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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
State of the Noles: Running Backs

By David M. Hale & Corey Dowlar

NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, a position that was a disaster in 2011 but the foundation of last season's offense: Running Backs

Current scholarship running backs and fullbacks (5): Chad Abram (Sr.), Mario Pender (RSFr.), Devonta Freeman (Jr.), James Wilder Jr. (Jr.), Ryan Green (Fr.)

Devonta Freeman
Devonta Freeman showed his worth in 2012, but there is plenty of talent for FSU at running back.
Potential early departures: Florida State's backfield is chock full of NFL potential, but thanks to a likely committee approach to carries, it seems unlikely any one member will establish himself enough in the offense to warrant serious consideration for an early exit.

Predicted starters (Hale's picks/Dowlar's picks)
2013: Freeman/Freeman
2014: Freeman/Freeman
2015: Green/Green

Why they'll start: When Chris Thompson went down with injuries in each of the past two seasons, it was Freeman who stepped up into the lead role. He wasn't necessarily a bell cow, but his combination of speed, agility and power -- along with an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield -- made for FSU's most versatile alternative.

Still, there were hiccups along the way for Freeman. As a freshman behind an awful offensive line, the struggles were understandable. The miscues in 2012, including a brutal game against Virginia Tech and a handful of failures on third-and-short, were more concerning. And if Freeman was Jimbo Fisher's lone option out of the backfield, there might be reason to worry. Fortunately, FSU has a deep well of candidates to run the ball.

Wilder's future remains a topic of debate, with some seeing him as a viable alternative at fullback with Lonnie Pryor's departure, while others look at his size and strength and drool over his potential as a linebacker. The bottom line, however, is that Wilder insists he wants to carry the rock, and as a sophomore he showed he's more than capable. Wilder's 5.8 yards per carry average in 2012 was fifth in the ACC (just behind Freeman), and he proved an exceptional receiver, too, catching 19 passes for 136 yards. His power running style matched with Freeman's agility make for a dangerous combination.

Green and Pender provide two wild cards. Green comes equipped with exceptional speed and provides the home-run threat that made Thompson such a big weapon in 2012. Pender's contributions are a bit more of a question mark after he missed all of last season with a groin injury. Both have immense potential -- it's just a question of how much they'll be utilized with Freeman and Wilder clearly atop the depth chart.

The other major question mark is at fullback, where Pryor had an impressive four-year run at FSU, culminating with a huge senior season in which he racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense. No one on FSU's roster provides that same versatility or leadership in the backfield, and Fisher has already hinted he's not even looking for a true replacement. Instead, it's likely the Seminoles will employ a host of options, including Abram and tight end Nick O'Leary.

Who might FSU add: Florida State already has a commitment from an elite junior, USA Today All-American Joseph Yearby. And combined with another pledge from Kamryn Pettway, the running back position is pretty well taken care of for the Class of 2014.

It's unlikely the Seminoles take more than two out-and-out running backs in the next cycle, but they would probably make room for a guy like Sony Michel, who has FSU in his top five. But Florida State might already begin to turn their attention to the Class of 2015.

Long-term grade: B. For at least the next two seasons, Florida State is in excellent shape at the running back position, with veterans like Freeman and Wilder providing a powerful one-two punch and Green offering a home-run threat that fills the shoes left by Thompson. The Seminoles still need to make landing another back in 2014 a priority, but the current depth is solid. The only nagging question is how Fisher plans to handle the fullback position longterm.