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2019 Iowa State Football Position Previews: Running Backs

The coaching staff has a big decision to make with this spot.

NCAA Football: Akron at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach August 31st and the kickoff of the football season, we’re taking a look at each position group and what to watch for in 2019. Perhaps no group will be more dramatically different than the running backs. This position has been easy to forecast the last 2 seasons, but now with so many guys hoping to seize an opportunity, who is most likely to emerge as the new leader?

Departures

How do you put this guy’s impact into words? The 73rd overall pick in the NFL draft leaves a legacy that’ll be hard to live up to. He’s a 2-time All Big 12 performer, led the country in forced missed tackles the last 2 years, and was as beloved as any player we’ve had in years. Last season, David rushed for 1,216 yards (2nd in the Big 12) and 13 touchdowns (tied for 1st). The thing that made him irreplaceable is his ability to play all 3 downs. He caught 71 passes in his college career, and is part of what made him an appealing NFL prospect. Since Chuck Bruce was sadly ruled ineligible, we unfortunately have to move on. Mike Warren also graduated after not recording a rush attempt last season, and a long way from rushing for 1,300+ yards as a freshman.

New Guys

Breece Hall

Jirehl Brock

Cyclone Nation has been waiting to see these 2 on the field since the moment they committed. Hall is a 4 star back from Wichita, and the 2nd highest rated recruit in the state of Kansas. He’ll be wearing Troy Davis’ number 28 to start his career in Ames. For a detailed report on Breece’s running style, check out our friend and recruiting master Jake’s scouting report.

Here’s some film, because what gets us more pumped than grainy footage of a stud running over and through high school kids?

Jirehl Brock has been lost a bit in the hype of the other freshman, but he was rated as a 4 star recruit himself, and the #11 rated running back in the country. After watching David Montgomery break tackles for 3 years, Brock could help make it easier to move on.

While it’s natural to expect some rivalry and animosity between two highly touted guys that play the same position, these two seem to relish the opportunity to build something special together.

Leader of the Pack

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, here’s what we got from the first depth chart of the year.

...

There’s a few ways we can look at this. Either the coaching staff doesn’t know who it’s going to be yet, they do know but won’t reveal it, or somewhere in between. I tend to think it’s somewhere in between. I think they have an idea of what they want to do, but we won’t see for sure until the first offensive possession on August 31st.

Honestly, this is the question we’ve all been waiting to have answered since David declared for the draft. From his time at Toledo and Iowa State, we know Matt Campbell likes to pick one back to feature, with another complimentary piece as a spell. It sure helps when a back as talented as David Montgomery comes along. Sheldon Croney and Johnnie Lang are likely going to share opportunities to open the season. Neither were huge contributors last season. Croney ran for just 56 yards, and Lang ran for 79 yards. Lang got the start in the Oklahoma State game that Montgomery missed with an injury. Both will likely split carries early on as the rotation gets sorted out.

At least they’ll have the benefit of an offensive line that returns 5 starters. Iowa State has had far from the most efficient running game in the Campbell era, but continuity on the line should help open more holes, and put less pressure on the backs to have to break so many tackles. The true wild card is if we see one of the freshman, Breece Hall or Jirehl Brock, step in right away. Now that redshirt players are allowed to play in 4 games and not lose a year of eligibility, we should expect to see both in some capacity early.

Don’t Forget

Kene Nwangwu

Kene is one of the most prolific kick returners in the country, and perhaps the fastest player on the team. He’ll play a role on offense for sure. After missing the 2017 season, the junior-to-be returned to 157 yards on 39 carries last season. His playing style won’t likely lend itself to carrying the ball 20+ times game in and game out, especially if he’s pulling double duty on special teams. But look out for the coaching staff to draw up 3-5 times a game where he gets the ball on jet sweep or screen pass, as we saw in the Alamo Bowl (3:04 in the video). He may pick up 20 yards or lose 5 on any given play, so his yards per carry may never accurately reflect his impact on the game.

2019 Projection

When surveying the landscape, this looks to be a situation where one of the supremely talented freshman becomes a feature back early in conference play. My money is on Breece Hall being that back. All reports out of camp are that this kid will be a special football player.

Similar to how we saw David Montgomery take the reigns of the backfield in 2016, at some point pure talent will win out. Croney and Lang will be around to spell Hall when needed, and Nwangwu will be brought in to utilize his elite speed. I think we’ll see Jirehl Brock in the non-conference games before he eventually redshirts.