Welcome to our next installment of the 2022 position previews! Today we’ll be discussing the running backs.
A lot of things happened around this position at the end of last season and over the offseason. Everyone knows about the departure of Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama [+3000 Heisman odds by the way]), but this unit also lost another star in Jordan Mason to the NFL draft (49ers). Add in the transfers and we’re left with a single returning back that had carries in 2021 (Dontae Smith). What’s more, the 2022 backs will be led by new Offensive Coordinator Chip Long (coming from the OC position at Tulane) and new RB Coach Mike Daniels (coming from the same position at Buffalo).
With just a single returning back and a brand new staff I think it’s safe to say we’re in for a completely different run game than what we’ve seen over the past few years. Let’s get into some of the main guys we’ll hopefully be seeing gash defenses this season.
Dontae Smith - In 2021, Smith was the clear third guy behind Gibbs and Mason and he made the absolute most of those opportunities. He finished the season with 378 yards and four touchdowns on just 68 attempts; his 5.6 yards-per-carry was the highest on the team. An excellent change of pace from Gibbs and Mason, Smith routinely came in and broke exciting 10+ yard runs. He’s extremely agile and has an impressive first step and burst speed. Advanced stats love him as well - he was one of the most efficient players on the field for us in 2021. I expect to see him be the featured back in 2022. As long as he can adapt to being the main guy and not the fresh-legs guy I think he’s poised to have an excellent season.
Dylan McDuffie - Following Coach Daniels from Buffalo, McDuffie brings a wealth of experience to a position group that desperately needs it. 2021 was his first year starting for the Bulls and it was an impressive outing - he finished with 1049 yards and 11 touchdowns on 206 carries. More of a bruiser than a speedster, I think he’ll compliment Smith well as the close second guy that can wear down the defense.
Hassan Hall - Coming from Louisville, Hall is another guy that brings a ton of experience. He’s appeared in four seasons with the Cardinals with 2019 being his best outing at 108 carries for 501 yards and five touchdowns. I see him as a strong depth guy; I think he’ll get consistent carries and rotate with some of the new recruits.
Antonio Martin - Martin comes in with a stellar recruiting resume. He was the #22 RB in the country, a top 30 recruit in GA, and had an offer list that included Alabama, Florida, FSU, and Michigan. He also enrolled early so he’s had spring practices to jumpstart his college career. Of the new recruits, I think Martin is the most likely to earn immediate play time. I think we’ll see him challenge Hall for the third spot and maybe even gain more time as the season progresses.
Jamie Felix - Another national top 40 RB, Jamie Felix can also boast an impressive offer list from schools like UGA and Ohio State. As an all-purpose back (and dual sport athlete with baseball) he should be able to find the field in a number of different offensive sets.
Rounding out the group are three redshirt freshmen - Daylon Gordon, Colin Hemingway, and Englan Williams. With a lot of talent between the other five players discussed here I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any of these three get touches in 2022.
Who’s Above the Line?
I think we’ll see all of Smith, McDuffie, Hall, Martin, and Felix on the field in 2022. I’m expecting Smith to take over the featured back slot with McDuffie close behind (I see them operating with a dynamic similar to that of Gibbs and Mason). Martin and Hall should round out the main rotation with a few carries per game each (I think Martin gets the edge though and earns more time as the season progresses), and I think Felix will show up in both the run game and as something like a slot receiver a few times per game.
As far as what to expect production-wise, I’m not sure. The 2021 unit put together just over 1500 yards and I think that’s a number this group can easily surpass if they’re utilized well and we see some offensive line improvements. I’m optimistically setting the bar at 2000 yards and 20 TDs.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments what you’d like to see out of our 2022 running backs!