the lookout list: RB
By Alex Chinery
With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books its time to shift focus towards the 2020 college football season. After only one running back was drafted in the first round a season ago, its time to look and see if any of the running backs still in school can compete for that honour in 2020. Derrick Henry was the last ball carrier to win the Heisman Trophy; could we see it won by a running back in 2020?
Travis Etienne, Clemson
A native of Jennings, Louisiana, Travis Etienne suffered the ignominy of being on the losing side in last year’s national championship game, taking place in the building he grew up dreaming of playing in. The Clemson star comes back to school with a second national championship title on the mind after posting back to back seasons of over 1600 yards and 23+ TD’s. Whilst Trevor Lawrence rightly gets a lot of credit for guiding the offensive juggernaut that comes from Death Valley, Etienne is the engine the keeps it moving forward with a feeling of inevitable perpetuality.
Key Game – @ Notre Dame 8th November 2020
Najee Harris - Alabama
The Alabama senior caused some ripples through the NFL draft community when he decided to return to school for his senior season. Harris had an excellent end to the year including huge performances against LSU, Auburn and Michigan; all of which bode well for him being the lead back in an offense likely to be far more run based with the departure of QB Tua Tagovailoa. Harris has the size and contact ability of a power back, but the balance and poise of a more patient runner. This can set up some fun outside zone concepts where Harris runs over corners and safeties. There is a question of just how explosive Harris is and his long speed is a major question mark. Nevertheless, expect Harris to provide plenty of booming highlights and rack up the touchdowns in 2020.
Key Game – vs Auburn 28th November
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard led the FBS in rushing yards last season, posting a gaudy 2,094 yards running the rock. A well-built, explosive runner, Hubbard is touted to repeat his 2019 feats in an offense that will be built around him in the Big 12. Chuba has a receiving game skillset yet to be utilised at Oklahoma State, but it’s on the ground where he is lethal; his uncanny ability to fall forward to pick up yards and excellent change of direction in tight spaces mean that Hubbard is always a danger to bust a big run. Hubbard is the most talented offensive weapon in what stands to be a very tight Big 12 race this season. With their instate rival Sooners primed to take a slight step back in 2020, could Hubbard lead The Cowboys to a famous ‘Bedlam’ win…?
Key Game – vs Texas 27th November 2020
CJ Verdell, Oregon
The unheralded, budding star in the Oregon offense over the past two seasons, Verdell has gone over 1,000 yards in both of his college seasons thus far. A one-cut back who hits the hole with pace when it opens in front of him, Verdell will be ideal in a zone blocking scheme at the next level. With the departure of quarterback Justin Herbert to the NFL, Verdell is primed to be the main man for the Ducks in 2020. Verdell has perhaps the best offensive line in the NCAA blocking for him; the gaps they clear keep him from having to take contact which is a positive given his small frame. After a quiet Rose Bowl, Verdell will need to take advantage of 2020 to build his name.
Key Game – vs Ohio State 12th
Trey Sermon, Ohio State
The former Oklahoma Sooner, Sermon transferred to Columbus this offseason in an attempt to kickstart a college career that was in danger of fizzling out. He comes into a backfield that lost JK Dobbins to the NFL draft and presumed starter Master Teague to an Achilles injury on the first day of spring training. A downhill runner who works best out in space, Sermon is a different kind of back to Dobbins; he’s someone who relies on his strength and power to pull away from defenders. Sermon doesn’t have pull away, big play speed but does have the patience and power to turn a three-yard gain into ten. Sermon offers Ohio State a back who can keep the offense ticking whilst quarterback Justin Fields looks for the big play. He won’t take over games like Dobbins did a season ago but the team will hope that with another year of growth from their QB, that he won’t have to.
Key Game – @ Oregon September 12th
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Kylin His is your classic ‘thunder’ style back who attacks defenders with power and leverage. Hill uses his power to pick up dirty yards in between the tackles. He has solid flexibility and jump cuts that can make a defender miss in space. A slasher style runner outside the tackles, Hill doesn’t have the home run, big play speed to be considered an outside threat. Hill lacks patience and his decision making isn’t the best – he’ll often take contact before there is a need and isn’t comfortable waiting for space to develop. Hill went over 1500 yards from scrimmage last season and figures to be a guy that new head coach Mike Leach can lean on whilst bedding his system in at Mississippi State.
Key Game – @ Alabama 17th October
Pooka Williams, Kansas
The speedy junior comes back to Kansas off the back of two 1,000-yard seasons. Another true one-cut back, Williams hits the gap with speed and has remarkable big play potential. Speed, explosiveness and agility to rival the top running backs in this class, Pooka has a highlight reel of moves that have made some of the Big 12’s top defenders look silly. Williams has the potential to be an Aaron Jones type figure at the next level, especially as his growing ability in the passing game should factor to give him far more touches in 2020. Size is a slight worry for Williams, who will need to come through this season unscathed to make sure scouts at the next level don’t push durability concerns to the top of their report. Williams also has a big red flag of a domestic violence charge in his past.
Key Game – @ Oklahoma 21st November
Keaontay Ingram, Texas
A shifty, bruising throwback of a tailback, Ingram has had a mixed couple of years as a Longhorn. Despite going over 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first-time last season it felt like Ingram never really broke out in the way many Longhorns fans had been hoping as the offense spluttered around him. Ingram comes back into a strong situation with a talented offensive line, a star senior at quarterback and a new offensive coaching staff with national championship ambitions. A local boy, the desire for Ingram to succeed in Burnt Orange is massive. With a maturing line, this season may be the one.
Key Game – vs Oklahoma 10th October
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
2000 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2019 was quite a breakout year for the Memphis back. Comfortable in the backfield or split out wide, Gainwell has the versatility that NFL teams love and that makes for a fun watch during the college football season. Last season he became the first player in 22 years to record 200 receiving and 100 rushing yards in a single game. He is Memphis’ do it all weapon, averaging 6+ YPC and 7+ YPR last season. The Tigers offense moves with him at the helm, and it could be really fun to watch the multiple ways they use him in 2020.
Key Game – @ Cincinnati 31st October
Rakeem Boyd - Arkansas
Another runner who went over 1,000 yards with 6+ YPC in 2019, Boyd elected to return for his senior season after two solid but unspectacular years in the Arkansas offense. This came after spending a season at Independence Community College, Kansas – host school for season 3 of Netflix show Last Chance U. A 100-yard rushing performance against Alabama in 2019 caught the eye of many, and Boyd’s blend of power, finesse and patience project him to be a three down back at the next level. Boyd has the potential to be the focus of the Arkansas offense in 2020 and put up big numbers whilst doing so. Development of his skills both in pass protection and catching the football would be fun to see and make staying for his senior year worthwhile.
Key Game – @ Notre Dame 12th September
the head of seven step drop, the touchdowns analytics page. alex is a Texas longhorns and green bay packers fan. he is one of the college chaps trio and produces the touchdown nfl podcast!