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Position Preview: Runningbacks

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In case you haven't heard, our running game figures to be substantially worse this season. Brandon McAnderson, another player who would figure to top the charts in the All Time Favorite Jayhawks competition, has graduated, and with him also went our running game. Without our leading rusher, we are sure to flounder, forcing us to become a pass-sixty-times-a-game team, depending on Hot Toddy to lead us, all by himself, to the Promise Land yet again.

Supposedly.

Of course, when people tend to fall into that line of thinking; that Kansas can hardly replace an 1,100 yard rusher, being the perennial doormat they are. Sure, most realize that we have Jake Sharp returning, but even Jayhawk fans realize that he can't hold up the entire Kansas running game on his own shoulders.

Enter Jocques Crawford. Despite his sheer domination of the Junior College ranks and his incredible measurables, he has gone relatively unnoticed amongst Big 12 programs. I realize that he is not a guarantee to succeed, but coming off a JUCO Offensive Player of the Year Award, you'd have to think he has as good of a chance as anyone else to come in and light up the Big 12. More on him momentarily, but first let's address the transfers, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Donte Bean.

As I mentioned at the time, the fact that they are choosing playing time over Kansas isn't a bad thing. However, it does make the running back position pretty thin for this season, although it would still take a barrage of injuries for any truly dire situation. This should also make runningback a much higher priority in this Class, likely picking up an additional two runningbacks beyond Deshaun Sands. With all of that said, let's get it going and start previewing the runningbacks, after going over the depth chart over the next three years.

2008 2009 2010
RB1 Jake Sharp (JR)

Jake Sharp (SR)

Sean Ransburg (rsSO)
RB2 Jocques Crawford (JR) Jocques Crawford (SR) Deshaun Sands (rsFR)
RB3 Angus Quigley (rsJR) Angus Quigley (rsSR) Rell Lewis (rsJR)
RB4 Rell Lewis (rsFR) Sean Ransburg (rsFR) '09/10 Recruit
RB5 Sean Ransburg (FR)* Rell Lewis (rsSO) '09/'10 Recruit
FB1 Steven Foster (rsFR) Steven Foster (rsSO) Steven Foster (rsJR)

-- Italics is a predicted redshirt year

* Ransburg is academically ineligible this season, but I assume we will just 'redshirt' him anyways and he will come in to the program next season as a redshirt freshman, if that is even possible.

OK, now let's get into the player-by-player previews.

 

Jake Sharp :: #1 :: JR :: RB1

Jake Sharp is white. That is about the extent of knowledge most "experts" have on Jake Sharp. Sure, they can glean his relative short stature (5'10") from five minutes of google searching and his 821 yards rushing last season, but that is about the extent. For instance, take this little quote from CFN's preview of the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks:

"...and while Jake Sharp and Angus Quigley are decent veterans who can help the cause, they're hardly special talents who can carry the ground attack."

Now, while it isn't a horrible remark, Pete Fiutak of CFN certainly is understating Sharp's importance to the team. Sharp, no matter what any national experts think, is much more than simply "a decent veteran". Sure, he isn't built to be the sole RB in a one-RB system, but of course, he isn't being relied upon to be one. Instead, he is merely one half of a two-RB system that splits the carries up between two backs. And in that role, he excels.

But sure, he has his detractors.

He only carried the ball once in last year's Border War, a fairly clear signal that the staff thought that Brandon McAnderson was not only better, a fact that had largely been accpepted as fact for weeks, but significantly better. Of course, he was also banged up, and who knows just how serious his injury was. Despite being the quick, dash-and-dart runningback of whatever tandem Mangino puts together, he isn't a home run hitter. Last season, his longest run was only 25 yards long (vs. Iowa State) and his career long is only 27 yards. Against Big 12 teams that didn't finish at the bottom of the North Division (K-State and Iowa State), he didn't pull off a run longer than 14 yards. And while the 5.6 yards per carry is nice, a lot of that came in blowout wins against inferior competition; 9.8 YPC against Toledo and 7.1 YPC against Central Michigan. Take those two games out, and he averages only 4.9 YPC. Still pretty good, but not nearly as impressive.

Now you are starting to see how he gets overlooked. Looking at some of that causes most who don't follow the team to immediately assume that his success was a product of a weak schedule and being the backup option to Brandon McAnderson, the obvious near-one-man show of the offense. And so, before even beginning to discuss Jocques Crawford, our running offense is already underrated. Sharp is better than most give him credit for; he is quick and shifty, but also can break some tackles and run between the hashes. He will never be confused for a bruiser, but he isn't a Reggie Bush I-only-run-outside-because-of-my-ZOMG!-speed kinda guy either. He is exactly the type of really solid role player that will continue to make this machine churn, providing the bland foundation before adding on the wondrous talents of Jocques Crawford.

Jocques Crawford :: #3 :: JR :: RB2

Charles Gordon, clearly the best player on the 2004 and 2005 Kansas Jayhawk football teams, wore #3. That honor was next bestowed upon another All-American, Aqib Talib, while he called the University of Kansas home. And so, the passing down of the #3 has quickly become an honor greater than any other. To earn #3, you have to be exceptional and, before this year, a CB/WR combo that is almost always the best athlete on the field. Jocques (pronounced "Jock", for those of you who don't know yet) has yet to line up wide as a WR, and he will never hop over to the other side of the ball and start covering wideouts, but he fits the last criteria. And while the successor seemed to be Chris Haris, him being a corner and all, Jocques is obviously a special kind of talent to have the coaching staff grant him the greatest honor on the team; #3.

On my little depth chart, I have Jocques listed as RB2 for both this year and next year. That is incredibly misleading. He is, by no means, a backup, and is all-but-certain to receive more carries over the course of the season than Jake Sharp. But, to start out the year, the JUCO transfer will likely, at least a little, be eased into Division 1-A football and Sharp will receive more carries. So, because of that, I kind of went all crazy and listed Sharp as the starter. Y'know, veteran and all. But make no mistake, if you are going to gameplan for one player on the entire Kansas offense, excluding Hot Toddy (for just about any halfway decent CFB program, the QB is going to be priority #1), it has to be Jocques. That is, if you want to keep your job beyond that game.

But moving beyond his jersey number and spot on the depth chart, here are some other numbers you should be interested in. He is a big boy, listed at 6'1" 230, which, by comparison, is roughly the same as B-Mac (6'0" 235). The difference, and this is important, is that McAnderson runs a 4.9 40. Now, the whole idea of a 40 yard dash is incredibly inane and stupid, as it rarely actually comes into plaly where you have to run 40 yards down a field. But, it is what kept Brandon McAnderson from getting a fair shot at the NFL (so far, at least) and it is what makes Jocques Crawford such an intriguing prospect. Jocques' 40 time, by the way, is 4.6. That is damn fast for a player as big as he is. Oh, and he has performed, as well. How do these numbers sound?

  • 1,935 yards on 283 carries his sophomore season :: 6.84 YPC :: 19 TDs
  • 1,069 yards on 225 carries his freshman season :: 4.75 YPC :: 8 TDs

Add those to a JUCO Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2007, and you have quite a runningback. Honestly, of all the new, incoming players to our program and all of the other new starters and contributors, there is no question who I am most looking forward to seeing in action. That would be Jocques Crawford, the heir apparent to the legend of the #3, at least for two years before he moves on.

Angus Quigley :: #22 :: rsJR :: RB3

Ah, good ol' Angus. This kid, on coming to Kansas, had about as much potential as any recruit since. On talent and potential alone, he should play a vast role in our offense, forcing Mangino to find a way to get him on the field. However, injuries got his career to a wretched start, forcing last season (his rsSO year) to be his first year. Combine that with an attempted switch to outside wide receiver in the spring of last year and persistent fumbling problems, and Angus' career is quickly coming to a close without ever having made a huge impact. He figured to be next in line to replace B-Mac as the big, bruiser, but the signing of Jocques essentially relegated Angus to the bench for the rest of his career, barring an injury or a blowout. Still, he has the potential to be a legitimate Big 12 starting RB, and if he could break his nasty habit of fumbling the football he could wedge himself into the shuffle for carries.

His role on the team, besides as the primary fill-in in case of an injury to either of the twop two guys, lies mostly on special teams, where he spent the majority of last season as well. I have always loved Angus, and I hope they find a way for him to get on the field somehow, some way. But, more than likely, he will simply be a top reserve RB for the rest of his career. It sucks how football works sometimes, how injuries and poor timing can turn a once-promising player into merely a reserve.

Rell Lewis :: #6 :: rsFR :: RB4

Rell spent last season, his freshman year, redshirting at slot receiver, a position he figured to stay out throughout his entire Kansas career. However, even after spending spring practice almost exclusively in the slot (in fact, he is still listed as a WR on the official page), he was moved to RB, a move that is now seemingly vital following the defections of other reserve RBs, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Donte Bean. From all accounts, he has looked quite impressive thus far in camp as a RB, showing good vision and tremendous acceleration, making him a reasonable candidate for future PT. However, while his chances of playing at RB are probably greater than they were in the slot, the odds are against him ever becoming half of the two-headed monster that is our running game. With Ransburg, Sands and other assorted runningbacks entering our program in the next year-or-two, there should be the most talent at the RB position, from top-to-bottom, than at any other time in the history of Kansas football. And that, while awesome, doesn't lend support to Rell Lewis' potential future playing time.

Not that that is a bad thing. With the defections, he is a possibility for garbage time, and should play a vital role on special teams. Plus, he could explode at some point and leapfrog some people ahead of him on the depth chart, as he is essentially brand new to the position. In any case, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on if he ever does see the field, as he has a chance to be a scary-good speed guy out of the backfield of a spread offense. More than likely, though, he will simply be a career reserve, always pushing for playing time but never quite getting it, while contributing on special teams.

Steven Foster :: #43 :: rsFR :: FB1

Steven Foster, coming out of Sedgwick High School in Kansas, was one of the better fullback recruits in the country. He is clearly that, a fullback, as opposed to some sort of hybrid that could be molded into a B-Mac type in the spread offense. With our new offensive system, there is little place for a line-up-and-block FB, which is what necessitated B-Mac's move to RB in the first place. All of this makes him and Kansas a curious match, a match almost assuredly coming out of the fact that a) He is from Kansas, making it an easier recruiting job, b) Kansas' uncertainty while recruiting him as to how the offense would look in the future (he committed before Ed Warriner was hired) and, most importantly, c) He isn't simply a blocking FB. He has impressed everyone at fall practice with his running capabilities, and while he won't see a 2007 B-Mac-type role in the offense this season (or likely any of his four seasons), he could very easiliy be a short-yardage back.

He isn't ginormous for a FB, 6'2" and 235, but is bigger than any other back on the roster, and would be the obvious choice for any short-yardage situation. Now, if his season (and career) consists merely of short-yardage situations or whether he can become a part of the rotation is yet to be seen, although the former certainly seems to be optimistic enough as far as his realistic offensive potential, both now and in the future. A nice, solid part, for sure, but not quick enough to have a larger impact in a spread offense.

Next Up: Tight Ends

ROCK CHALK!