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3 newcomers could transform the RB position for Missouri in 2016

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The more potential breakout stars you’ve got at one position, the more likely you’ll actually have one who breaks out.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Ross

6’1, 220, Sr.

Jenks, OK
2013: 3 carries, 19 yards (6.3)
2014: 88 carries, 595 yards (6.8), 4 TD; 13 targets, 10 catches, 65 yards (6.5); 23 KR, 31.2 average, 2 TD
2015: 32 carries, 172 yards (5.4), 1 TD; 30 KR, 21.5 average

Oscar Gamble: When it was announced Alex Ross would be transferring from Oklahoma as a graduate transfer, it came as a two-fold boon since Ross is regarded as a great kick return man. His five touchdowns and 786 career rushing yards weren’t too shabby either.

I haven’t seen Ross around Mizzou’s facilities yet, but if he is 6’1 and 220 pounds, that would give Josh Heupel and Cornell Ford two larger backs to lead a power-oriented rushing attack. In the depth chart I’ve been updating regularly, I have Ross listed as the starter with Nate Strong and Ish Witter behind him, but fall camp could see that change.

Sam Snelling: Ross was a huge get for Missouri in the offseason. He’s a guy who never got a ton of carries at Oklahoma but shone through in the return game. And if there are two things Missouri has available, it’s carries and return opportunities. Ross is a bigger, more straight-line runner, and I’m not sure he’s a 20 carries-per-game type, but if he can be productive in five to 10 carries and be dangerous in the return game, he could be a huge asset for Missouri this year.

TheRonDavis: Other than Drew Lock, Ross is perhaps the most important player for Mizzou this fall. He’s a dynamic return man for starters, which is something that the Tigers desperately need, and he can potentially be the feature back. He’s a bigger running back, so he can run between the tackles and break off a big run or two using his return man speed.

Using your return man as the main running back can be dangerous, as the biggest collisions usually happen on kickoffs, so it might be wise to divide up the carries across the board. But if Ross proves he can handle the workload better than any other of the 47 running backs the Tigers seem to have, he needs the majority of the carries.

Bill C.: Obviously we don’t want to go too far down the “Newcomers are going to save the day!” road — that’s usually a pretty fraught path to take. But Ross has more of a track record than most newcomers, and the fact that he was squeezed out of the rotation at OU by Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is hardly cause for shame.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ross isn’t as efficient as you would like to see from such a big back, but the speed is undeniable. Mizzou was woefully deficient of big plays out of the backfield last year, and he could change that.

Nate Strong

6’0, 210, So.

East St. Louis, IL

Oscar Gamble: Missouri sure lucked out when Nate Strong managed to become academically eligible in July. The JUCO running back, originally from East St. Louis, certainly fills a need for a Tigers’ offense that managed just 1,385 yards and five touchdowns last year. Strong is enrolled and on campus — I saw him at Missouri’s “Night at the Zou” event. He’s a solid 6’0 and looks sturdy, so it’s easy to believe he’s 210 pounds of mostly muscle.

The question for me is Strong’s durability. He was hurt in high school and again at Hinds C.C., and he could be asked to shoulder a lot of carries this fall. Even if he splits carries with Alex Ross and Ish Witter, we don’t know how effective he can be and that’s before we mention Missouri’s rebuilt offensive line.

Sam Snelling: If there’s a newcomer who I’m over-excited to see play, it’s Strong. Missouri hasn’t had a real physical presence at running back in a while, and it’s rare that you get the strength along with the breakaway speed.

Strong was a standout at East St. Louis and was playing well in junior college before breaking his arm, so he certainly has the ability to step in and get carries right away. And even if he isn't a major contributor this season, I don’t think there are many people who don’t think he’ll be a major contributor in the future.

TheRonDavis: I am one of the biggest Natereace Strong fans. I think he’s powerful enough to run over a defender, and fast enough to run past them. Plus, he’s finally at his dream school. He busted his tail to receive his associates degree in just a year and a half to get to Columbia.

The one knock on Strong is his inability to stay healthy. He battled injuries through his high school career at East St. Louis, and he broke his arm last season at Hinds Community College (though he told me he broke it after trucking a defender -- I don’t think there’s a cooler way to break your arm). Regardless, if he stays healthy and learns the playbook, he needs to be in the mix playing this year. He’s too talented to sit on the bench.

Bill C.: It feels like Strong has been committed to Mizzou forever, and now he gets a chance to carve out a niche. A good story, that.

I think what I’m most excited about with the backfield is that no single player has to absolutely come through. Witter doesn’t have to become a feature back if he’s not ready, and if either Ross or Strong don’t pan out, that’s okay because the other one still could. (And if neither do, you’ve still got Trevon Walters, Ryan Williams, and Damarea Crockett in pocket.) Strong has everything you want in a running back, but he won’t face the same type of expectations that it seemed Chase Abbington did from the moment of his arrival.

Damarea Crockett

5’11, 210, Fr.

Little Rock, AR

Oscar Gamble: Flipping Damarea Crockett - Crockett-Rocket, as I will be calling him - from Boise State back in late January was a big coup for the Tigers. He looks like a future lead back based on size and explosiveness, and it may be hard to keep him off the field this fall.

I hope Missouri is able to redshirt for two reasons - it means the RB group remains fairly healthy and successful and it gives us one more year of him down the road.

Sam Snelling: When you factor in the amount of guys who come in with good reputations all playing the same position, you begin to wonder who is the odd man out. Crockett looks big enough and appears to have the speed to be an instant-impact type of player, but will there be enough carries to go around? And will Crockett avoid the redshirt?

TheRonDavis: I wrote a couple weeks ago that Crockett is the most important freshman on Missouri’s roster. Adding Natereace Strong is a huge boost for the running backs, but Crockett can still play his way into the mix. He was one of the most highly-touted recruits of 2016, and there’s good reason for it. He’s bigger than some of the running backs that were already on campus, and, like Ross, he’s still explosive enough to run past defenders. In my opinion, Ross, Strong and Crockett have the most potential to make Mizzou’s running game great again.

Bill C.: Anybody who calls him Crockett-Rocket is fired.