5.64 76% 79%

Kyle Hicks may be the best all-purpose running back in college football. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2016, in spite of missing time due to various nagging injuries. He also made 47 catches, best on TCU's pass happy offense. Hicks was the first Horned Frog since 1996 to lead the team in both rushing yards and receptions. As a runner, Hicks doesn't shy away from contact but he's elusive in tight spaces. As a receiver, he gives TCU a lot of options to keep the same personnel groupings and go empty or motion out to create matchup issues. He's an adept route runner. 

Hicks is really good by himself, be he's got some talented running mates.


Film Study: Kyle Hicks

Great all-purpose back. Nifty between the tackles. Punishing running style. Can go a little too far east/west. Great route runner. Can go in the slot. Soft hands. 


Darius Anderson was a very good pinch hitter for the Frogs, averaging an impressive 8.5 yards a carry, even if he bolstered that with a 34 yard average against Texas. Out of George Ranch, he gives the Frogs an explosive threat. Anderson has really good vision and runs well behind his pads. 

Sewo Olonilua, another sophomore, is a bigger back at 6-3 225. He averaged 8.1 yards a carry in just 15 rushes last season. Olonilua has really good feet for a bigger back. He's upright, but he's a pile mover at contact.  

3. Baylor

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
336 1782 5.30 71% 70%

The Bears will go as far as Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty carry them. Williams stepped into a starring role as Shock Linwood made his residence in the dog house last season. Williams averaged 5.7 yards a carry as a sophomore and ran for 1,048 yards. He did miss time due to injury which took him out of the Kansas State game and limited his production against Oklahoma. However he wrapped things up nicely with three straight games of 90 yards or more to end the season. 

Hasty is a jitterbug at 5-8 but he doesn't shy away from contact. He rush for over 600 yards last season at over 5 yards a carry. He did all that the third option for most of the season behind Williams and Linwood. Once Linwood was out, Hasty took off. He is hard to find in a pile and explodes into creases. When he plants his foot, he's lighting quick through the hole with very little wasted motion.

Baylor's issues may arise if anything happens to Williams or Hasty. Depth gets pretty thin after those two. Walk-on Wyatt Schrepfer got a lot of carries in the spring game, but he can't be counted on for more than spot duty. 

4. North Texas

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
210 1156 5.50 70% 70%

Get to know Jeffery Wilson, one of the more productive backs in CUSA the past two seasons. If he could have stayed healthy, chances are you would have heard of him. Back to back thousand yard rushers tend to garner attention. But Wilson has missed four games the past two seasons, two each in 2015 and 2016.

When he is on the field, the numbers are consistent and impressive. Wilson is an ideal one cut back for Seth Littrell's system. He sees a hole and goes. He typically goes to the end zone with 14 scores in 2016. The run game was the catalyst for the Mean Green offense in 2016, and Jeffrey Wilson was as valuable as any back in the state, this side of Aaron Jones and D'Onte Foreman. 

Wilson, unlike a lot of backs, excels between the tackles. Ball security is at a premium for Wilson, and he runs with great pad level. He's a patient runner, but once he sees a hole, he exploits it. 

Behind Wilson things get dicey. Willy Ivory was penciled into his role spelling Wilson once again until he was dismissed from the team in January. Nick Smith, a redshirt freshman from Arlington Martin, came out of spring as number two behind Wilson. His next college carry will be his first. Senior Andrew Tucker averaged seven yards a carry last season in very limited duty. 

The Mean Green will have the benefit of Loren Easly, a transfer from Stephen F. Austin to carry some of the load in Wilson's absence. True freshman Tre Siggers from Duncanville could get on the field thanks to his versatility and athletic ability. 

5. Texas 

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
108 572 5.30 25% 22%

Tom Herman could have held spring meetings with his healthy running backs in a phone booth. A hamstring injury ended Chris Warren’s spring. Kyle Porter was held out of the spring game with an ankle. Tristan Houston and Toneil Carter both were limited, and Kirk Johnson was held out due to knee issues.

Assuming a couple of those guys survive the summer and get to fall camp, Herman will use one or more of them to try and replace D'Onta Foreman. Rather big shoes. Warren will get the first shot, but his injury history doesn't give us much confidence. Hamstrings tend to linger. When he is on the field, Warren has been an elite level back. In three of his four games in 2016 he rushed for 90 or more yards. In 2015's final two games, Warren rushed for 276 and 106 respectively. 


Film Study: Chris Warren

Upright runner, keeps legs churning. Does damage with his off ball arm, uses it like a club. Nose for the end zone. Could lower pad level. Rarely does the first man bring him down. 


Herman would like to see him lower his pad level and thinks he'd be unstoppable if he does. His running style may be a reason for his injury issues in three successive seasons, dating to high school. 

Porter will next first man up to spell Warren. As a true freshman he rushed for 205 yards on 46 carries. Porter was very productive at Katy high school. True freshman Carter, who was the only healthy scholarship running back available for the spring game, had some impressive moments but has a proclivity to but the ball on the ground. After that there's a mishmash of Roderick Bernard, Houston and Johnson who could all play some role, but will be playing their first minutes. 

6. SMU

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
370 1838 4.97 96% 98%

SMU returns almost all their skill talent from 2016. Every significant contributor in the rushing game is back and that's great news for Chad Morris and whoever plays quarterback. The group was pretty productive, even behind a less than stellar offensive line. This is a rushing game by committee with no real bell cow, but instead the talents of several backs will come together to form what should be a decent ground game.

The most decorated of the returning plays is Braeden West, a sophomore from Katy who broke the 1,000 yard barrier in 2016. West looks smaller than his 5-10, 170 listed size, if that's possible. He gets lost in the wash at times and is a great one cut back. He finds a hole and glides north/south. West is a pretty good asset in the pass game, excelling on screens.  

Ke'Mon Freeman is more of a thumper with great forward lean. As a true freshman in 2016, he broke out with over 600 yards rushing and adding nearly 200 yards receiving. Xavier Jones had a much better 2015 than 2016. His 2016 was decimated by injuries. In 2015, he ran for 634 yards and ten scores. Last season those number fell to 140 and one touchdown. If he's healthy and fully operational, the Mustang's running options are a lot deeper. 

Kayce Medlock, a true freshman from Arp and Alphonso Thomas a redshirt will also get a look in fall camp. Medlock was recruited by several Power 5's. His speed makes him special. Thomas was a late flip from Nebraska in 2016. 

7. UTSA

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
168 868 5.17 45% 49%

UTSA lost its most productive running back with the graduation of Jarveon Williams. How much the Roadrunners miss Williams will depend largely on whether Jalen Rhodes is ready to be the featured back. If his understudy audition gives any indication, UTSA will be just fine. 

Rhodes rushed for 827 yards at 5.3 yards per rush. Those numbers should sky rocket as Rhodes becomes the primary ball carrier. We love the way he runs behind his pads and goes straight north-south. Rhodes is an efficient back with little to no wasted directional change. Rhodes should do great things if he can stay on the field. 


Film Study: Jalen Rhodes

Very little wasted motion. Highly efficient back. North-South. Finishes runs very well. Good hands. Not elusive, but won't get negative plays. 


The understudy to Rhodes is up for grabs and first shot probably goes to Corpus Christi Miller product and senior Tyrell Clay. Clay was used sparingly in 2016, but got plenty of looks in the spring. Special teams player Brett Winnegan could be a nice change of pace back if he can take care of the ball. 

UTSA signed a potentially great player in Florida product B.J. Daniels, a top 100 back. He looks like the complete package, size, speed, and physicality. Daniels was a thumper in high school, whether that style translates to the collegiate level we'll have to find out, but Frank Wilson will give the young player a chance to get on the field.

UTSA uses one of the rare and beautiful beasts, a fullback. In this case, Halen Steward will get first look after sitting out 2016 with a knee injury. He didn't participate in spring drills but should be 100% for fall camp. Steward is the kind of thick necked lead blocker that can be a tailback's best friend. 

8. Houston

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
302 1223 4.05 100% 100%

What if I told you that Houston would miss Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson to the tune of almost 1,500 yards? That's the difference between the 2015 Coogs, who gained 3,301 yards on the ground and the 2016 Coogs who gained 1,912 yards. That's the crater that Farrow and Jackson left. A crater that Houston couldn't fill last season. Houston tries once again to find those missing yards will largely the same cast of characters.

Duke Catalon led all backs with 145 carries but for a paltry 3.6 yards. Catalon, a former Texas signee, spent two seasons sitting out after transferring and never really found his footing last season. He also missed time with a concussion in 2016 that cost him four games. Houston is hoping last season was about rust rather than Catalon's ability. Dillon Birden, who walked on at Blinn before walking on at Houston, finished third on the team in rushes last season but a running back best 4.6 yards per carry. He also added six touchdowns in his four starts.  

A player to watch for as he speeds up the depth chart is Colorado transfer and former Woodlands Highlander Patrick Carr will be eligible to see the field this fall. He impressed in the spring game with over 100 yards rushing. Carr was very highly regarded out of high school and he's a fireplug at 5-9, with tremendous leg drive. Assuming Carr isn't rusty from his year away from the game, he'll give the Coogs a boost.

Mulbah Car came in as a true freshman last season and showed signs of being a very good back. The native of Liberia missed time with a knee issue last fall. If he's healthy he'll be in the rotation. The Cougars signed Davion Ford out of Rockdale, he had offers from Boise and UCF among others. He rushed for 3,200 yards in just over two seasons in high school. Ford is considered an all-purpose back with very good hands as well.  

9. Texas Tech 

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
222 935 4.21 94% 97%

Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive innovator, so much so that he eschews the running game. He doesn't really care whether his team runs the ball particularly well, he just wants his team to move the ball. Well, mission accomplished. Tech didn't run the ball worth a damn in 2016, the aerial circus was uninterrupted, and the Red Raiders didn't go to a bowl game.

Enter the 2017 Red Raiders, will things be different? Does it matter to Kingsbury whether they are? Let's talk about some options, just in case. True freshman De'Leon Ward led the Red Raiders with 428 yards. Total. Ward carried just over a hundred times and showed flashes of the kind of player he can be: explosive and elusive. We'd just like to see more of him. 

Justin Stockton is a senior out of Cibolo Steele coming off his worst season at Tech. Every number was down from attempts to yards to yards per carry. His yards per carry fell off by almost four yards from his 2015 season and six yards from his 2014 pace. Stockton has always been an asset in the passing game, averaging 21 catches his last two seasons. He was the most complete back on Tech's roster heading into 2016, before his production fell off the Kliff. The diminutive DeMarcus Felton made a prime time push in 2016. He finished second on the team with 354 yards rushing.

Tech has needed a bigger option at running back for a few seasons now, with a couple of newcomers, the Red Raiders may have found those bigger models. JC transfer Desmond Nisby at 6-1, 235 pounds gives Tech such a bigger back. So does Iowa grad transfer Derrick Mitchell. Neither are currently listed on the Red Raider roster. They can create their own green grass with a physical, pounding, downhill approach. At least that's the hope. Otherwise, unless Tech's line play improves, the running game will look very much the same. Maybe that's the way Kingsbury wants it. 

10. Rice

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
162 878 5.42 49% 54%

Samuel Stewart never really got his 2016 season going. Every time he broke through, he broke down. After a limited appearance due to injury in the opener, he missed three straight games. He came back in week 5 against USM and set a career high, rushing for 132 yards on just 19 carries. He added 77 against UTSA and 116 vs. Prairie View. Then, early in the Louisiana Tech game, Stewart was injured again and missed two more games. 

A healthy Stewart goes along way to giving Rice a potent rushing attack. Stewart is the most athleticaly gifted backs to come out of West U in recent memory. His stocky frame and direct running style suit him when he runs between the tackles. He finishes runs well and make the occasional eye popping athletic play as if to remind you he's capable of it. 

Austin Walter is a burner who lacks the physicality of Stewart, but can be a game breaker. If gets to green grass watch out, he can go. The key is getting him into that space. Emmanuel Esukpa is a bigger back at 220 pounds who saw some action as a true freshman in 2016. He showed out in the spring game with 45 yards on just five carries. He can fill the role of the much needed bigger, short yardage back for coach David Bailiff. Redshirt sophomore Nahshon Ellerbe was a valuable asset in the return game last year, and transitioned back to running back after spending time at receiver in 2016. 

11. Texas State

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
179 638 3.56 72% 74%

Texas State was among the worst rushing team in the country last year. They were among the worst teams in the country in a lot of areas, but we're talking about rushing the football so we'll confine out comments to that. But there is hope Bobcat fans. Stedman Mayberry, Tyler Tutt, and Anthony Taylor are all back and some young first year talent should help as well.

Mayberry is uniquely suited for the Bobcat offense because while he's a smaller back, he's a great target out of the backfield. Mayberry caught 91% of the 49 passes that targeted him. On the ground, he wasn't bad, his youth and a horrible offensive line led to some of those struggles. Still Mayberry was the Bobcats' most reliable, versatile back. 

Tutt is a bigger back at 215 pounds out of Keller. Tutt played in parts of five games last season with 27 yards on 11 carries. Taylor on the other hand was a special teams savant with three blocked kicks. On offense, his production was limited as well with just 21 yards on 11 carries. 

The 'Cats signed three star running back Anthony Smith out of Fossil Ridge. Smith is upright and shifty, but he needs to bring a more physical component to his play. Another interesting prospect is Jaylin Nelson. Listed as an athlete out of Duncanville, Nelson played quarterback in high school but he's pretty electrifying with the ball in his hands. Whether that's at running back is something for Everett Withers and his staff to work out. 

12. UTEP

Returning Carries Returning Yards Returning Avg. % Carries Returning % Yards Returning
88 358 4.07 28% 17%

UTEP starts its first season in while in the year of our Lord 2017 A.J. - "After Jones." For three seasons Aaron Jones was the catalyst of UTEP's offense. Good or bad, everything ran through Jones. Jones is a Green Bay Packer now, in his wake are a number of players who will try to fill his shoes. 

Quadraiz Wadley was first in line to replace Jones, but a shoulder injury will keep him out of service in 2017. Wadley's absence means that the task now falls to one of three or four basically unknowns. Kevin Dove, a sophomore from El Campo gives the Miners a big back at 250 pounds. He played most extensively vs. Florida International with four carries and 21 yards. Dove had back to back 1,900 yard seasons at El Campo and scored 59 touchdowns in his high school career. We'd like to see Dove run with more purpose, using his 250 plus frame as a hammer. He seems to anticipate contact too much and plays smaller than his massive build. 

T.K. Powell is recovering from an injury that held him out of last season but should be ready to go for the fall. He filled in for Jones in 2015 after Jones' knee injury. Powell is a walk-on from Fort Worth and is the most all-around skilled back of the group. Redshirt freshman Ronald Awatt from Frenship who had 2,000 yards rushing as a senior, got some looks in the spring. He's very good in space, how he plays when the acreage closes down is the question. 

The most exciting prospect may be El Paso native Josh Fields. Fields signed in February as a three-star prospect out of Americas High School. Head coach Sean Kugler made Fields a priority, targeting him since his sophomore year. Fields drew interest, though not offers, from Stanford, Texas and Colorado. He ran for 2,477 yards his senior season. Fields has some dog in him, never giving up on a run, running through tackles, constant leg movement. He'll be given a chance to play for the Miners early. He could be special in a couple years. 

The Roundup