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Comparing Mizzou’s Incoming Freshman RBs to Past Tiger Stars

How Mizzou’s new running backs stack up with some of the best to don the black and gold

Mississippi State v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Larry Rountree III. Damarea Crockett. Russell Hansbrough. Henry Josey. Marcus Murphy. Tony Temple. Zach Abron. Devin West. The list of legendary Missouri running backs that have graced Faurot Field throughout the years has been impressive!

While Tyler Badie figures to be the star of the present, it is worth taking a look ahead to see who may have their name join the above list in the near future. Eli Drinkwitz brought in two 3-star prospects in the 2021 recruiting class, and they have the potential to have an immediate impact on this roster.

So, let’s get to know Taj Butts and BJ Harris and see if they remind any of the Tiger faithful of some of the past greats they know and love.

Taj Butts

3-star | Saint Louis, MO | DeSmet High School

5’10” | 232 lbs.

Taj Butts was a major get for Drinkwitz in the 2021 class, as he managed to fend off regional rivals in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Iowa State for the in-state product. Rushing for over 2,000 yards and 30 TDs in his high school career, Butts was a force to be reckoned with for DeSmet High School, and he became familiar with Faurot Field during the Missouri State Playoffs.

At 5’10” and 232 pounds Butts runs with a toughness and ferocity that all SEC running backs have to possess. He attacks potential tacklers and finds success both on the edge and between the tackles. On top of that, his tape proves that he is a proven threat in the passing game that can make magic happen in open space.

However, his biggest strengths lie with his vision and ability to make sharp cuts in the hole, leading to chunk plays (averaged 9.7 YPC during his senior season). That skillset should lead to success within Mizzou’s zone rushing scheme that relies on the RB to make quick decisions and burst through a gap.

Improving his general speed is a must if Butts wants to be a feature back for the Tigers, but he is a guy that should see some playing time early on thanks to his grittiness and potential. After year one, the starting job should be open for the taking, and there will be plenty of time for Butts to grow within Drinkwitz’s system.

Missouri beats Minnesota 33-17 in Florida Citrus Bowl Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Past Comparison: Russell Hansbrough (2012-2015)

Russell Hansbrough managed to make a name for himself in a crowded backfield during his time at Mizzou, and it was in large part thanks to his toughness and big-play ability. Hansbrough was not an intimidating tailback in terms of size, but he was always falling forward when tackled and would never shy away from contact. Butts invites physical play too, sometimes purposely going at incoming defenders.

Hansbrough consistently was able to find holes in the line to pick up chunks of yardage at a time, and that is a key for how Drinkwitz wants to run the ball. Mizzou does not have the O-line to push around SEC-caliber defensive linemen, so explosive plays are needed for this rushing attack to be respected.

Butts excels in the vision department much like his predecessor from Arlington, TX. They both have a knack for big plays because of this, and it is easy to imagine Butts streaking down Faurot Field much like Hansbrough did countless times (see vs. Tennessee 2013, Indiana 2014). Butts likely will not be able to continue his lofty 9.7 YPC mark, but Hansbrough still averaged 5-6 yards per attempt in his time at Mizzou. That is a telling stat for a running back’s ability to break off big runs.

After a freshman campaign in which he received only 37 carries, Hansbrough exploded for three highly-productive seasons with the Tigers. Taj Butts could be on a similar track with his versatility and skillset. Learning from Badie in year one while being a second/third option will be extremely helpful, and after that, the starting job should be there for the taking.

BJ Harris

3-star | Chattanooga, TN | McCallie High School

5’9” | 210 lbs.

It is incredible that the number two running back from Tennessee is receiving virtually no attention, but that is what happens when Mizzou builds a backfield with multiple notable names. Still, BJ Harris is definitely worthy of more headlines.

A phenomenal senior season that saw Harris run for over 1,300 yards and 20 TDs propelled him onto more programs’ radars, but the Tigers ultimately won his signature.

Harris is smaller than the aforementioned Butts, but while the latter specializes in vision, Harris terrorizes defenses with his speed. He has elite burst when he finds a hole and is a confident runner when he is in the open field, mostly because he finds himself there so often.

What Mizzou fans may appreciate about Harris the most is his grit. Throughout his tape there are instances of him being met by one, two or even three tacklers and still churning to gain extra yardage. That type of effort makes guys an immediate fan favorite, and Harris runs with that energy every time he touches the ball.

His elusiveness allowed him to be spread out wide frequently in high school, which is something coach Drinkwitz loves to do with his best athletes from the backfield as well.

Harris has already bulked up from his high school listed weight of 185 to 210 currently (as per Mizzou’s official roster). If he can maintain his speed and, more importantly, his burst at that weight then he should be able to be a mainstay in the Tiger backfield for years to come.

Looking at his tape, his explosiveness, particularly hitting the outside, is what pushed Harris into high-demand territory. Drinkwitz will find ways to get him the ball where he can excel, because that is just what the offensive guru does. What Harris does with his opportunities will determine if he can become a household name.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl - Minnesota v Missouri Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Past Comparison: Marcus Murphy (2010-2014)

A Swiss Army knife is the term to describe what Marcus Murphy was for Mizzou during his time in Columbia. Murphy accounted for nearly 2,000 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards and over 2,800 total return yards. That equates to over 5,000 total yards, while not even mentioning the 25 times he found his way into the end zone.

While Murphy was shorter and lighter as compared to Harris, they both have a very similar running style. Speed and slipperiness defined the Texas native, as he was impossible to bring down with only one defender. To best sum Murphy up, he was the rare kind of player that makes every person in the stadium hold their breath when he touches the ball. Harris can be that guy too— something of a stat-sheet-stuffer.

With his speed and athleticism, it would not be surprising at all to see Harris fill a role much like Murphy did. Maybe not the feature back, but a quality rotational player that handles return duties and is dangerous in the passing game.