I understand there is some sort of important basketball tomorrow. However, I think we can all agree that it pales in comparison to the topic about to be broached. Who will be Purdue's starting running back next season? Much like the quarterback position, this should be a wide open race heading into the spring. Purdue loses their two primary backs from last season (Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert) but honestly, neither were consistent enough to really spearhead the Boilermaker running attack. Hunt was a third down back asked to be an every down back and Mostert was and still is a track star trying to figure out how to play football. Purdue will miss Hunt's versatility and Mostert's ability to hit an occasional big play, but neither are irreplaceable. So, without further ado, here are the players competing for the privilege of leading the Boilermaker rushing attack in spring practice.
The Incumbent (Sort Of):
Keyante Green (RS SO)
At 5'9, 210 pounds, Keyante Green is essentially a running ball of muscle. His low center of gravity and forward leaning running style offers only two massive thighs for defenders to tackle. According to ESPN, Green will be the highest rated back on the Boilermaker roster, for what very little that is worth. Honestly, I was hoping to see a little more of Keyante last year, but he was effective (27 carries, 199 yards) averaging over 7.4 yards per attempt when his number was called. Keyante is the anti Akeem Hunt. He might not get you the big play, but he very rarely will be stopped behind the line because of his physical running style. You've got to think he is the favorite heading into spring practice, but that also is worth very little.
Markell Jones (FR)
Markell Jones laid waste to opponents and the Indiana All-Time record book during his vaunted high school career. All that is fine and good, and I'm sure Markell will have plenty of cool stories to tell his kids about his high school exploits, but high school is over, and Jones is going to have to prove himself all over again on a totally different level of competition. Markell enrolled early, skipping his last semester of high school, in order to get a leg up in the running back competition. Jones was told by the coaching staff that he was coming to West Lafayette to compete for the starting job as a true freshman. If Jones is the stud running back that his high school stats indicate he should make a strong push for the starting job. That being said, it's a pretty big ask for a freshman to come in and not only carry the ball, but learn the protection schemes (I'm going to guess Markell didn't do much blocking in high school) necessary to play in a college offense. I think you'll see Markell this season, but I'm not sure if he'll be an every down running back quite yet, but then again, I could be totally wrong and he could be the best freshman running back in Purdue history. Come to think of it, I hope I'm wrong.
The Rest (in no particular order):
Keith Byars II (RS SO)
I went back and read some articles about Keith Byars II because I honestly didn't know much about him. After reading several articles I don't really have much better of an idea. One article described his high school career as "enigmatic" and "injury stricken". Every article mentioned that Byars dad was Big 10 legend Keith Byars, but Richie Mount dad was Big 10 legend Rick Mount and that didn't seem to help him tear up the Big 10. Byars is 5'10, 205 and I'm going to guess he has decent speed. This will be his third year out of high school (he attended prep school for a year). Purdue is a developmental program, so kids don't have to play right out of the gate in order to have productive career, but it's probably time for Keith to make a move or be forever buried on the depth chart.
David Yancy (RS SO)
David Yancy was putting in solid work on special teams before his ACL realized he was playing for Purdue and exploded. Yancy would have been the biggest back in spring camp at 5'10, 220, which would have given him a chance to grab the short yardage back spot, but I'm not sure Yancy will be participating in spring camp. Yancy has proven himself as solid special teams player, so he will always have a spot on the team, but you've got to think his injury is a big setback considering the influx of running back talent. It will be interesting to see if he makes it back in time for spring camp, but generally speaking, running backs need a full year to recover because of the stress the position puts on the knee. You can't baby a knee if you're playing running back.
Dexter Knox (RS FR)
Dexter Knox was the Michael Mendez of the 2014 recruiting class. No one knew who he was until he committed to Purdue. Knox was a stud running back in Georgia, leading his Creekside team to a 5A Georgia State Championship with a monster game in the state finals. You've got to think Knox's diminutive size (5'9 allegedly) kept other teams away, but Darrell Hazell has a history of winning with tiny backs, riding the talents of 5'8 Dri Archer to the Purdue job. Knox is significantly thicker (200 pounds) than the slight Archer (175 pounds) and like Keyante Green, gives tacklers very little to latch onto. I will be interested to see how Know progresses in the spring, because the coaches were very high on his potential when they signed him, and collective back pats were handed out for identifying this overlooked talent in the middle of the football crazed south. Knox will have every opportunity to make a push for his spot on the depth chart this spring, and will need to stake his claim before the new wave of freshmen hit campus this summer.
This race is really hard to predict. Honestly, I don't see Purdue using one "lead" back next season. I think you'll see Purdue utilize a variety of running backs depending on the game situation. The only caveat I'll add is that out of all the backs, if one guy is going to take over the "lead" back role, it's going to be Markell Jones. Purdue sold him on the opportunity to come in and start, or at least compete for the starting job, from day 1. If his high school skills translate to this level Purdue could have a star on their hands. That being said, I think Markell takes a little time to transition to life in the Big 10 and Keyante Green will end up with the most carries next season.
2016 Running Back Recruiting:
At this juncture, Purdue is full up at running back. At least one transfer would need to go down before a top level back would consider Purdue. If Markell Jones grabs the starting job as a true freshman, you can pretty much write off the running back position in this recruiting class. One in-state prospect to keep an eye on is Toks Akinribade from Brownsburg, but again, with the depth Purdue has at running back, he is a longshot at best, and probably end up at that school in the southern portion of the state.