Missouri got away with something in 2023 that few teams have ever appeared to accomplish in the SEC:
Winning 10+ games while only relying upon one lead running back.
Cody Schrader totted the rock a whopping 276 times in 2023. The next closest RB was Nathaniel Peat at 76, and he ran for 1,300 fewer yards.
Alabama circa 2015 is the first program that comes to mind when thinking about who last accomplished this feat. Derrick Henry went for an absurd 2,219 on 395 carries during his Heisman campaign, with Kenyan Drake following him up 77 rushes.
Now, Mr. Schrader (and Mr. Henry, for that matter) was different than most. He was as durable as he was consistent, and his conditioning was at an elite-enough level to play significant snaps throughout 60 minutes of action.
There’s not many tailbacks built like Schrader. In the SEC, with the wear-and-tear that every athlete experiences over the course of a season, it’s hard to be a consistent producer week-in and week-out at any position. Now imagine that your position is designed to get hit 30-40 times a game by SEC D-lineman or linebackers. That’s the reality of any running back in this league, and thus, teams generally are forced to balance the workload between 2-3 backs.
With Schrader off to the NFL and Peat exhausting his eligibility, the Tigers were in need of some added depth at tailback this offseason. Sophomores Tavorus Jones and Jahmal Roberts were touted prospects and have shows flashes of their potential, but given their inexperience, it was not an option for Drinkwitz to rely solely on the youthful duo in next year’s backfield.
Enter Marcus Carroll and, for the purposes of this article, Nathaniel Noel. Noel, like Carroll, joins the Tigers out of the Sun Belt and has worked within a zone rushing scheme with four years of collegiate experience under his belt.
Where He Fits: Noel is the same height as Carroll but a bit lighter in frame, making him more of a perimeter threat that just needs some free space to make something happen. He’s also versatile, catching 16+ passes in each of the past two seasons as a great receiving threat out of the backfield.
Noel should be a force in the stretch zone running scheme, but he also has the ability to be a dynamic player in space that Moore will likely move around the offense to create favorable matchups.
When He’ll Play: Early and often.
I doubt that Noel takes the first snap of 2024; that right will likely be reserved for Carroll. However, he should be a 10-15 touch per game kind of guy, and that could come on the ground or through the air.
The former Mountaineer will rotate right alongside Carroll, and I imagine the staff will take a “Who’s hot?” approach to how they distribute carries between the two.
The Stat Stuff: Noel joins the program with 3,074 rushing yards and 18 TDs on 5.7 YPC in four seasons. He’s also forced 140 missed tackles in his career and is a threat in any scenario, meaning that Moore should have a field day with how he utilizes the shifty RB within his creative offense.
What It All Means: Going into the season, nobody’s scouting report will highlight Carroll or Noel prominently. Instead it’ll look something more like “Find ‘3’ at all times, contain ‘12’ in the pocket, don’t let ‘1’ get isolated.” The pair of running backs should benefit from opposing defenses keying more on the Missouri passing attack, which will receive its fair share of hype entering the 2024 campaign.
A myriad of success stories made the Mizzou offense click in 2023, but perhaps the biggest strength was the unit’s great balance. With Noel joining Carroll in the backfield next season, we can expect more of the same.