The running back position is an interesting one for Purdue heading into 2015. The top two options from last season, Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, are currently trying to make it with the Giants and Eagles, respectively, after rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 9 TDs last year. Normally, that would be a very bad thing, but the Boilers appear to be pretty solid with three excellent options heading into 2015.
It is an unproven group. The returning players have a combined 27 rushing attempts for 199 yards, but there is a ton of promise. Because this group is so young there is hope that the running game should be pretty solid going forward.
D.J. Knox - So.
3 career tackles
On the surface, it does not look good when the projected starter at running back has more career tackles than rushing yards. That's what happens when Knox, who earned playing time as a true freshman last season, played more on special teams than in the backfield. He still got some experience in all 12 games.
Knox was very lightly recruited out of high school and was added to Purdue's recruiting class late. He still had some impressive numbers of 1,479 rushing yards and 27 TDs as he led his team to the Class 5A Georgia state championship. He also had 650 receiving yards and 10 more scores. Since coming to Purdue his work ethic has been highlighted several times. Coach Hazell thinks he could be an "elite talent":
"He's a good player," coach Darrell Hazell said. "I hope you guys can see that, with how quick he is with the ball and he has such tremendous balance, great vision. He is really tough. He's going to be a great player, especially when you put him behind a line that has all worked together. I think he's really going to be good. He can be special. He's going to be an elite back before it's all said and done."
What made Mostert and Hunt stand out last year was their big play potential, and that is why Knox is given a slight edge to start right now. Mostert and Hunt needed only a small crease and they were gone with their speed. Knox had a pair of touchdowns in the spring game as we got to see a little of his potential. It is clear, however, that more is needed with an unsettled quarterback situation.
Keyante Green - So. (RS) - 27 carries for 199 yards
Markell Jones - Fr. - Indiana Mr. Football
Green is the only "experienced" running back on the roster, as he was third in carries behind Mostert and Hunt last season. He is a very physical back and was a 4-star prospect out of Georgia a few years ago. Over a quarter of his yards were on a 53-yard carry against Illinois, when it seemed like everyone was breaking off big runs. Still, Green showed a lot of promise. He has about 20 pounds and two inches on Knox and is probably the more physical of the two. In high school he had over 6,000 career yards and was a two-time Player of the Year at Eagles Landing Christian Academy, where he won a couple of state championships.
I can see Green and Knox splitting carriers rather evenly. Both are more physical than Hunt and Mostert were, and that is supposed to translate into a better rushing attack overall. They may not break off 70 yard TD runs, but they can grind defenses into dust and hopefully keep our offense on the field longer. That is what I am looking forward to the most. It is very difficult for a team to score without the football, and the offense has been so bad of late that the defense, which performed well for the first half of most games during most of the Hazell era, has had nothing left. The Iowa game last year is a prime example.
You also have a true freshman here in Jones, who re-wrote the Indiana HS record book last season. He rushed for 3,565 yards in a single season, which is more than Purdue, as a team, has rushed for during the entire Darrell Hazell era. Jones ran for over 8,000 yards and had more than 100 touchdowns in his high school career while winning a state championship at Columbus East. He had so many big runs that much of his yardage was limited by the goal line getting in the way. There is no doubt that he will play as a true freshman, it is just a question of how much.
With Green, Knox, and Mostert you have three backs that put up Playstation numbers in high school. Can they get it done at the next level, however?
Richard Worship - Fr.
David Yancey - So. (RS)
Lane Beeler - Fr. (RS)
I am pretty much spitballing here, but Purdue needs a new fullback for some of its bigger sets. It looks like it could be Yancey and Worship as your most likely candidate. Yancey played on special teams last season and even had a kickoff return for 17 yards. He doesn't offer too much more in terms of size than Green, but he could perform as a lead blocker.
Worship, however, is huge for a running back at 6'1" 242 pounds. He is only a true freshman, but he rushed for 1,601 yards and 20 TDs last season as the Northeast Conference Player of the Year in Ohio.
Beeler is a walk-on from nearby McCutcheon HS and he played primarily fullback there. He has some size to be a lead blocker in goal line situations, so he could play if there is a need.
Keith Byars II - So. (RS)
Tario Fuller - Fr.
Fuller looks most likely to be headed for a redshirt year, where Worship could join him. Byars has kind of become the forgotten man in everything. His dad played extensively at Ohio State and had a 13 year NFL career with the Eagles, Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets. Yes, his dad is THAT Keith Byars. The younger Byars has not seen the field at all in his two years so far and looks to be buried on the depth chart.
Projected Depth Chart:
1. No Idea
3. Seriously, no one is listed as a fullback.