Part 2 of our Preseason Position Previews features a group of running backs that do more than take handoffs. We saw a number of teams evolve their offenses in terms of the way they use their running backs. Memphis continued their success at the position, but took a different approach, and returns one of the top backs in the country. UCF’s tradition of explosive playmakers also continued, and will be as deep as it’s ever been. Tulane and Tulsa are right behind them too. With college football changing every year, teams must find new ways to move the ball down the field. Putting their running backs all over the field is one way to do it, and it appears to be the future of the game.
Other positions: QB
Elite: This is the goal. The top of the mountain. Everyone wants to be here.
Second Tier: Good not great.
Wait and See: Your team could be good or they could be bad. Just let them play it out.
1. Memphis: Kenneth Gainwell’s one of the best running backs in the country, and there’s not much competition for the top spot in the AAC. The Tigers do-it-all back produced 2,059 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter, continuing the elite play for Memphis at the position. Kylan Watkins gave Memphis a boost when Gainwell wasn’t on the field, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in 2019. The rushing attack’s in good hands for the near future.
2. UCF: A talented running back room got a little less crowded this offseason with Adrian Killins gone, but the competition for reps remains. Otis Anderson is a Swiss Army Knife for the Knights with his versatility to also play out of the slot. That gives the Knights another reliable receiver, and also gives them the flexibility to get Greg McCrae and Bentavious Thompson on the field at the same time. Thompson averaged 6.9 yards per carry last year, and McCrae rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2018.
3. Tulsa: Maybe the most overlooked player in the country, Shamari Brooks has given Tulsa a reliable back over the last three years. Backup Corey Taylor gives the Golden Hurricane a solid second choice when Brooks goes out, and both will benefit from improved quarterback play. Zach Smith elevated the offense to another level last year, and it opened things up for the backs. Brooks eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark rushing for the first time in his career in 2019 thanks to the improvement.
4. Tulane: The Green Wave have a ton of potential at running back, and they’ll have a lethal rushing attack if things pan out. Corey Dauphine averaged eight yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns last year. With Darius Bradwell gone, he appears to be set to take over the starting job. Joining him is Tulane’s version of Kenneth Gainwell: Amare Jones. Jones will split time running the ball and lining up out wide as a receiver. He rushed for 371 yards and four touchdowns last year, but also caught 34 passes for 367 yards and two more scores.
5. Navy: Malcolm Perry stole the spotlight last year in Navy’s rushing attack, but his absence means his supporting cast will shine this season. Jamale Carothers is a stud at fullback, as evident by his 341 yards and eight touchdowns against Tulane and Houston. He average 6.6 yards per carry last year. CJ Williams gave the Midshipmen versatility with 210 yards receiving on top of his 298 yards rushing, and also passed for 90 yards. Even with Perry gone, Navy will be just fine running the ball.
6. Temple: Re’Mahn Davis came so close to eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing in an offense where most people focused on the passing game. Throw in his 181 yards receiving and he produced over 1,000 total yards for the offense, and should improve on those numbers this year. With Jager Gardner gone, Tayvon Ruley could be an option to spell Davis when he needs a breather.
7. Cincinnati: A big part of Cincinnati’s success last year came from the legs of Michael Warren II, but he’s gone. Fortunately, Gerrid Doaks returns to provide some stability, but the position’s still wide open. Alabama transfer Jerome Ford will challenge Doaks for the starting spot, but that competition could elevate both of their games. The Bearcats needs to find reliable pass catchers too, so the offense might rely on the rushing attack to keep the ball moving early in the season.
8. Houston: Houston’s offense went through a number of options at every position last year, and running back wasn’t the exception. Seven players carried the ball last year, but it seems two will take a majority of the carries this year. Kyle Porter and Mulbah Car return for one more year and bring different things to the offense. Car’s the better runner, and revived the offense at times last year with his running. Porter give the Cougars a pass catcher out of the backfield, but is also the top returning rusher. Dana Holgorsen also brought in Ta’Zhawn Henry from Texas Tech too with Chandler Smith, Terrell Brown, and Kelan Walker competing for carries.
Wait and See
9. USF: Johnny Ford can be the replacement process of Jordan Cronkrite, but will he be? Two years ago he averaged 6.8 yards per carry, but took a step back last year. Kelley Joiner Jr. returns after rushing for 364 yards last year, and it seems this position (like many others) will be wide open in the fall. Jeff Scott has plenty of talent to utilize, but one guy needs to step up. Ford has the potential to thrive in Scott’s offense, so that’s something to watch even if they use him at receiver.
10. ECU: If the Pirates offense wants to thrive, the running game needs to pick up. Darius Pinnix showed potential as a freshman, but has yet to take a step forward since that season. Demetrius Mauney returns as the leading rusher for ECU, but only with 446 yards. Trace Christian’s also back, making for a crowded backfield. There are high expectations for the offense, and one of these guys needs to step up to make it more balanced.
11. SMU: Losing Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman hurts, so it’s not a surprise to see the Mustangs down here. TJ McDaniel gave fans a preview of what he could do last year against Texas State, rushing for 159 yards and three touchdowns, but was stuck behind Jones and Freeman. Sonny Dykes said he likes McDaniel and Ulysses Bentley IV to play a big role in the offense this year, but they have big shoes to fill.