Me, in 2017:
There are so many good running backs in this year's class. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara; all of those guys can really impact offenses right away.
Me, in 2018:
There are so many good running backs in this year's class. Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel; all of those guys can really impact offenses right away.
Me, right now:
There are so many good running back in this year's class. D'Andre Swift, Travis Etienne, J.K. Dobbins, A.J. Dillon; all of those guys can really impact offenses right away.
Running back value may be up for question, as we've seen analytics point more and more towards emphasis on the passing game in the last five or so years, but running back talent in this generation of athletes is rarely up for debate. There are so many talented running backs that come through year after year -- one might argue that that is also why running backs should command less draft value.
This year is no different, and as a flock of backs rise to the tops of pre-season rankings and social media conversations, there is one back who I wanted to focus on the details of their situation to get a good grasp of what we might be able to expect from them in 2019.
His name is J.K. Dobbins, and you likely already know his name because he's been contributing in a big way for one of the biggest football programs in the country for two straight years now. As a true freshman at Ohio State in 2017, Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns with a 7.2 yards-per-carry average. Last year, in 2018, his production took a bit of a slide with just 1,053 yards and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average, but his emphasis was still there with 10 touchdowns and a career high 230 carries.
So Dobbins, who is talked about as one of the best backs eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft, had a bit of a sophomore slump last season, but as Michael Bublé would say, "it's a new dawn, it's a new day."
Ohio State has a new head coach this year, as former offensive coordinator Ryan Day now takes over for Urban Meyer. Day, who is a big fan of Dobbins and fully expects to have him as his No. 1 tailback in 2019, talked a little bit about that "down year" from Dobbins and gave some context to why it should look different for him -- more like that first year -- in 2019.
“I think that last year, we got the ball to the perimeter a little bit more in terms of some of the bubble screens and like that,” Day said. “We’ll continue to build that. The quarterback run is something that we’re going to be more involved with again this year. And then we’ll see as we continue to build this identity on offense — because it’s going to be different than it was with J.T. [Barrett]. It will be different than it was with Dwayne [Haskins] — how we continue to do that.”
The running back room at Ohio State will still be a crowded and a talented one, even with Mike Weber gone. Dobbins will assume that top spot with redshirt freshman Master Teague and fourth-year junior Demario McCall behind him. But it's less about the room than it is the overall offensive outlook, as Day pointed out.
Last year the Buckeyes had a prolific future first round passer in Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. Haskins was much more of a pocket passer than he was a runner. So with less designed runs and RPO-type schemes built in every week, the concept of "running the ball" or establishing plays that were quick hitters came from short passes rather than handoffs. Instead of using creativity in the run game, they were doing it more so with Parris Campbell or Terry McLaurin at the receiver position.
Ohio State will certainly have their fair share of plays like that, but I think the emphasis will take a shift, mainly because of who is now at quarterback. Former 5-star quarterback Justin Fields will likely be the starter for the Buckeyes in 2019, and with him comes a much more balance run and pass offense. Fields can scoot, so you better believe that there are going to be all sorts of new run play wrinkles in Ohio State's game plan each week. That will benefit Dobbins.
With not only more RPO's called, but a bigger threat to run from the quarterback position, those defensive ends and linebackers won't be able to key in on Dobbins in 2019 as much as they did in 2018. This should set up Dobbins to be one of the most productive backs in college football, and as a result, one of the more highly coveted backs in the 2020 NFL Draft pool.