So, long story short, we’re scoring position groups this week for Nebraska. Based off 2018 performance, returning production and incoming talent, we’re basically power ranking Nebraska’s roster heading into the 2019 season. Each group will be getting a score on a 10-point scale.
Returning: senior Wyatt Mazour, senior Austin Hemphill, redshirt sophomore Jaylin Bradley, sophomore Maurice Washington, redshirt freshman Miles Jones, redshirt freshman Connor Ruth, redshirt freshman Brody Belt
Incoming: junior Dedrick Mills, freshman Rahmir Johnson, freshman Ronald Thompkins
Returning production: 31.7 percent of carries, 29.5 percent of yards, 25 percent of touchdowns
So that returning production is just including running backs and taking Adrian Martinez’s running out of the equation. Only five running backs touched the ball in 2018 for Nebraska. Two of them are now gone.
Not a great place to start.
No one expected Devine Ozigbo to have the kind of season he had. Becoming Nebraska’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 meant Ozigbo (1,082 yards, 7.0 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns) earned a first-team All-Big Ten spot from one of the more objective selection committees.
Ozigbo on his own got 155 of the 278 carries given to running backs.
But his departure is sort of a double-edged sword and I’m not sure how to feel about it.
Are you hurting losing all that? Yes, absolutely, but it might not hurt the same as it normally would. Because the coaching staff wasn’t expecting this level of production from one guy in Year 1, does that then make it a little easier to replace? They were thinking they would need that production from someone else in the first place and planned accordingly.
That, I think, is where Maurice Washington comes into play.
Washington hit for 5.8 yards a carry in his first season and he was able to do it beating defenders to the edge as well as knifing between the tackles. In terms of success rate, Washington was one of Nebraska’s lower efficiency runners but he made up for it in home-run-hitting ability.
The freshman had an explosive play rate of nearly 24 percent in his first season. Ozigbo hit at 18.7. Among backs with at least 70 carries this season, only Maryland’s Anthony McFarland had a better big play rate (29.8).
Washington also does this, which has me excited.
Most running backs can hit a hole and pick up 20 if you give them the right hole at the right time. Most running backs cannot — or in some cases will not — seek out contact without the football. That Washington, a guy whose frame everyone worried about, is not only willing to throw that block but getting absolutely jacked for it tells you a lot about the kid’s drive.
And just for fun, here’s that natural running ability.
A year in the weight room for Washington will be huge. Depending on what Zach Duval and company can accomplish, Washington could turn into the same kind of every-down back Ozigbo became last season.
Wyatt Mazour is the wildcard. He can line up in the Duck-R position for Nebraska or in the backfield. Mazour hit for 6.9 yards a carry on the season and for three years has been a guy deserving of more run.
Then you add in the new guys. Dedrick Mills ran for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns at a 5.1 yards per carry clip back when he was a freshman starting for Georgia Tech. Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High School product Rahmir Johnson went for 1,334 yards and 11 scores at a 6.3 ypc rate. Nebraska has some burners coming in. It’s just a matter of how those pieces fit together and how many of those pieces actually see the field enough to make an impact.
Most thought Miles Jones was going to be a regular rotation member and he played once this season. Of course, injury prevented him from playing anymore after, but he didn’t appear until Bethune-Cookman.
Ronald Thompkins is coming off an injury that limited him to one game his senior season of high school. Jones is coming off an injury. Jaylin Bradley appears to be on a milk carton. Washington needs to add bulk, the offseason strength work is more necessity than luxury. What about Mills? Does he come in and win a role similar to what Greg Bell won early in 2018? If so, how does that affect Washington’s ceiling?
As I look at it, there are plenty of talented runners in the backfield but I still don’t know what the finished product is going to look like while having to replace such a key figure.
Justification: Like the quarterback position, Nebraska has talent. Unlike the quarterback position, Nebraska has things that need replacing. This score has the potential to rise as we move through the offseason and get spring football out of the way but when you lose almost two-thirds of your production, it’s hard to overlook initially.
Update (12/5/18; 2:30 p.m.): Well now Wandale Robinson is in the 2019 recruiting class. A high 4-star running back/wide receiver and one of the top offensive talents in the country, Robinson fits the Huskers’ offense as perfectly as anyone. Hail Varsity’s Greg Smith says Robinson will be used in both spots for the Huskers, but in a split backfield, opposite Maurice Washington, with Adrian Martinez in the middle? Yikes. Good luck, defense.
With Robinson planning to enroll early, he and the rest of the offense will have plenty of time to gell. You don’t want to get caught up in the hype of a new commit but Robinson isn’t all-flash-no-substance. He’s the real deal and makes the running back room markedly more dangerous.
Updated Score: 8/10
Justification: Well. . . The score rose.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.