Stacking up the Pac-10: Running Backs
While NFP director of college scouting Wes Bunting provides you with everything you need to know about future NFL prospects, we can’t forget about the productive players who help their schools on the field every Saturday but may not be made for the pro game. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the feature running backs in the Pac-10 entering the 2010 season.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State: You want production out of the backfield? Look no further than Rodgers, who put up two seasons’ worth of numbers in ’09. He carried the ball 273 times for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he caught an astounding 78 passes for 522 yards and another score. A truly dynamic player, the 5-7, 191-pounder is shifty and surprisingly powerful — always looking for the extra yard. The junior has a chance to win Pac-10 player of the year in a conference with the potential 2011 first overall pick (Jake Locker) and a quarterback who many believe could be the best signal-caller in the country in 2011 (Andrew Luck). Truly a special player when healthy, and he’ll continue to produce if injuries don’t slow him down.
ICONLaMichael James racked up 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns in his debut season.
LaMichael James, Oregon: After the LeGarrette Blount incident in the opener last season, James took the ball and ran with it — up and down the field. I’m not even sure head coach Chip Kelly could have expected the 5-9, 180-pounder to go off for an amazing 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns on 230 carries. The sophomore logged 100 yards or more nine times, culminating in a 166-yard, three-touchdown Rose Bowl-clinching performance against Oregon State. Don’t let his size fool you — he runs with power, but it’s his shiftiness that makes defenders shake their heads at the end of big plays. He’s tough and strong, never one to go down easily. After he serves his one-game suspension for a domestic violence charge, he’ll vie for national player of the year honors.
Note: Kenjon Barner will step in for James while he serves his suspension, and the sophomore will keep the Ducks’ attack rolling along very smoothly. The 5-11, 175-pounder is a true burner who rushed for 366 yards and three touchdowns on just 61 carries in ’09.
Shane Vereen, California: No Jahvid Best? No problem for California and head coach Jeff Tedford. Vereen will now assume the feature role in Berkeley after two solid years as Best’s backup. Last season, Vereen rushed for 952 yards and 12 scores on 183 carries, and he picked up the Golden Bears’ ground game when Best was out with injury. The junior logged 159 yards against Arizona, tallied 193 yards against Stanford and finished the season with 122 yards against Utah. A pass-catching threat, as well, Vereen is a versatile back who could run both inside and outside for big chunks of yardage because of his breakaway speed. If the Bears could get steady play from under center, this could be a scary offense.
Nic Grigsby, Arizona: A lot more people would know about Grigsby if he wasn’t limited by a shoulder injury last season. When he was completely healthy as a sophomore in ’08, he rushed for 1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns on only 214 carries. Despite being hurt last season, he still managed 567 yards and five scores on just 79 touches. The 5-11, 195-pounder should be primed for a big senior season, especially with the lofty expectations in Tucson. His big-play ability outside the tackles will make quarterback Nick Foles even more dangerous. It’s safe to say that Grigsby will get more attention from college football fans across the nation in 2010.
Chris Polk, Washington: Polk, part of perhaps the Pac-10’s best offensive unit, bounced back from a season-ending shoulder injury in ’08 to post an impressive campaign last season during the Huskies’ rise from the dead under head coach Steve Sarkisian. His UW freshman-record 1,113 yards and five scores on 226 carries gave fans a glimpse of what is to come with Jake Locker under center and a dangerous wide receiver corps. The 5-11, 210-pounder is another guy that gets lost in the national running back discussion, but he’ll be one of the premier backs in the nation before he leaves Seattle. He can do it all out of the backfield — and he still has three years of eligibility left. Although, something tells me he won’t be at UW for all of them.
ICONAllen Bradford will be the main man in Los Angeles this season.
Allen Bradford, USC: Bradford will get his opportunity to be the lead back with Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson out of the picture. The senior logged 668 yards and eight scores on the ground last season on just 115 carries — including a career-high 147 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State. He can bowl over defenders and is hard to wrap up, and the 5-11, 235-pounder seems poised to take advantage of additional carries in 2010.
Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: Marshall will be the feature back in Tempe after debuting with a 280-yard, two touchdown effort on just 64 carries in ’09. The 5-11, 220-pound sophomore is fast, quick and powerful — a back that can run past and through defenders. The major question for him is how well the offensive line can play. That has been an annual problem in Tempe.
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Franklin rushed for 566 yards and five touchdowns on 126 carries last season, but the sophomore struggled to hold onto the football. The 5-10, 200-pounder has good speed and the vision to break off big runs. If the Bruins could get better play from the offensive line and quarterback Kevin Prince gives them stability under center, Franklin should be able to reach the 1,000-yard mark. He must, however, hold onto the football if he wants to stay on the field.
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal will likely use a combination of backs to replace the incredibly productive Toby Gerhart, but I expect Taylor to break away from the pack and eventually become the lead guy. The 5-11, 213-pound sophomore finished the ’09 season with 303 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries. He’s a tough runner who gets his yards inside, but he possesses enough burst to deceive defenders and get into the secondary.
James Montgomery, Washington State: With Dwight Tardy finally gone — he was the Cougars’ leading rusher the last four seasons — the competition for the starting gig this fall will center around a plethora of candidates. Montgomery might be the most talented of the bunch and would have been the top dog last season if he hadn’t suffered acute compartment syndrome in his calf. He also had surgery on his knee and missed spring practice, so the 5-10, 193-pound senior remains a question mark. Other candidates include senior Chantz Staden, junior Logwone Mitz, senior Marcus Richmond, sophomore Carl Winston and freshman Leon Brooks.
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