Will there be a drop off at running back?
July, 16, 2012
By Brandon P. Oliver | ESPN.com
Harry How/Getty ImagesWith LaMichael James now in the NFL, senior running back Kenjon Barner is now thrust into the spotlight as Oregon's go-to guy in the backfield.In addition to the Ducks' loss at home to USC last season, there are a couple other reasons many believe Oregon's time at the top of the Pac-12 has come to an end. The loss of the most successful quarterback in program history will set the Ducks back, but some point to the loss of LaMichael James as the main reason for a potential step back.
When James was in Eugene, he was perhaps the most explosive player in program history. He might have been the most explosive player in the country as well. Then, along came De'Anthony Thomas, who will help take his place in 2012. As a freshman in 2011, Thomas instantly became the most explosive player on the Ducks and, arguably, in the country.
If James was indeed the system back some believed him to be, replacing him with Kenjon Barner and Thomas should be no problem at all. Add in the top high school running back on the West Coast, Byron Marshall, in this past recruiting class, and the Ducks have a potentially elite trio of options in the backfield.
Talent is clearly not an issue. If there is a question, it is depth. Barner has been a star in his own right during his career. Like Barner, Thomas is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as well. Marshall might need some time to adjust to the college game as a true freshman.
Barner has never carried the load on his own for more than a game or two at a time in his career. While Thomas might be the most explosive player in the country, he isn't necessarily a full-time running back.
Kenjon Barner: Barner already sits at No. 14 on the Ducks all-time rushing list with only a few starts to his credit. With another 1,061 yards, a total he will likely eclipse by the time the Ducks face USC in November, Barner will pass Jonathan Stewart to become No. 3 on the Ducks all-time rushing list. A season total of 1,456 yards will see him pass Derek Loville and become the No. 2 rusher in program history.
There is no questioning Barner's talent level. In fact, some NFL scouts see him as a better NFL prospect than James. The only real question regarding Barner is whether he can carry the ball 25 times a game.
De'Anthony Thomas: By now, Thomas is no longer a secret to college football fans. A breakout performance in the Rose Bowl versus Wisconsin, where Thomas has 155 yards and two touchdowns on just two carries, ensured that "The Black Mamba" would surprise no one in 2012. As a freshman, Thomas totaled 595 yards rushing on only 55 carries and 605 yards on 46 receptions. Thomas also amassed 1,035 yards in the return game, giving him a total of 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns.
Even more so than Barner, durability is the question for Thomas if he sees an increase in reps at running back. What will likely happen is that Thomas will get between 5-10 carries a game at running back and get about 20 total touches a game.
Byron Marshall: Widely regarded as the top high school running back on the West Coast, Marshall will come in and be expected to play right away for the Ducks. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Marshall is already as big as any back currently on the Oregon roster. His development will be key for the Ducks, especially if Barner or Thomas get hurt.
Other options: At 5-foot-11, 200-pounds, wide receiver Josh Huff played everything in high school. With his history of drops at receiver, his skills would be a good fit at running back if an emergency running back is needed.
At 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, Ayele Forde is a former walk-on that received plenty of mop up duty last year. Forde proved capable of getting the job done when his number was called, rushing for 176 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.
Injuries aside, there is no reason to see the Ducks' run at the top of the rushing charts to come to an end any time soon. While the depth may not be what it has been in recent years, there isn't a drop off in talent.
Best Pac-12 Position Group in 2014 Class
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35