A quick scan of the commit list and some highlight videos and immediately two running backs begin to stick out. Both Texas and Rutgers have a need for a workhorse in the backfield and both signed good onez in Malcolm Brown and Savon Huggins.
Rounding out the rest of the top five impact freshmen backs was a little tricky. Watching hours of highlight reels can be mind-numbing, but the work must be done. After much deliberation and a bit of flip flopping the work is complete; let's dig in.
Top 5 Backs to Watch
Malcolm Brown, Texas (#1 RB Rivals, #2 RB Scout, #2 RB ESPN) - The Longhorns have been in need of a workhorse back since Jamaal Charles left in 2007. Brown is a between-the-tackles runner and the video below speaks for itself. Based on team needs and talent, Brown has the best chance to make an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2011.
Savon Huggins, Rutgers (#7 Rivals, #4 Scout, #4 ESPN) - The Scarlet Knights have been unable to find a replacement for Ray Rice the past three seasons. Huggins will be given the chance this summer/fall. He has the size to be an every-down back and the ability, which reminds me a lot of Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams -- to put up serious yards in the Big East.
Mike Blakely, Florida (#6 Rivals, #10 Scout, #7 ESPN ) - Don't let his 5-foot-9 stature fool you; Blakley isn't your typical Gator running back. He's stout and can run between the tackles. Ohhh and he has the speed to match. The Gators haven't had an all-purpose every-down back since DeShawn Wynn in 2007. They haven't had a 1000-yard rusher at running back since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Blakley has the chance to turn that around.
Brandon Williams, Oklahoma (#3 Rivals, #3 Scout, #5 ESPN) - Williams has sprinter speed and room to pack on pounds to his 6-foot frame. One of the most overlooked aspects of DeMarco Murray's game is his 157 career receptions. Williams' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could be the key to him seeing the field early. His playing time will also be highly dependent on how Roy Finch (stress fracture) recovers and how Jermie Calhoun and Brennan Clay develop this spring/summer.
Mike Bellamy, Clemson (#5 Rivals, #7 Scout, #6 ESPN ) - Few get up to top speed quicker than Bellamy. Based purely on talent he'd be #2 on this list. However, all too often we get giddy about incoming recruits and forget what we already have. Bellamy is going to have to fight for carries with Andre Ellington. Still, with Dabo Swinney's head firmly on the chopping block, he better see what this kid can do.
The Best of the Rest
Kenny Hilliard, LSU - Bulldozer, on-campus early.
Herschel Sims, Oklahoma State - Joseph Randle is going to be tough beat, but Sims' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield stands out.
Aaron Green, Nebraska - Roy Helu graduates, but Rex Burkhead does not. Still, Green has the ability to see early PT.
Harvey Langi, Utah - Bye bye Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide.
Chevelle Buie, East Carolina - Love this kid's wiggle, he should do well in the spread. There is a reason why he slipped to the Pirates, however.
Brendon Bigelow, Cal - Missed all of last year and part of his junior year with a knee injury. If his knee is ready, he'll play and could be a good one.
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia - The top rated running back in the country according to Scout.com and ESPN. You have to give Crowell points for creativity at his signing day press conference. UPDATE: With the suspension of Washaun Ealey, Crowell should be in the Top 5.
Justice Hayes, UofM - Michigan is still looking for a running back.
Demetrius Hart, Alabama - He'll have to fight for playing time behind Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
James Wilder, Florida State - At some point one of the Seminoles top running back prospects is going to crack the the 1000-yard barrier.
Thomas Rawls, Michigan - Rawls is a banger, and if he can get his academics in order he has a great chance to see early playing time. This is a BIG IF, however, and will have to be watched this summer.
Mika'il McCall, Iowa - The Iowa backfield went from logjam to thin in the blink of an eye last fall. The status of Adam Robinson is still up in the air. Even if Marcus Coker settles in as the starter, he'll need relief and McCall has the talent to play right away.
Romar Morris, North Carolina - Might be a little undersized for every-down use, but he has Jeff Demps speed. The Tar Heels leading returning running back, Hunter Furr, had a whopping five carries for 29 yards last season.
Darrian Miller, Kansas - James Sims had a solid year as a true frosh, but the Jayhawks are in need of some depth at running back.
Storm Woods, Oregon State - Running backs not named Jacquizz Rodgers had six, yes six carries, last season for the Beavers.
C.J. Anderson (JC), Cal - I don't think the Bears are bringing in a JUCO back to ride the pine.