With less than 60 days until the Panthers begin their season at home against Bryant University, here’s our look at the running backs in our position-by-position preview of the 2022 FIU football team.
Following the graduation of star back D’Vonte Price, the backfield will be spearheaded by a youth movement that features a trio of former three-star recruits who have patiently waited their turn. Miami Central products Flex Joseph and Kejon Owens are joined by E.J. Wilson, true freshman Antonio Patterson and walk-on Hosea Robinson.
Let’s take a look at the group as they enter the fall.
All stats listed are for the 2021 season unless noted otherwise. Projected starter(s) in bold. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for 2022 season.
Lexington Joseph (Jr.)- 5-8, 180, 57 carries for 273 yards and two touchdowns
Eric Wilson Jr. (Soph.) - 5-11, 195, 42 carries for 239 yards
Kejon Owens (Soph.) - 5-10, 185, one reception for four yards
Hosea Robinson (Soph.) - 6-0, 210, zero appearances in 2021
Antonio Patterson (Fr.) - 6-0, 195, three-star recruit, Murfreesboro, TN (Oakland HS)
Heading into Fall:
Of all of the position groups on the roster littered with youthful talent, the FIU running back room is arguably the one most ready to step in and contribute immediately. 2021’s season-finale provided a glimpse into what may be the standard for the Panthers’ run game in 2022.
Lexington Joseph and E.J. Wilson combined for 161 yards on 24 carries, with both finding steady yardage throughout the contest and providing what was easily the best rushing output of the season against an FBS opponent.
Kejon Owens should have opportunities to get involved in both the run game and on special teams as a return-man.
“We’re very young as far as what we have in the backfield,” said running backs coach Eric Hickson. “With a little fine tuning, we’ll be alright but it’s about who is going to be the most consistent.”
Summary: If Joseph was two inches taller, there’s little doubt that he would have signed with a Power Five program coming out of Miami Central in 2018. After earning four games worth of playing time as a true freshman in a loaded FIU backfield, Joseph battled injuries in 2020 before holding down the RB2 role last season. During spring camp, he looked especially ready to assume an increased workload, particularly in an offense that will involve the backs in the receiving game.
Wilson and Owens both have similar recruiting stories as Joseph as both held offers from Group of Five heavyweights such as Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina in addition to P5’s like Pittsburgh and Louisville, but chose FIU in large part because of former position coach Tim Harris Jr.
All three are similar in stature and provide instant home-run threats, but the biggest key will be seeing how they adjust to offensive coordinator David Yost’s system, which places a heavy emphasis on the inside-zone rushing attack — a scheme that can produce chunk plays from between the tackles.
Former South Florida running back Leo Parker was on the roster during the spring, but the injury-plagued back’s status with the program in unclear entering fall.
True freshman Antonio Patterson is a player worth keeping an eye on. The Murfreesboro native was an early commit once Mike MacIntyre took over as head coach and was undoubtedly overshadowed in high school — sharing the backfield with four-star back Jordan James, who had offers from every SEC program and eventually signed with Oregon.
Position Grade: B- The only thing holding this group back from a higher grade is just sheer inexperience. On a positive note, both Wilson Jr. and Joseph had over 150-carry seasons in their prep careers and the transition to full-time roles shouldn’t be an issue in that regard.
During the spring, there was a noticeable difference from previous years in the number of passes targeted to the running backs out of the backfield — which should be something to watch in deciding how the depth chart plays out.
Additionally, Yost has operated primarily out of 11 (one back, one tight end) personnel, which is a departure from previous years that saw several two-back formations.
As Hickson said, whichever of the backs is the most consistent should see the most time — but FIU fans can still expect to see at least three players in the rotation.