Tag Archives: Ezekiel Elliott

Less Star Power Means More for Ohio State Offense

The 2015 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes could very well have been one of the most talented rosters ever assembled in Columbus. Fitting all those talented pieces together on one field is the hard part.

With NFL draft picks Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Thomas, and Braxton Miller on one offense, you could see there could be a problem with just one football to go around.

What worked so well for the Ohio State offense in the team’s first game of the season against Bowling Green is exactly what derailed last year’s squad. The Buckeyes would force feed touches to its stars at all cost, specifically Elliott. As good an idea as it seemed at the time, this may have been what caused the Buckeye offense to become so stagnant and predictable.

Albeit against an overmatched Bowling Green squad, the Ohio State offense amassed video game numbers in its first contest of the season.

Ohio State had one of its best offensive performances of the Urban Meyer era, putting up 77 points and a school record 776 yards of total offense. No matter who the opponent is, those numbers are ridiculous and is an indicator this Ohio State team can replace some of its losses.

On the Ground

One of the biggest questions coming into this season is how the Buckeyes would replace the 1,800 rushing yards Ezekiel Elliott took with him to the NFL.

Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber got the first crack at replacing Elliott in the Ohio State backfield, and the first-time starter impressed. Weber ran for 136 yards on 19 carries in his first career start in Ohio Stadium.

Junior H-back, (and probably  the Buckeyes most talented offensive player) Curtis Samuel also chipped in with the running game adding 84 yards on the ground as well.

The best thing about how Weber looked on Saturday, the young back definitely wasn’t afraid of the moment, running with authority on each and every carry.

With the looks of Weber in his first career start, to go along with the dynamic big play ability of Samuel, the Buckeye running game should be just fine this season.

Through the Air

For the Ohio State offense, or any offense to succeed however, there must be consistent effective play from the quarterback. The problem last season was that Ohio state never got that consistency.

The combination of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones never gained the traction everyone thought would undoubtedly come with the talent on last year’s Ohio State roster.

Part of those struggles in the passing game may have come from trying to force feed the ball to its playmakers. The Ohio State quarterbacks looked to be trying to get certain players the ball in certain spots instead of taking what the defense gave them.

In J.T. Barrett’s first season as a starter, spreading the ball around to different receivers is what made him the Big Ten quarterback of the year. Against the Falcons, Barrett went back to spreading the wealth.

Barrett completed touchdown passes to four different receivers in just the first half and threw for 6 touchdown passes overall.

With new starters at every position within the receiving core, Barrett can focus on reading the defense and not trying to make sure one of his stars is getting the ball.

Barrett had a historic day on Saturday, and a lot of that can be attributed to the way he led the offense, distributing the ball to near perfection.

As crazy as it may sound, less star power will lead to a better offense for the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Email Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: Flickr

The Right Thing for Leonard Fournette is to Play Football at LSU in 2016

Leonard Fournette needs to play football for LSU this fall. He understands this, as does his Head Coach Les Miles. I know it and you should too. Blue chip athletes, like Fournette, for example, lose their blue chip status when they expose their passive side. Sitting out a season to protect draft status is sailing into uncharted waters, an act that I might classify as cowardice, and there is no precedent.

To hear the suggestion, the noise that Kirk Herbstreit wished to quickly silence last October, is nothing new. They wanted Jadeveon Clowney to do it. They said Ezekiel Elliott should do it. Supporters of Todd Gurley probably wish he would have done it. It’s a fun conversation, nothing more. If you’re healthy and you’re eligible to play, you take every opportunity to demonstrate to your future employer why you’re special.

Rest assured, any player that brings this conversation to the forefront is anything but a nobody. With the obvious knock on a player’s competitive desire out there, Mike Mayock told Rich Eisen,

”… I think there would be another core group of individuals and teams that say, ‘Wait a minute, not only can we draft a kid that might be a once-in-a-lifetime type talent, but there’s less tread (wear) on the tires. He didn’t take the beating of 12, 13, 14 games in the SEC. I think it would be a mixed opinion. I think the more vocal opinion would be negative. But I think there would be a lot of teams throughout the league that would say ‘Hey, that’s OK with me.’ They’re just not going to say that publicly.”

With Fournette seen in a walking boot, a precautionary measure after an injury at practice, this discussion has been given new life. After, was it an injury scare that prompted this line of thinking in the first place? I checked; it wasn’t.

The media decided just how special Leonard Fournette was, in the days after LSU’s 34-24 victory at Syracuse. He torched the Orange defense for 244 yards and two touchdowns, in a game that was very competitive most of the way. It was not because anyone feared him getting hurt necessarily, it was just that everyone believed the then-20-year-old was physically gifted enough to play in the NFL.

I don’t know. Maybe no one feared Willis McGahee or Marcus Lattimore absorbing devastating injuries either. McGahee recovered from his injuries suffered in his final College Football game and salvaged an NFL career. Lattimore’s fate, following a knee injury suffered in 2012, was much more devastating. Fortunately, both had the safety net of insurance, just in case they met the fate they were destined to encounter. Those policies were worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.7-$2.5 million.

Fournette’s family has multiple $10 million policies on the junior running back. It protects his draft stock, as well as some financial protection against injury. Frankly, the game has come a long way from the inevitable doomsday that the Alvin Mack character faced at the end of The Program. Now, I’m not saying that getting paid makes the opportunity they miss out on worth it, but the story doesn’t end with complete and utter ruin under any circumstance.

Now, you’re going to hear the likes of Nick Wright say these guys have nothing to gain by playing another down, but if you allow me to play the role of scout or NFL front office person, I’m insulted that I’m intentionally being denied a larger sample size. I don’t really even agree with the crux of the message, that it isn’t worth taking the risk, but I’m most hung up on the “nothing to gain” sentiment.

Call me foolish, but I still believe that young men are still learning to play the game and mastering how to be football players at the collegiate level. In contrast, the NFL expects everyone to know how to play, so they can move on to working on how it’s applied in their professional system. Cam Cameron and Les Miles are probably fairly decent at teaching the game at an advanced level, and Fournette will certainly benefit from that.

There’s a featured quote from an early episode of The Wire that’s always bothered me, and it’s Marla Daniels, “You cannot lose if you do not play”. She asked her cop husband not to rock the boat by pursuing a crime syndicate full of murderers. In that case, they decided to play and the right thing had happened.

It was a case of doing the right thing versus doing the easy thing. For Miles and Fournette, it was never a question, and we’ll see “the right thing” on display at Lambeau Field on the afternoon of September 3rd.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

Featured photo credit: Wikipedia

What the Loss of Bri’onte Dunn means for Ohio State

With less than two months until the start of a new college football season, the Ohio State Buckeyes will enter yet another season with a loss before they even play a snap.

Two summers ago, it was the Braxton Miller shoulder injury during preseason camp. It was Urban Meyer’s worse nightmare, the injury would end Miller’s season and thrust an inexperienced J.T. Barrett into a prominent role as quarterback at Ohio State.

Last offseason, the Buckeyes also entered the season shorthanded, this time however due to self inflicted wounds.

The Buckeyes entered the season without Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, and Dontre Wilson for what the team called “violating athletic department policy.”

Reasons on why the players were actually suspended began to surface soon thereafter.

As the Buckeyes close in on preseason camp for the 2016-17 season, more bad news came on Monday as it was announced that redshirt senior running back Bri’onte Dunn had been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

Dunn, who was about to play his last season as a Buckeye was a four-star recruit (according to 247sports.com) out of Glen Oak high school in Canton, Ohio.

After sitting behind Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott for his entire career at Ohio State, Dunn finally had an opportunity to fight for the starting job.

But with this latest development, Dunn’s chances of riding out in the sunset in his last year in Columbus came to an end.

A 911 call from an alleged girlfriend of Dunn stated that the former Ohio State football player had choked and hit her.

With Dunn essentially ending his career early, that leaves just a few options for Urban Meyer’s squad.

Without Dunn in the fold, the Buckeyes are down to just two scholarship running backs in redshirt sophomore Michael Weber, and true freshman Antonio Williams who enrolled early in January.

Weber, is a Detroit native who Urban Meyer fought tooth and nail with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to earn his commitment.

Weber has the talent to the take the starting job and run with it in his second season in Columbus, but after sitting out last season due to injury it remains to be seen just how good Weber can truly be.

What Weber does have as far as talent, he lacks in experience. This is where the loss of Dunn really hurts the Buckeyes. Although he didn’t have much actual game experience, having a player who’s been through it all with the program could certainly help.

Ohio State went through a similar transition at running back two years ago after losing Carlos Hyde to the NFL.

Little did we know back then just how good his successor, Ezekiel Elliott would end up being.

However, Elliott didn’t start strong out of the gates during his first season as the starter as a true sophomore.

During the first three games of that 2014 season, Elliott posted rushing totals of just 44, 32, and 65 yards rushing against Navy, Virginia Tech, and Kent State respectively.

As well as Zeke would go on to play the rest of that national championship season, it didn’t necessarily start that way.

Here lies the dilemma for this season’s Ohio State squad, will Weber be ready to be that feature back from the start, or will he need time to get his feet wet?

Weber won’t be afforded much time to adjust to the college game as the Buckeyes travel to Oklahoma to face Bob Stoops and a very good Sooners squad the third game of the season.

True Freshman Antonio Williams has a bright future at Ohio State, and will battle Weber for carries. But they can’t expect him to grab the starting job and run with it as a first year player.

Junior h-back Curtis Samuel just may be the most intriguing option for Ohio State at running back this season.

Samuel played his first season primarily at running back, rushing for 383 yards and six touchdowns. He spent much of last season splitting time at the h-back position with the aforementioned Braxton Miller.

Samuals made plays when they were there for him, but there weren’t many opportunities to go around with the number of playmakers on last year’s offense.

Samuel has blazing speed, one of the fastest players on the Ohio State roster. Urban Meyer has stressed getting the ball in the hands of his playmaking junior and the loss of Dunn gives him even more opportunity to do so.

Although Samuel stresses that he will do what’s best for the team when it comes playing either receiver or running back, he seems much more comfortable in the backfield and given the opportunity is a candidate for a breakout season.

Losing members of your team is never ideal, whether it be to injury or other. However, it’s next man up for Urban Meyer and company, and the past few seasons have prepared them for this exact moment.

E-Mail Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Joshua Perry: Best of the Buckeye Bunch?

It is no secret that the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft is loaded with Ohio State prospects. We have heard all about how defensive end Joey Bosa possesses top pick talent and is almost guaranteed to be off the board within the first six or seven selections. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is the most well-rounded player at his position in the 2016 field and is slated to be picked in the top-half of the first round in an era where running backs are regarded as a reach early in the draft. Taylor Decker, Darron Lee, Eli Apple and Michael Thomas are also thought to be drafted in or just outside of the opening round. In what is shaping up to be a historic draft, even by Ohio State standards, could linebacker Joshua Perry not only be a sleeper first round pick but formulate himself into the best pro out of the group?

Forget about Ohio State, we already know that Perry is probably the nicest guy in the entire draft field and is a true role-model. However, the man can play some football. Perry missed just five tackles throughout the entire 2015 season.

Now, think about that for a second. That is an amazing stat considering it was a rarity to see Perry on the sidelines during a defensive snap for the Buckeyes. An NFL linebacker who rarely misses tackles is the recipe for a long and successful career, provided that the injury bug is avoided. Perry’s versatility will be a huge advantage as he is more than capable of playing any of the three linebacker positions.

Athleticism usually isn’t one of the first things we talk about regarding Perry, but it probably should be. He is listed at 6’4″, 254 pounds and was the third-heaviest linebacker to run the 40 at the 2016 NFL Combine. Perry finished the 40 in 4.68 seconds and only six other linebackers finished with a faster time.

Not that the other Ohio State players who will be drafted, whether it is round one or seven, are going to have brief and unsuccessful careers because they shouldn’t, but I like Perry to play on Sunday’s for a decade-plus and finish his career as one of the better Buckeyes selected when we look back at this draft class. Is it likely that Perry will know which team he is playing for by the end of the first round? Probably not, but around this time in the next year or two, 32 general managers may be trying to figure out who the next Joshua Perry is.

NFL scouts and experts mainly agree that Perry’s play is not dominating in any one area on the field, but it’s extremely well-rounded and diverse when it comes to possible defensive schemes and should be a great fit for any of the 32 teams he will soon be a part of.

Have you ever heard Perry speak? Not that his voice has anything to do with the football field, but Perry sounds like and is as intelligent as it gets. The intelligent players are the ones who turn into solid NFL pros. Not all,  but especially the players with talent and Perry certainly possesses that. Being such a high-character guy, Perry will be an addition welcomed wholeheartedly by the NFL. At the end of the day, Perry’s character and football ability may be mentioned in the same sentence and not necessarily in that order.

Photo: http://alchetron.com/Joshua-Perry-324403-W

Ohio State Football: Takeaways from 2016 Spring Game

Over 100,000 fans packed the Horseshoe last Saturday, (April 16) for the 2016 Ohio State spring football game and I happened to be on hand to take it all in.

Besides the fact that Urban Meyer got what he asked for getting 100k people to attend a spring game, there were a few interesting things to take away from Saturday’s  game.

This year’s Ohio State team will enter the season with a number of question marks. So many new faces with little to no experience playing in meaningful action.

Well, the good thing about attracting 100,000 fans to a spring game is you can actually see who will perform when the lights come on.

The spring game gave us a glimpse of what we can expect from the number of unknown talent of the Buckeye roster.

With the number of starters from last year’s team set to be taken in next week’s NFL Draft, you would think there would be not much talent left for Ohio State to even think of competing in the Big Ten next season.

But that’s why the Urban Meyer’s and Jim Harbaugh’s of the world recruit with the relentlessness that they do. When you recruit well year after year those recruits, if coached up well enough, will become stars in their own right given their newfound opportunity.

A few players stood out to me on Saturday, some that I expected, and others that were a bit of surprise. Regardless, it was good to see some of the projected new playmakers for Ohio State performing on a bigger stage.

Torrance Gibson, a redshirt freshman who was one of the most highly recruited players in the country out of high school had a tremendous game, scoring two touchdowns for the gray team, including this one.

I was really impressed with the body control Gibson showed when going up to get the ball. I’ve been saying this for a while now, but look out for Torrance Gibson to be one of the next stars at Ohio State.

There is much talk about the running back position as well, with one of the schools all-time greats in Ezekiel Elliott headed to the NFL.

For the limited carries he received, redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber also impressed. He rushed for two short touchdowns showing good vision and a tough running style.

Weber is battling with Senior Bri’onte Dunn for the starting spot. But with Dunn not participating in the spring game due to injury, Weber and true freshman Antonio Williams received a bulk of the work.

Although J.T. Barrett is the clear-cut starter, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Burrow had a very good game hitting on a few deep throws and tossing three touchdown passes.

Burrow showed enough promise to believe he  the future starting quarterback for the Buckeyes.

On defense, Malik Hooker was a name that really stood out. Hooker tallied two interceptions returning one all the way back for a touchdown.

All in all, some of the new faces expected to step up next season showed they had some ability.

Whether the team can put it all together by the September 3 opening against Bowling Green State remains to be seen.

PlayPlay

2016 Season will Prove Buckeyes Reload not Rebuild Under Meyer

How do you replace so much star power from an Ohio State team that finished the season 12-1 and is set to have a number of first round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft?

With Urban  at the helm, you can replace that first round NFL talent with players who were highly touted in their own right out of high school.

The Buckeyes have never finished outside the top 10 in recruiting since Meyer has come to town and thats a trend I see continuing as long as he is coaching the Buckeyes.

At one point in time, players like Ezekiel Elliott, Darron Lee, Joey Bosa, and Eli Apple were all players who just looking for their chance to shine. They weren’t the great college football players they became and without the chance they were given may have never become future NFL draft picks.

Each of those players are projected to be taken in the first round, and each leave a massive hole behind in the Ohio State starting lineup.

At most schools, losing this type of caliber player would be crippling. But most schools are not the Ohio State Buckeyes.

At running back, Ohio State possesses a potential breakout candidate in redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber.

Weber is a stout 5’10”, 215 pound back with the ability to break tackles and hit the hole with tremendous power. He was said to be having a great fall camp last season before an injury derailed his season leading to a redshirt.

Weber was a player the Buckeyes fought all the way up until national signing day to sign over the team from up north.

This was a huge victory in itself in that Weber hails from none other than Detroit, Michigan.

With players like Ezekiel Elliott, you can afford to leave top talent like Weber on the sidelines until it is his chance to show he can step up and take that mantle as the feature running back for Ohio State.

Look for Weber to have a breakout 2016 season and to silence any doubts as to who will replace Elliott.

Receiver is another position where there will be huge turnover next season.

Ohio State will lose Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and Braxton Miller to either gradution or early entry to the NFL Draft.

It would seem as if the Buckeyes would be really hurting for talent at receiver next season with that kind of talent leaving Columbus for the next level.

But as I mentioned earlier, there is talent waiting for their turn for Ohio State at almost every position and receiver is no different.

A player the Ohio state coaching staff is really excited about is redshirt freshman receiver/quarterback Torrance Gibson.

Gibson is a 6’4″, 205 pound athlete from Fort Lauderdale, Florida who has the talent to be the next big star at Ohio State.

Here’s what Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had to say about Gibson.

“I love Torrance Gibson. I love his talent. I love the fact he did well academically,” Meyer said. “I think his future, I use this comment sometimes, I don’t see a ceiling.”

This is a solid example of the players who haven’t even gotten their chance to shine for the Buckeyes.

The upcoming 2016 season will go to show that under Urban Meyer, The Buckeyes will reload not rebuild.

Five Buckeyes who can Improve Their Draft Stock Against Notre Dame

Ezekiel Elliott- Although Elliott has almost solidified himself as the best running back in this years draft class, (with the closest competition according to http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings/2016/all being this years Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry) Elliott can still further immerse himself in the conversation to be a top 15 pick.

In the 2015 NFL draft, two running backs in Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were drafted in the top 15 picks of the draft. With the running back position being considered “devalued” in some NFL circles this was an astounding feat for both backs as their talent proved too much to pass up on even that high in the draft.

For Elliott, he has an opportunity to build on his all-time Buckeye running back legacy and his draft stock against a stout Notre Dame defense with expected early first round pick Jaylon Smith and stout defensive tackle Sheldon Day lining up across from him. This will be his chance to once again show why he is the 2016 drafts best available running back and an early first round pick.

Eli Apple– Apple, Ohio State’s number one cornerback who is also expected to enter the draft after the season has all the measurables NFL teams now look for in shut down corners. Standing at 6’1, 200 pounds, Apple has tremendous size for the position to cover some of the taller receivers the NFL has to offer.

I’m not sure what draft grade he would garner if he decided to come out, but the former high school All-American has one last chance to show what he is capable of against Notre Dame. The fighting Irish have one of the nations best deep threats in wide out Will Fuller, and holding him in check would go a long way to improving Apple’s NFL draft stock.

Darron Lee– The former high school quarterback is one of the most athletic linebackers in the country. One of Lee’s best traits is being able to run with slot receivers and running backs out of the backfield.

In today’s NFL this is a trait that will certainly be compelling to teams looking to fill holes at linebacker. Lee stands at 6’2, 235 pounds and can really run. He is tremendous at blitzing off the edge and makes plays all over the field for the Buckeyes.

Against Notre Dame, the redshirt sophomore will most likely be playing his last game for Ohio State against a quality opponent trying to improve his draft stock, which is most likely in the second round range. A good performance against the Irish however could change that.

Vonn Bell– This ball hawking Ohio State safety is likely also playing his last game for Ohio State as a true junior. Right now Bell is listed on http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings/2016/all as a projected 2nd round pick.

Bell is a tremendous playmaker that makes plays in the run game as well as the pass. He is simply a player who has a nose for the ball, and where the ball goes Bell will most likely be around it on each and every play.

One problem for Bell however is his size as he translates to the NFL level. Bell is listed at 5’11, 205 pounds, which may even be generous. For Bell, it will be interesting to see how teams feel he can hold up in the NFL at that size. But hey, one of the leagues best safety’s in Earl Thomas is listed at 5’10, 202 pounds, so it can be done.

Playing in a nationally televised game against a top tier program will go a long way to helping Bell improve his NFL draft stock.

Braxton Miller– The fifth year senior has had an outstanding career as a Buckeye, but with it officially coming to an end after the bowl game Miller has a chance to improve his draft stock with a good game against Notre Dame.

Miller hasn’t been used very effectively during his final season with the Buckeyes. But with plenty of time to figure out different way to get him the ball during bowl preparation, look for a big game from one of the most athletic players on Ohio State’s roster.

Miller is currently listed as a player who will be drafted in the 2nd-3rd round range. With a big game against Notre Dame, followed by a solid performance at the senior bowl, that stock could be drastically improved.

Will the Buckeyes be Motivated to play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl?

Ohio State came into this season with dreams of repeating as national champions and winning the first two college football playoffs.

These dreams were dashed as Ohio State fell short losing their only game of the season against Michigan State. A loss that late in the season would end almost any team’s chances of making the playoff.

However, with a few games to played after that loss Ohio State could still get in with some help. The usual craziness and unexpected upsets that usually come during college football’s final weeks didn’t come however and the Buckeyes came up just short of getting a shot to defend its title.

With that being said, will Ohio State be motivated enough on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Arizona for their matchup with another storied program in Notre Dame?

After the loss to Michigan State, the Ohio State players were clearly out of it in interviews the following week. A team that rattled off of 20 straight victories and felt invincible coming into the season had finally slipped up. The players looked as if they had lost someone close to them in their family, not simply lost a football game.

This is the feeling you get when the weight of the world is on your shoulders as an Ohio State football player who is expected to win every step out on that field. On that Saturday in late November, the pressure finally caught up to the Buckeyes and the loss to Sparty ruined what could have been this season.

Joey Bosa went on to say that the pressure finally caught up to the team while trying to keep their streak alive and trying to defend their national title. Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott took it a step further criticizing the coaching staff and using his conversation with reporters to announce his early entry to the NFL Draft after the season.

Elliott won’t be the only underclassman mulling leaving school early, as Ohio State has a number of other talented juniors and redshirt sophomores/juniors. With that being said, it is easy to see how with the letdown of not making the playoff to go along with thoughts of NFL on their minds how this Ohio State squad could easily have a let down in the Fiesta Bowl.

Urban Meyer when asked about whether he thought motivation would be an issue for the bowl game has said that it shouldn’t be an issue. Meyer believes he has a great group of guys who love the University and appreciate everything it has done for them regardless of it they won’t end their season playing in the game they wanted to.

This all sounds good. But with the NFL Draft just months away for a lot of these current Buckeyes, and just one game to get through to avoid injury before getting there unscathed it is easy to see where a lack of motivation could come into play.

If the Buckeyes were getting ready for the college football playoff on a 25 game win streak, this notion might be different. No one player would want to sacrifice going out as repeat champions to avoid getting hurt before the NFL Draft. Now playing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl? This might be a different story.

For the Buckeye players who are planning to leave, this will be their last time wearing the scarlet and gray which should be motivation enough to come out and play well. But for some players, the money that comes with being a high draft pick and being as healthy as possible to become that high draft pick may outweigh giving their all in their last game as a Buckeye. Hopefully for college football fans this won’t happen. But one would be a fool to believe this is not something some college football players who will be future draft picks might consider.

In the Buckeyes last regular season game, Ohio State came out extremely motivated against arch-rival Michigan handling the Wolverines quite easily. It seemed as if there was no lack of motivation coming off of the loss to Michigan State which put a huge dent in their title hopes. But the fact is that at that point they still had a chance in the back of their mind to defend their championship. Now, the Buckeyes just look forward to ending their season on a high note against a quality opponent in Notre Dame.

How motivated each team is to play this game come will have huge implications as to who will come out victorious. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET broadcast on ESPN Jan. 1.

The Best Running Backs of 2015

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner is….The enthusiasm you read that phrase with probably equaled the enthusiasm used by the actual presenter on Saturday night. His unenthusiastic and abrupt announcement oddly mirrors what the Heisman has become. While it still holds some merit, it doesn’t seem quite as important now that the winner is usually a quarterback who puts up astronomical stats in one of the spread-type offenses that have so heavily populated the college football landscape today. Those spread offenses are part of the problem. Years ago it was a lot easier to determine and quantify how much better a Heisman winner was compared to his competition. After all, most of the offenses the players played in were similar. Now days the best player is often not the Heisman winner or even a finalist if he comes from a pro-style offense. It has become difficult for voters to ignore the video game numbers that a QB from a Power 5 conference can put up.

Just 10 years ago Vince Young and Matt Leinart finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Heisman voting. Neither threw for 4,000 yards and neither threw for even 30 touchdowns. This year Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield each threw for 30+ touchdowns and while both finished in the Top 5 of voting, the sense was that they both had “average” seasons relative to what the Top QBs have produced in recent years. Back in the day, a QB who threw for 3,500 yards and accumulated 41 touchdowns for an undefeated team would have been a runaway Heisman winner. This year? Watson wasn’t even in the Top 3 on every ballot. This all created the perfect storm for a non-QB to win the award, with Alabama running back Derrick Henry taking home the honors in 2015.

College football fans and I should be happy a non-QB was able to win the award for once, but I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied with the winner. Maybe it was Henry’s consistency throughout the year that made his big games stand out less. Maybe it was the ridiculous 40+ carries he received in each of the last two games of the season that led to some of those “big games”. As I watched some of the highlights during the ceremony, I found myself wondering if Henry was even one of the three best running backs in college football. Last week I laid out why I thought Stanford back Christian McCaffrey should win the Heisman, so clearly I thought he was a better running back this year than Henry. So who were some of the other top ball carriers in 2015?

I’ll start with Leonard Fournette, who halfway through the year was the favorite for the award. Fournette has been called the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson and barring injury is a better NFL prospect than Henry. Fournette and Henry are both bigger running backs, but Fournette looks faster and quicker on the field. Alabama didn’t have a great passing offense but it at least had to be respected. LSU on the other hand had the 111th ranked passing offense in college football this year. Despite this, Fournette averaged more yards per carry than Henry and had just five fewer touchdowns.

Ohio State Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott is another running back that will likely have higher NFL Draft prospect grades than Derrick Henry. Elliott came into 2015 with a ton of momentum after demolishing teams on Ohio State’s way to the 2014 championship. He was actually about as good statistically as he was in 2014, though he obviously won’t have two playoff games for a showcase as he did last year. Elliott had 19 touchdowns and at least 100 yards in every game except one on his way to maybe the quietist 1,700 yard, 19 touchdown season you’ll see out of a player from a big-time program. It’s safe to say he suffered from the underwhelming season the Buckeyes had as a team.

Florida State was another team with a disappointing season based on its recent standards. That disappointment would have been a disaster instead if it wasn’t for Dalvin Cook. Cook averaged an astonishing 7.9 yards per carry and scored 18 rushing touchdowns on just 211 carries. His numbers would have been greater if not for a hamstring injury that caused him to miss almost three full games. Even so, he finished sixth in the country rushing for 1,658 yards.

Samaje Perine is similar to Cook in that workload, or lack thereof, held him back from a run at attending the Heisman ceremony. Like Cook, the Oklahoma back scored 18 touchdowns on 211 carries. When he was finally let loose at the end of the year he came up big time. The final three games, also the Sooners’ most important, Perine ran for 166/188/131 against Baylor/TCU/Oklahoma State and averaged 6.8 ypc as Oklahoma made its playoff push against three Top 15 teams. Holding Perine back was that he received at least 20 carries in just five games as opposed to Derrick Henry who had that many in nine of the Tide’s contests and 30+ carries in four of them.

This all isn’t to say Henry wasn’t deserving of the Heisman, he was. But many of these running backs could have been deserving if put into Henry’s situation on a team with a great offensive line and up big in many second halves. Henry after all, was just 55th in the country in yards per carry. Just like numbers often dictate which quarterbacks win the Heisman as opposed to what scouting and on-field grades may say, the same can be said for running backs. With that said, here are my Top 5 running backs from the 2015 season.

1. Christian McCaffrey
2. Dalvin Cook
3. Leonard Fournette
4. Derrick Henry
5. Ezekiel Elliot

 

Feature imagine courtesy Kat Vitulano

Enjoy This Ohio State Roster for one More Game; Next Season Will Look Much Different

Ohio State returned 15 starters this season from a national championship roster from a year ago.

That talent translated to a twenty-plus game win streak, until a loss at home to Michigan State ended the streak and Ohio State’s chance to repeat. With a number of talented junior’s and a few seniors playing in their last game as a member of the Buckeyes on New Year’s Day against Notre Dame, the Ohio State team that will roll out of fall camp next season will look much different compared to this one.

Ohio State will lose senior starters Taylor Decker, Jacoby Boren, and Chase Farris on the offensive line. It’s tough to lose three senior leaders on the offensive line, and the Buckeyes will look to replace them with talented blue-chip recruits Urban Meyer has lured to Columbus over the past couple years.

Highly recruited players like Matthew Burrell, Demetrius Knox, Isaiah Prince, and Jamarco Jones will receive serious consideration for playing time next season. Although young and inexperienced, each of these potential replacements on the offensive line possess enormous potential to be great.

Braxton Miller will also be playing his last game in a Buckeye uniform after one of the most successful careers in Ohio State history. Although not utilized to his full potential this season, Miller will be remembered as one of the most dynamic players Urban Meyer has ever had at his disposal.

His playmaking abilities will be missed on the Ohio State offense next season. Look for dynamic athletes Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson to fill that void at the hybrid running back/receiver spot with Miller heading to the next level.

Ohio State will also lose senior tight end Nick Vannett, who had somewhat of a disappointing season in his first as the starter. Vannett will be replaced next season by current sophomore Marcus Baugh, who has the size and athletic ability to be a very good tight end for the Buckeyes.

As for the Buckeye defense, Ohio State will lose senior starters Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt on the defensive line, and second leading tackler Joshua Perry at linebacker for next season. Look for current sophomore’s Michael Hill and Donovan Munger to compete to replace Schutt next season.

A replacement for Washington will be more difficult. Robert Landers and Tracy Sprinkle will both receive opportunities to replace the playmaking defensive tackle next season.

As far as Perry’s replacement goes, former five-star prospect Justin Hilliard will get every opportunity to fill that void next season. Dante Booker, and Jerome Baker will also be afforded chances to fill Perry’s outside backer spot. All three are former top recruits Meyer kept in state and are very good players.

The real losses for Ohio State however will come from the redshirt sophomore/junior class.

Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Vonn Bell, Michael Thomas and Pat Elflein headline a tremendous junior class that could all declare for the NFL draft after the season. This also includes redshirt sophomore’s (key components to Ohio State’s success the past two season’s) Darron Lee, Eli Apple, and Jalin Marshall.

Look for Sam Hubbard, who had a tremendous season as a redshirt freshman to replace Bosa at defensive end next season. One of the top running backs in the nation coming out of high school, current freshman and Detroit native Mike Weber will get the first crack replacing Elliott.

Cam Burrows and Erick Smith (both former high school All-Americans) will battle to replace Vonn Bell at the safety spot next season. Michael Thomas’ starting spot will be a battle but will most likely be filled by Noah Brown, who lost his entire 2015 season to injury.

If Elflein decides to declare, look for the aforementioned Demetrius Knox to slide in his guard spot next season. Darron Lee plays a very important position for the Buckeyes, and athletic linebacker Chris Worley will be the man to fill that void next season.

If Apple declares, Gareon Conley will become the number one corner next season. Damon Webb, the nickel corner for the Buckeyes this season will slide into the other starting corner spot alongside Conley in that scenario next season.

Jalin Marshall is a player that should stay put for another collegiate season, but if he does decide to declare early look for current freshman K.J. Hill to get a shot out wide next season.

Bosa, Elliott, and Thomas are all but gone as all three are considered top players at their respective positions. The other players listed are very good players as well and could also very easily throw their name in the hat for the NFL draft.

My guess is that Jalin Marshall and possibly Pat Elflein return and the rest of the underclassman listed will enter the draft. With all of those losses, Ohio State would be looking at replacing over ten starters for next season.

The good news for Urban Meyer and company is that although a number of core players could be gone from this season’s roster, Ohio State has players to reload and avoid a complete rebuild.

That’s the beauty of Meyer recruiting a top ten class every year since his arrival, the talent will always be there for the Buckeyes. Getting players accustomed to their new roles as starters will be the biggest issue for Ohio State next season, not the talent level.

Having an experienced J.T. Barrett as the full-time starter with no distractions behind him next season will be a huge plus. Barrett is a player who as a redshirt freshman finished with 45 total touchdowns and was fifth in Heisman voting. Regardless of how this season finishes for Barrett we know the talent is there, and the outlook is good next season at quarterback for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes won’t have much time to prepare their new starters before they are tested next season, as Ohio State will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Sooners in the third game of the season.

Enjoy this current Buckeye roster for one more game. It will look much different come Sept. 2016.