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2021 Position Postmortem: Running Backs

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A review of the running back performance for the 2021 season.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2022.

This week looks back on Tyler Badie the running backs.

2021 Missouri Running Back Rushing Stats

Tyler Badie is going to be missed. But will his production?

On his own, Badie was 72.8% of the carries, 75.3% of the rushing yards, and 77.8% of the rushing touchdowns from the 2021 Missouri running backs. That’s a lot! But we have another similar case study to this type of production replacement; specifically, after the 2020 season!

2020 Missouri Running Back Rushing Stats

Current Charger Larry Rountree III represented 76.8% of the carries, 74.1% of the rushing yards, and 77.8% of the rushing touchdowns from the 2020 Missouri running backs. In an eerie coincidence, both Rountree and Badie - in their respective seasons - had 14 of the running back’s 18 rushing touchdowns.

Yes, replacing an NFL talent with another NFL talent usually makes the act of replacing missing production much easier, but is Drinkwitz simply working with NFL talents or making NFL talents with his offense?

Here’s the last five running backs that Drinkwitz has worked with over his career (and their draft spot) and you can decide on your own:

  • 2021 Tyler Badie (2-star recruit/likely drafted this spring): 72.8% of carries, 75.3% of yards, 77.8% of touchdowns
  • 2020 Larry Rountree III (3-star recruit/Round 6, Pick 198): 76.8% of carries, 74.1% of yards, 77.8% of touchdowns
  • 2019 Darrynton Evans (2-star recruit/Round 3, Pick 93): 55.2% of carries, 54% of yards, 65.3% of touchdowns
  • 2018 Reggie Gallaspy (4-star recruit): 57.1% of carries, 60.9% of yards, 78.2% of touchdowns
  • 2017 Nyheim Hines (4-star recruit/Round 4, Pick 104): 60.8% of carries, 66.3% of yards, 60% of touchdowns

Rountree, Evans, and Hines were NFL Draft picks and Badie will join that group this spring so either Drink has benefited from some excellent recruiting at that position or his scheme makes them look awesome (or both). But since he moved to Columbia he has really ratcheted up his usage of his main back, giving Badie almost all the carries in 2021 and Rountree even more usage in 2020 (with Tyler Badie on the team!). Now that he seemingly has the athletes he wants at receiver (and at running back) we’ll see if that usage continues or if it returns to the still-a-lot-but-slightly-more-normal levels of his 2017-2019 offenses.

Without further ado, here’s what Curtis Luper’s 2021 running backs did.

The Departed

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Departing 2021 Running Back Stats

All the words you could possibly say about Tyler Badie’s 2021 record-breaking All-American season have already been said so just take a look at the stat sheet and revel in the fact that he played for your team and was tremendous. How many players in the history of the sport have averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per catch over 322 touches? I can’t imagine that’s a large fraternity.

Dawson Downing was a good soldier for his six years on campus, culminating with a strong effort in the Armed Forces Bowl. A walk-on’s main purpose is to give the starters a good look at that week’s opponent but Downing earned a scholarship because he could not only do that but also provide a decent battering ram during the actual games. The highlight of his career was probably the 54-yards touchdown run against Ole Miss in 2019. That was awesome.

Simi Bakare had a few touches under the Odom regime and then never was able to see the field on offense after his second year. Other than a curious growth spurt where he went from 5’11” to 6’3” last offseason, he was never looked at as a possible candidate for playing time outside of special teams. While he technically had one year left to play due to the COVID-19 pause on the eligibility clock for 2020, Bakare decided to call it a career and move on with his career outside of football.

The Returners

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Southeast Missouri at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Returning Running Back Stats

DeSmet product Taj Butts was unable to see the field in 2021 and is still on the team but the only other running backs to get a carry in 2021 were walk-on Michael Cox, freshman B.J. Harris, and next year’s projected starter, Elijah Young. The vast majority of Harris’ carries came at the beginning of the year where he averaged a middling 3.3 yards per carry over his 22 carries, eventually ceding carries to Cox (8.3 yards per carry) and, then, Young (4.4 yards per carry).

Looking at the advanced stats gives an interesting perspective here. Yes, Cox had the most impressive (and ridiculous) yards per carry average of the returnees but he also averaged 5.1 yards before contact, whereas Young averaged 1.1 yards before contact and Harris was getting touched 0.6 yards into his run. Is that ball carrier vision or offensive line performance? Probably a little of both.

Regardless, I wouldn’t be mad if Cox was a feature of a three-man running back stable if only to add some data points to his sample set to figure out if he’s actually good enough to average 8 yards per carry running inside and outside. If it is then keep him in the rotation and let him rock; if not, there are plenty of other candidates to work with. And, for the record, Young’s average yards running off tackle (4.9) was much better than what he averaged on inside runs (2.3) but, clearly, less than what Cox was able to do.

Anyway, rushing stats from running backs are generally pretty easy to replace so any long-term concerns of what the backs can do will mostly be dictated by the quality of the line they’re running behind. Assuming no one transfers from this group it will be a pretty crowded stable of young, high-athleticism talent and that’s not even taking into account...

The Freshman

El Paso Times

2021 stats: 142 rushes, 1,673 yards, 20 TDs/30 catches, 597 yards, 6 TDs

Just like college rushing production is typically pretty easy to replace, high school senior running backs transitioning to the college game is also much easier to do compared to other positions. So...does Jones make that transition quickly? His recruiting pedigree and senior-year performance certainly indicates “yes” as the blue-chipper ran for over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’ll be one of the bigger backs in the 2022 room but showed some decent speed at the high school level as well. He has all the potential to make the running back rotation in 2022 and it would certainly bode well if he started earning the majority of the snaps as the season went on.

2022 Forecasting

  • Prediction: Running back carry allotment will go Young 52%, Jones 20%, Butts/Cox 18%, Harris 10%
  • Bold Prediction: A Missouri running back runs for over 1,100 yards in 2022
  • HOT TAKE: Cody Schrader, recent walk-on addition from Truman State, supplants all of the incumbent backs on the roster and manages to repeat his D-II record of 180 rushing yards per game and 25 rushing touchdowns at the SEC level.