FAB 4. A Trio Of Three-Down Backs For The Bucs In 2018
The Bucs could use a three-down, all-purpose running back to fuel their ground game in 2018. Next year’s draft happens to have several candidates, but there are a trio of backs I’ve become quite fond of in doing my scouting research – Georgia’s Sony Michel, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson.
Let’s start with Georgia’s Sony Michel, who has split time with Nick Chubb, one of Georgia’s greatest running backs. Chubb is a four-year starter that is currently second on the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing list with 4,522 yards, trailing only Herschel Walker’s 5,259 yards. Yet Michel has had a heck of a four-year career, too, and will leave as Georgia’s third-best leading rusher. He currently has 3,314 yards with the SEC Championship Game and at least one bowl game or playoff game yet to play. This season, Michel topped other Georgia legends, including Gurley (3,285), Garrison Hearst (3,232), Lars Tate (3,017), Knowshon Moreno (2,734) and Rodney Hampton (2,668).
Chubb is a fine player in his own right, bouncing back with another 1,000-yard season two years removed from a torn ACL. He’s shown more burst and toughness this year than he did a year ago, but with only 29 receptions in his four-year career, Chubb is more of a two-down runner than he is a complete weapon.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Michel is a tough, physical runner that loves to put his shoulder pads into defenders’ chests and run them over, and he has the speed and agility to outrace and juke them, too. Michel had 10 100-yard games despite being a primary backup. He’s also a dynamic pass catcher with 58 catches for 542 yards and five career touchdowns, and that’s the value Michel will bring to the NFL – the ability to play on all three downs.
While Chubb had 15 plays of 40 yards or more, including five plays of 65 yards or more in his four years at Georgia, Michel’s breakaway speed produced 12 plays of 40 yards or more, including three of 65 yards or more – despite 125 fewer touches than Chubb.
Georgia RB Sony Michel – 5-11, 215 – Senior
2017: 124 carries, 903 yards (7.3 avg.) 13 TDs
2016: 152 carries, 840 yards (5.5 avg.) 4 TDs
2015: 219 carries, 1,161 yards (5.3 avg.) 8 TDs
2014: 64 carries, 410 yards (6.4 avg.) 5 TDs
2017: 3 catches, 17 yards (5.7 avg.) 0 TDs
2016: 22 catches, 149 yards (6.8 avg.) 1 TD
2015: 26 catches, 270 yards (10.4 avg.) 3 TDs
2014: 7 catches, 106 yards (15.1 avg.) 1 TD
Michel has a slashing running style about him with instant acceleration through the hole. He has great athleticism and balance and insane ability to make defenders miss. Michel runs with great determination and has both a strong upper and lower body that allows him to bust through would-be tacklers. He’s a decisive runner that doesn’t dance behind the line of scrimmage. Michel’s feet never stop moving whether he’s running or catching the ball, and he literally fights for yardage, refusing to go down with initial contact. He’s a more physical Alvin Kamara-type runner.
In his third game at Georgia, Michel carried the ball 10 times for 155 yards and scored three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder, in a 66-0 win over Troy in 2014. During his sophomore year, Michel had to take over for Chubb when he tore his ACL and produced four 100-yard games down the stretch against Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. In the cross-state rivalry, Michel ran for 149 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (6.2 avg.) in a 13-7 win. He then toted the rock 20 times for 85 yards (4.3 avg.) and a touchdown in a 24-17 win over Barkley and Penn State in the Taxslayer Bowl.
Chubb’s return to action in 2016 meant fewer touches for Michel, but he still responded with three 100-yard games, including 133 yards in a win at South Carolina, 127 yards and a touchdown in a win at Kentucky and a career-high 170 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (8.9 avg.) in a 28-27 loss to Georgia Tech. Michel ended the year with 87 yards and a touchdown on the ground, in addition to two catches for 39 yards and a touchdown through the air in a 31-23 win over TCU in the Autozone Liberty Bowl.
This year, Michel rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (12.5 avg.) against Vanderbilt, had nine carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries (9.6 avg.) against Missouri, six carries for 137 yards (22.8 avg.) and two touchdowns, including a season-long 74-yarder, against Florida, and 12 carries for 87 yards (7.3 avg.) and three touchdowns in a win against Kentucky.
Penny, whom I have written about extensively in SR’s Fab 5 this season, might be the most explosive back in the country. Having played behind NCAA all-time leading rusher Donnell Pumphrey for three years, Penny burst onto the scene this year as a full-time starter for the first time in his career, and is the nation’s leading rusher with 2,027 yards and 19 touchdowns on 275 carries (7.4 avg.).
Penny was still able to rush for 1,000 yards as Pumphrey’s backup last year, setting the stage for an incredible senior campaign. While being used as a change-of-pace back behind Pumphrey, Penny honed his return skills and now has an NCAA record-tying seven kick return touchdowns and one punt return score in his Aztecs career.
San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny – 5-11, 220 – Senior
2017: 275 carries, 2,027 yards (7.4 avg.) 19 TDs
2016: 135 carries, 1,005 yards (7.4 avg.) 11 TDs
2015: 61 carries, 1,161 yards (6.0 avg.) 4 TDs
2014: 2 carries, 22 yards (11 avg.) 0 TDs
2017: 18 catches, 142 yards (7.9 avg.) 2 TDs
2016: 15 catches, 224 yards (14.9 avg.) 3 TD
2015: 8 catches, 120 yards (15 avg.) 1 TD
Penny has 15 100-yard games over the past two seasons, including six 200-yard games. The Norwalk, Calif. native has had four 200-yard games in his last four outings, and has scored 11 touchdowns (nine rushing, two returns) over that span. Penny needs just 107 yards in San Diego State’s bowl game to break Pumphrey’s single-season school record of 2,133 rushing yards that was set last year.
Penny is an angry runner, and breaks tackles with his helmet, shoulder pads and legs. His thick thighs produce instant acceleration and he’s capable of hitting long runs from anywhere on the field. Penny has tremendous vision, makes cuts at full speed, doesn’t get caught from behind, and has some nice open-field juking ability. Penny catches the ball cleanly, is a tough goal line back that puts his head down and drives for yards, always keeps his feet moving. He’s a prototype NFL running back in the mold of a faster Kareem Hunt.
Penny had a school record 429 total yards in a win against Nevada this year, rushing for 222 yards and added a 100-yard kick return touchdown and a 70-yard punt return for a score, too. Penny also had a 70-yard touchdown called back on a penalty. His performance against the Wolfpack eclipsed Marshall Faulk’s previous San Diego State record of 422 total yards. Penny became the first player in FBS history to have two rushing touchdowns, a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown in the same game.
In an upset win at Arizona State earlier this year, Penny had 353 all-purpose yards with 216 yards rushing, including a career-long 95-yard touchdown, a 99-yard kick return score and a 33-yard receiving TD. While his 18 receptions this year are a career high, the Aztecs don’t throw the ball much and Penny hasn’t been able to showcase his natural receiving ability enough.
But what he has showcased is his breakaway speed. Penny has produced 15 plays of 40 yards or more in his career, including nine plays of 60 yards or more on offense this year. He’s also had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown this season, and kick returns of 99 and 100 yards during his senior campaign, too.
Johnson has rushed for 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns during his junior season at Auburn, while catching 21 passes for 187 yards and two scores. Last year, Johnson rushed for 895 yards on 182 carries (4.9 avg.) and 11 touchdowns while playing behind Kamryn Pettway, who led the Tigers with 1,224 yards on 209 carries (5.9 avg.) and scored seven touchdowns.
With Pettway dealing with injuries this year and rushing for just 305 yards, Johnson has moved into the starting lineup and led Auburn to the SEC Championship Game and a possible playoff spot if the Tigers can beat Georgia again on Saturday. Despite missing two games with injuries this year, including a 14-6 loss to Clemson in Week 2, Johnson has produced eight 100-yard rushing games, including a 204-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 44-23 win over Ole Miss. He has 11 100-yard rushing games in his Auburn career.
Johnson doesn’t have the top-end speed that Michel and Penny possess, evidenced by just five offensive plays of 40 yards or more in his career with the longest being a 60-yard touchdown against Georgia Southern this year. Yet, Johnson is only a junior whereas Michel and Penny are seniors. If he stays for his senior season, which isn’t likely, who knows how many more long runs and receptions he’ll rip off?
Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson – 6-0, 212 – Junior
2017: 250 carries, 1,276 yards (5.1 avg.) 17 TDs
2016: 182 carries, 895 yards (4.9 avg.) 11 TDs
2015: 52 carries, 208 yards (4.0 avg.) 3 TDs
2017: 21 catches, 187 yards (8.9 avg.) 2 TDs
2016: 17 catches, 125 yards (7.4 avg.) 0 TDs
2015: 14 catches, 159 yards (11.4 avg.) 0 TDs
Johnson has a hard-charging running style, some wiggle and the ability to go north-south out of the Wildcat formation or as an off-set back out of shotgun. He has good hands and can make downfield catches on wheel routes. Johnson isn’t afraid of contact and is an absolute brute. He does a great job following his blocks, puts his pads down to power through tackles, shows a nice stiff arm, a good burst, a sweet stutter step and he’s a strong slasher once he sees daylight. Johnson reminds me of another great Auburn back that played in Tampa Bay, Cadillac Williams, in his prime before his knee injuries.
In a huge, 40-17 upset over top-ranked Georgia, Johnson rushed for 167 yards on 32 carries (5.0 avg.) and caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown. In last week’s 26-14 upset of Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Johnson rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown against the stingy Crimson Tide defense, caught three passes for 21 yards and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass before leaving with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. He’s listed as questionable for the SEC Championship Game.
Johnson has become quite the goal line quarterback, completing 4-of-4 passes for 14 yards and two touchdowns over the last two years.
If Tampa Bay can wind up one with one of these multi-purpose runners next year and get some better blocking upfront, the Bucs running game can make a massive turnaround.