Who will complement Brandon Roberts?
Will we see another freshman at running back in 2021?
We’re another week closer to the start of the College Football season, which means were previewing another position group of the Air Force Falcon’s. If you missed any of our previews leading up, you can check all of them out here.
Last week wide receivers were the focus, now today the running backs take center stage. And in an offense that led the country in rushing, running backs shoulder a major load. This was a unit that averaged more than 300 yards per game, and was the only such to do so in the country. Those yards came at just under six yards per carry (5.88).
Normally, when you lose one of the most prolific ball carriers in such a proud programs history, in Kadin Remsberg, you are looking at a massive chasm to fill. However, they do return their three leading rushers from 2020, one of which led the Mountain West in rush yards per game.
There is plenty to discuss when it comes to the stable of running backs, and a lot of it should be filled with optimism. Without further adieu, let’s get into the backfield.
You can’t talk Falcon running backs without mentioning 2020’s breakout player, Brad Roberts. As mentioned earlier, just a Sophomore last year, Roberts led the Mountain West in rush yards per game (115) and finished second in the conference, ripping off 7.2 yards per touch.
Most of this damage was inflicted at fullback, and the primary option in their running attack last year. However, Roberts was recruited as a tailback more commonly termed, and with a pretty big void left by Kadin Remsberg, perhaps we will see him there. He was so successful carrying on the inside though, it may be hard to completely move him out of that spot. Especially when you consider there are equal part questions at fullback as well.
Either way, Roberts profiles as the next in line of esteemed Air Force ball carriers. His presence alone establishes that the Falcons are prepared to do serious damage on the ground again.
Elija Robinson goes for 5⃣0⃣ on his first career touch ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/ZUactldFqr
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) October 31, 2020
There are a couple of ways you can look at experience here; by volume of carries or exposure by playing time. Behind Roberts, frankly there isn’t a preponderance of either. But the fact that Freshman tailback, Jordan Gidrey only got 11 carries, doesn’t mean he lacks experience. Gidrey saw the field regularly, he just didn’t take many carries away from players like Timothy Jackson, Kadin Remsberg and Brad Roberts. Not exactly an indictment. He was just a Freshman and he earned a jersey regularly, that is more like a commendation.
Another Freshman who played in less games (2) but certainly made the most of his carries was fullback, Elijah Robinson. Averaging 6.7 per carry, Robinson was a bruiser inside, rumbling for 119 yards last year. This is a guy who could be difference maker for the offense, when you consider what they want to do with the ball.
There are a pair of Seniors in Bo Gross (fullback) and C.J. McNeal (tailback) bringing a veteran presence to the position group. While neither has garnered a ton of carries to date, a backfield devoid of upperclassmen will enjoy their veteran presence.
— PrepZone (@prepzone) April 4, 2021
Last year saw two Freshman running backs gain valuable experience. Even in the crazy Pandemic Season of turnbacks that was, that’s surprising for Air Force. But what if I told you 2021 may have another Freshman surface at tailback? Enter Marceese Yetts.
From Mater Dei High School, the football factory that it is, Yetts has the highest prospect composite rating of any skill position commit that Air Force has ever landed (since prospect rankings were made official). This distinction was previously held by the aptly celebrated Kadin Remsberg. Don’t be surprised if in tandem with Roberts and company, Marceese Yetts takes the Conference by storm.
Jacob Trach (Sophomore) is a tailback that hasn’t really made an impact yet, but the open auditions to help populate the depth chart could prove the opportunity he needs to make a move. The 2019 commit is a name those around the program are familiar with, and could be as likely candidate as any to part of the youth movement in the backfield.
Similar to Trach, Omar Fattah (Sophomore) figures to factor into the ground attack in 2021, but as a fullback. If history has taught us anything, it’s that triple-option offenses love to leverage depth at fullback. Think Davern-Johnson or Jackson-Birdow, most recently.
Here are a couple of other names to take inventory of; Owen Burke (Sophomore) made a few appearances last year, and Nolan Carey (Freshman) spent 2020 at the Academy’s Prep School. Considering the Falcons backfield vacancies, along with their distribution of touches, either of these guys could secure carries this fall.
2020 vs. 2021 PROJECTED
The Falcon running game is going to have some new personnel in 2021, and quite frankly, it will probably be a formidable aggregate of talents. I realize that is not a leap when you return a talent like Brad Roberts. Despite that, it’s unfair to place the expectations bar for this next wave at a ‘Remsberg/Jackson/Stoner’ level. Especially when you consider the offensive line dynamics, sending two players to the NFL and graduating the other three starters from last season.
Rather than going a direct player for player comparison, it’s more important to look at the totality of the groups performance. While you shouldn’t surprised if 2021 is another year that the Falcon’s lead the nation in rushing, they can still be successful if they don’t. How fast the new offensive line gels, along with other supporting cast will go a long way in determining their success.
It’s also worth noting, key contributions in their rushing attack will likely come from Haaziq Daniels (or Warren Bryan) and Brandon Lewis, quarterback and receiver, respectively. Not necessarily a yoke bore solely by their running backs.
In all, there is a lot of youth and inexperience in the backfield, which can be exciting for the long term prospects of the Falcon offense, but they will be expected to perform now. If the historical trend of offensive line and running back play stays even somewhat consistent, the ground game shouldn’t see a significant drop off. In fact, it could flourish this year, and for years to come.