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Roster Reset: Which running back(s) will step up in Larry Rountree’s absence?

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One of the most productive running backs in program history is moving on. Who will step into his old role? The Tigers have a few candidates.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s spring ball time!

Well, kind of.

Mizzou is scheduled to open up spring practice on February 28th. So, it’s close. Spring practice is slated to come to an end on March 26th. We’re still not sure when (if?) there will be a Black and Gold game this spring.

With spring practice only a few short weeks away, it’s time to take a look at who is back, who is leaving and who the Tigers have added since the end of the 2020 season.

We kicked things off with the quarterbacks. Let’s take a look at the running backs.

Running Back Reset:

Returning:

  • Tyler Badie (Junior)
  • Elijh Young (Freshman)
  • Dawson Downing (Senior)
  • Simi Bakare (Junior)

Arriving:

Returning Player Analysis:

The Tigers are losing a lot with Larry Rountree III leaving for the NFL. Rountree led the SEC with nearly 21 carries per game last year. His 14 rushing touchdowns were third in the league. That’s a true bell cow back Mizzou is looking to replace.

Do the Tigers have his replacement in-house?

It’s hard to say. I don’t think any one player will replace his 21 carries per game. Tyler Badie should see an uptick from his 48 total carries last season, but he doesn’t profile as an every down back.

The most intriguing returning running back is Elijah Young. He touched the ball a total of 10 times last year. There’s not a great sample size of what he can do at this level. But he did show some real ability in limited opportunities. He’s probably the favorite to take on the bulk of Rountree’s workload in 2021.

The sleeper in the mix is Dawson Downing. He saw quite a bit of action in 2019, but touched the ball just once last season. Could he get more involved again in the fall? It’s possible, especially if nobody else steps up.

New Arrival to Keep an Eye on:

Taj Butts and B.J. Harris are both worth keeping tabs on throughout the summer and into fall camp. Butts is the guy I could see getting in the action quickly. He’s an explosive runner who already knows how to run behind his pads.

I must admit Butts was one of my favorite players to watch in the Tigers’ 2021 recruiting class, so I’m a bit biased here. His high school football coach compared his running style to former Alabama running back (and former Mizzou recruit) Josh Jacobs. The comparison is fair when you watch his tape. The kid scored 36 touchdowns in 27 games in his high school career.

Position Battle to Watch:

Tyler Badie is definitely going to be the third down back. You can write that in pen. The question is who will step up beyond that. Can Badie handle 10-15 touches per game? If so, who gets the other 10? Is Young ready for that? Can Butts quickly work his way into the mix? Does Drinkwitz give some consideration to giving Downing an expanded role?

The Tigers don’t lack for talent at running back. They have plenty of options. But the players who most fit Drinkwitz’s scheme are still incredibly young. It will be interesting to see how that develops throughout spring camp.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the least settled positions on the roster. It’s not that Mizzou has a “need” for another running back. But there’s a massive hole being left by one of the best and most productive running backs in program history. That’s not an easy thing to replace. It will likely take multiple players to step up.

If I had to make an early projection, I have a feeling we’ll see Tyler Badie take on an expanded role on first and second down while retaining his third down role as the main pass catching back. I would expect 10-12 carries with 3-5 receptions per game for Badie.

That leaves another 15(ish) carries per game. I would give 10 to Elijah Young, and give the other five to Taj Butts.