Sleepers Part I: Running Backs
Every year fresh talent floods the rosters of college football teams across the nation. This is talent that will eventually go on to be future 1000-yd rushers, Heisman hopefuls, temporary residents on late-night police blotters, and eventual National Champions. Sifting through the talent pool of 119 Div 1-A teams is no easy chore. But like always we are up to the task. So we begin a three part series called “The Sleepers”.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when we talk about sleepers. Like Butch Cassidy's theory on knife fights, there are some ground rules. First, there can’t be too many of them. Once a sleeper list becomes as long as the wait at the DMV, then it becomes known as simply a list of good players. Admittedly we've probably violated this rule in an attempt to CYA, but we'll refine our lists come fall camp when some of these positional battles shake out. Secondly, players like Chad Henne do not qualify. Yes, you’ll have to listen to Steve brag about his brilliant coup in grabbing Chad Henne in the sixth round, but Henne is no sleeper, and Steve is an idiot. Thirdly, when a sleeper doesn’t pan out, forget that you (or we) ever considered him a viable threat. After all, it’s a sleeper, not a lock.
Some of these guys we’ve talked about in previous editions. Some we listed in our top freshman to watch list in our Signing Day piece, but we don’t want to simply harp on freshman. There are also a few players on our list that crack our Top 50. But for the most part we these are players that are currently on page 3 or 4 (and below) of our draft board. These are the guys that if you draft and they go off your office mates will think you’re the second coming of Beano Cook, less the senility, old war stories, and 300 extra pounds. As alluded to above, if these guys don’t pan out, they will be forgotten about soon enough anyway so @#%$ it…floor it! All right enough rambling; we kick-off Part I of the “Sleepers” with the running backs. We promise to make it more entertaining than Steven Spielberg’s 3-part hit TV drama The Langoliers.
The running back position is the easiest spot to pick out some hidden gems. There are two categories of running back sleepers, and players from each can yield huge returns. The first are backs that are taking over for proven commodities. We’ve already touched upon Austin Scott, Demarco Murray, and Rashard Mendenhall in Taking Over the Reigns so we won’t hit on them again. Another to look out for is Kealoah Pilares of Hawaii. Pilares is the most likely candidate to assume the backfield spot vacated by Nate Ilaoa. With the focus on Colt Brennan and a trio of WRs, Pilares should be able to pick-up some nice scraps in the form of chunk yards and redzone touchdowns. He’s not the clear-cut starter, as the Hawaii RB spot's primary goal is handling blocking assignments. This is the main reason we’ve typically seen big backs in the backfield for the Warriors in the past. Pilares is not a big back, rather he's a shifty back with wheels. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, which is also a necessity for Hawaii backs. If he can prove that he can watch Colt Brennan’s back, he’ll see extended PT, and you’ll get a nice return.
The other category of running backs to look at is incoming and redshirt freshman. Mike Ford of South Florida heads our list. Ford has been a hot topic in recruiting circles for several years. Originally signing with Alabama in 2005, but failing to make the grade, it appears he has finally found a home with the Bulls. Ford is going to slip under many radar screens because he spent the last 2-years at a military academy and a community college and because he is heading to South Florida and not BCS powerhouse. This makes Ford not only a talented prospect, but also one you won’t have to over pay for on draft day. With a Big East schedule that is anything but difficult and Ricky Pontoon being declared ineligble, Ford should tear it up.
Noel Devine and Joe McNight were the two most highly sought after recruits in 2007. McNight will join a host of All-American running backs at USC and Devine will get to watch Steve Slaton from the sidelines. The good for news for McNight is a USC running back has yet to establish himself as the go-to guy and McNight will get the opportunity to do just that. We preface this by stating that we are not high on McNight, fellow incoming freshman Marc Taylor, or any of the USC backs simply because there are too many of them this year. But in the words of Jim Lampley, we would be "intellectually dishonest" if we failed to mention his potential. Many will remember Devine from his incredible highlight reel recruiting tape that contained many Barry Sanders-esque runs. Well the terrific talent has landed in Morgantown, and Devine will certainly feel less pressure than highly touted Jason Gwaltney did in 2005. He is a great pick for those in keeper leagues or in need of a Steve Slaton insurance policy.
I hate to even give this one up as I hope to make Jahvid one of my own in our upcoming draft, but for the sake of our viewers, I’ve snuck this one in post editing. Everyone (including us) has Justin Forsett slotted to take over for Marshawn Lynch this fall. But don’t be surprised if you see Jahvid Best getting a ton of carries as a true freshman. Forsett doesn’t have the bulk of a Marshawn Lynch and will need some company. Enter Best, who as a senior last year rushed for over 3000 yards (yes 3000 yards) and is the California’s State Champ in the 100m with a time of 10.31. Do we have a Cali version of C.J. Spiller on our hands? Asking him to de-throne Forsett is unrealistic, but he could turn into a gem down the road. If Best is not ready for the big show, redshirt freshman James Montgomery could see extended playing time as Tedford has always given his #2 plenty of carries.
Michigan State’s Javon Ringer doesn’t fit into either of these categories. But who said these were hard and fast rules…after all, after Butch explained the rules, he kicked Harvey in the nuts (you didn't see that set-up coming did you?). Javon has a number of things going for him that intrigues us: First off, he his talented. If not for a knee injury in his senior year of high school he probably would have ended up somewhere more high profile than with the Spartans. Fresh off the injury, Ringer came in and played as a true freshman in 2005, racking up nearly 1000 yards rushing/receiving. One look at Ringer taking a hand-off and it doesn’t take long to tell this kid had incredible agility and speed (see the picture on the front page). Last year Ringer hurt his knee against Illinois and MSU's offense floundered. Remarkably he only missed 5 games. But, by the time he returned, MSU had all but mailed it in. This spring he looked as healthy as can be and even added a few pounds of bulk. With Mark Dantonio taking over and more emphasis on the running game, big things could be in store for this shifty back. Yardage should not be a problem. Short yardage scores might be as MSU has a few options for goal line situations as well.
RELATED PLAYERS & SCHOOLS