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Texas Tech Football Position Preview: Running Back

The RB position was quietly excellent for Tech in 2019 will it continue in 2020?

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The RB position was quietly excellent for Tech in 2019.  SaRodorick Thompson was one of the brightest spots of last season.  We also arguably got more out of grad transfer Armand Shyne in 2019 than anyone expected, but his eligibility has expired.  Ta’Zhawn Henry was productive as well, but his surprise offseason departure leaves a bit of a void in terms of a change-of-pace back to complement SaRodorick. Ta’Zhawn was quick and could make people miss, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being sad to see him go.  Shyne and Henry combined in 2019 to rush for 714 yards and 6 TDs, with another 205 yards receiving.  If you’re doing the math on returning production from the RB position, we bring back in 2020 exactly as much as we lost in terms of total yards at 919, thanks entirely to SaRodorick.  Things are better in terms of TDs, as Thompson accounted for 12 of our total 18 scores from RBs in 2019 to return 2/3 of our production there.  The recurring theme here is that SaRodorick’s importance as an experienced, productive back for us cannot really be overstated heading into 2020.  While leaning so heavily on one player is cause for concern, the good news is that we will be welcoming in loads of talent and athleticism in the backfield to provide depth in 2020. 

Projected Depth Chart (As of August 14th)

1st: SaRodorick Thompson (R-So)

2nd: Tahj Brooks (Fr)

3rd: Chadarius Townsend (R-Jr)

4th: Xavier White (R-Jr)

5th: Chux Nwabuko III (So)

6th: Ronnie Hart (So)

7th: Kendell Jimerson (R-So)

SaRodorick Thompson (R-So)

Thompson seized the starting RB role last year and produced 919 total yards and 12 TDs.  765 of those yards and all 12 TDs came from the run, but he proved capable of being an occasional receiving threat as well.  Still, his greatest strength is as a between-the-tackles bruiser. Thompson has a knack for finding the end zone and getting that extra yard or two because he simply does not go down easily. Tech hasn’t had many “traditional” running backs like SaRodorick in the spread era, often opting instead for smaller, shiftier backs, but Thompson proved a welcome departure from our typical RB role in plowing through defenders repeatedly during the 2019 season. His presence as a reliable goal-line option also solves an issue spread offenses run into with shorter fields.  There are seasons when we’ve seriously needed a tough, hard-nosed back like SaRodorick on the roster, and we’re fortunate to have him here as a proven RB heading into 2020.

Tahj Brooks (Fr)

Coach Wells landed a great back out of HS in this last class in Tahj Brooks.  Brooks was a high 3-star Texas Top 100 recruit with a lengthy FBS offer list who was nothing but productive in HS as he rattled off 1,000+ yards season after season after season.  Tahj won’t typically wow you with his speed, but much like SaRodorick, he runs hard.  He is the definition of a downhill runner, in that he wastes little time getting upfield and typically has a full head of steam by the time he reaches the line.  He’ll be a guy safeties won’t want to confront in the open field.  Conventional wisdom suggests that Brooks’ role this year will be to spell Thompson to keep him fresh, and I don’t expect a great deal of dropoff in play, if at all, when Tahj comes in to do just that.

Chadarius Townsend (R-Jr)

If you’re looking for speed, Chadarius Townsend brings that dimension in spades.  The coaching staff posts “Top Raider” charts to track the efficacy of our speed training and create some healthy competition.  Townsend has been featured there on multiple occasions, clocking as high as 22.6 MPH. The really exciting part is that Chadarius is far more than just a straight-line burner.  It isn’t every day that we get a grad transfer from Alabama with two years of eligibility left who was a consensus National Top 10 ATH and National Top 300 player.  He was a two-way player in HS, serving as both QB and DB.  His athleticism and talent isn’t in question, and getting lost in the RB/WR depth on an Alabama roster that in his RS FR year had RBs drafted in the 1st and 3rd rounds and two WRs selected in the first round from last year’s team is tough to hold against him.  Townsend is a prime candidate to be a breakout star, as it’s going to be difficult to keep him off the field.  His agility and burst of speed in space makes him electric, and his film screams big-play potential every time he touches the ball.  Chadarius is simply a football player, and don’t be surprised if he rockets up the RB depth chart over the course of the season and/or contributes in additional ways, as he can line up at just about any skill position and remain someone who defenses will have to worry about.

Xavier White (R-Jr)

Xavier White showed some flashes of greatness during his brief WR stint in 2019, but his season was cut short by an injury against Oklahoma.  White is a Lubbock native out of Monterey, so it’s easy to cheer on a hometown kid.  Xavier came out of the gate strong by posting a 100+ yard day with a touchdown to boot in his debut in a Tech uniform.  While it came against Montana State, it’s worth noting that the last Tech WR to break the 100-yard mark in their first game was some guy named Crabtree who turned out to be pretty decent.  This promising start was unfortunately short-lived due to the injury, so we didn’t really get to see what he was fully capable of in conference play, but it was easy to like what we did see.  His move to the backfield for 2020 bolsters our speed RB role along with Townsend, and if Chadarius doesn’t pick up the position or offense quickly, White will likely seize that spot, as he’s plenty quick and elusive in his own right.

Chux Nwabuko III (So)

Nwabuko III saw the most action last year on punt return duties, and that role remains his until proven otherwise.  Where he factors in at the RB position will likely depend on how Brooks, Townsend, and White progress, but he is likely to remain a contributor on special teams at minimum.

Ronnie Hart (So)

Hart is a new addition out of Cisco JC.  Ronnie comes in with game-ready size, and his tape shows off some great lateral ability with cuts better than you’d expect from a player of his build, but he’ll have to pick up the offense and the FBS level of competition quickly.

Kendell Jimerson (R-So)

Jimerson spent the majority of 2019 on the scout team as he continues to add some bulk to withstand the physicality of the college game and learn the position.  Kendell did make an appearance in the final game of the season against UT, which perhaps indicates his promise.

While you’d generally expect the depth chart to shake out as above here, there is every opportunity behind SaRodorick in 2020 for a player to step up.  We’ll likely see 3-4 RBs get meaningful snaps this year based on how Yost has used the position in the past, and the competition for slots 2-4 is likely to be fierce.  No one should be ruled out given the fairly rare situation of entering a season with little proven depth.  The cream will certainly rise to the top, and it will be an exciting Fall practice battle.

The RB position is coming off of a strong year, and I expect similar results in 2020.  While it may be tough to match the over 1,800 yards from the position that were tallied in 2019 (arguably a bit by necessity once we lost Bowman to injury and switched to a more balanced attack), it’s not out of the realm of possibility, nor is repeating or exceeding the 18 scores.  It isn’t unreasonable to expect Thompson to keep doing his thing, for Brooks to fill in the role Shyne played in 2019, and for some combination of Townsend, White, Nwabuko III, Jimerson, and/or Hart to at least replace Henry’s production.  Townsend in particular feels like the wildcard who could easily take this unit (and perhaps team) to the next level.  I’ve been impressed thus far with Yost’s usage and success with running backs, and he will have a fine stable to work within 2020.  It’s fair to expect good things from the unit this Fall in spite of some uncertainty, and it won’t be at all shocking if the RBs approach something closer to greatness.

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