Ohio State Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins is on pace to finish his third consecutive season as Ohio State's leader in touches from scrimmage. In 2017, Dobbins exploded onto the scene as a freshman, logging 216 touches from scrimmage in 14 games. Last year, Dobbins upped his touches to 256 touches in 14 games -- but saw his per-touch production dip by a full two yards. For whatever reason, Dobbins didn't seem to have the same juice. Maybe Ohio State bulked him up too much, too soon. Perhaps the Buckeyes shoveled all of the short yardage situations that former Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett had taken in 2017 onto his plate. But Dobbins didn't look himself -- a bit less dynamic, less springy and less explosive.
The good news? The 2017 edition of Dobbins is back in 2019, and with a higher workload than ever. Dobbins enters Week 6 of the college football season with 97 touches for 696 total yards and 6 touchdowns through Ohio State's first five games. The quickness is back. The explosiveness is better than ever before.
And in a crowded 2020 NFL Draft running back class, Dobbins looks to solidify himself as a top-5 back in the class. He's got my vote.
Whether he's bruising defenders at the point of attack before falling forward for an extra four yards or breaking up the sideline for an explosive play, Dobbins is checking boxes on a weekly basis and already has a proven track record as a pass catcher in Ohio State's wide open pass attack -- he's now caught passes from one 1st-round pick in Dwayne Haskins and another 1st-round lock in 2021 quarterback prospect Justin Fields.
Relative to the resumes of other top backs, Dobbins has one of the most complete resumes in the country. Clemson back Travis Etienne spoke this summer about his experience as a pass catcher -- or lack thereof. Wisconsin back Jonathan Taylor is making a strong push to claim the title of RB1 this season -- he's already set a career high in receptions (9) and if the Badgers play in the Big Ten Championship and a bowl game, Taylor is currently on pace to finish his college career with 6,127 rushing yards (less than 300 from the NCAA rushing record with a full season of eligibility left). But that workload comes with a cost -- Taylor has already logged 690 carries at the college level and with an additional 9 or 10 games remaining this season, Taylor's career carries could easily swell over 900 in 3 seasons. D'Andre Swift of Georgia is -- like Dobbins -- enjoying his chance to be "the man" in the Bulldogs backfield and can contribute in all phases of the offense.
But unlike Swift, Dobbins isn't expected to be a top-25 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. And that may actually be a good thing. Because as a tried and true three-down back who isn't supposed to command a 1st-round pick, Dobbins will be sure to have suitors as the "discount option" on Day 2...many of them likely playoff contenders looking for that little something extra to help put their offense over the top.
A team like the Houston Texans feels like a no-brainer for Dobbins -- veteran RB Lamar Miller is a free agent this offseason and with a collective group of runners that include Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, there's an opportunity to be seized by a young back. And the Texans are clearly in "win now" mode with QB Deshaun Watson -- they've given up notable draft picks for 2020 already but still own their 2nd-round pick: that would be the sweet spot for a runner like Dobbins if he finishes this season strong.
And so watch Dobbins closely as the Buckeyes host the Michigan State Spartans. If Dobbins can create big plays against this defense, it's time to hop on the bandwagon with everything you've got and everyone you know. Sparty boasts one of the most terrifying run defense in the entire country -- they're allowing just 1.86 yards per carry for the season and 55.8 rushing yards per game through their first 5 games. The Michigan State defense is home several NFL Draft prospects for 2020 -- including a potential top-50 pick in DE Kenny Willekes plus DL Raequan Williams, DL Mike Panasiuk, LB Joe Bachie Jr and S David Dowell. Yes, it's a team game. But the spotlight tonight falls on J.K. Dobbins to formally announce he's back. Not to the draft diehards -- who probably already know it.
But to the entire country.