When analyzing Michigan’s running back, two variables come into play: potential and experience.
Which one will outweigh the other?
The Wolverines won’t have Denard Robinson or Vincent Smith, forcing them to rely on a young corps of ball-carriers to get the job done in the Big Ten.
There's no question that Michigan has to be effective on the ground to compete for a Big Ten title. In 2012, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin—which will be favorites to win the league this year—finished Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the conference rushing race.
Should You Believe the Hype?
Derrick Green enters Ann Arbor as one of the elite running backs of the 2013 recruiting class. At 6’0” and 220 pounds, the former 4-star Hermitage High (Va.) phenom is built for the Big Ten—and every other college football conference.
He received offers from heavies such as Alabama, which has cultivated one of the best backfields of the BCS era with stars such as Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon.
With Green as the cornerstone, Michigan could have a Tide-like force in the coming years.
Green may not immediately start—not many true freshmen are mentally equipped to jump in right away. But he could find himself near the top of the depth chart in the early weeks of the season.
Drake Johnson was redshirted as a freshman in 2012, but he’s caused quite a stir of late. The former Ann Arbor Pioneer tailback could be the Ying to Green’s Yang. At 6’0” and 212 pounds, he’s another bruiser to call upon when tough yards are needed.
At this point, it’s difficult to predict who will start at running back. Johnson probably won’t be the No. 1, but he could be a great No. 2 behind Green, or even Fitz Toussaint, should he return this season.
DeVeon Smith hasn’t received the same attention as Green and Johnson but having a secret weapon may be a good thing.
The former 4-star running back, according to 247Sports, Smith, who is 5’11” and 216 pounds, fits perfectly into Michigan’s style.
The Flip Side of the Argument
Sure, Michigan has talent entering the fold. Sure, those guys come with high ratings and a world of potential.
However, the key word is potential, which doesn’t always pan out. Green, Johnson and Smith haven’t played a down in college.
Not. One. Down.
Toussaint is Michigan's most experienced runner. However, he’s recovering from a horrific leg injury.
Will he be damaged goods when he returns this fall, or will he return to his previous, 1,000-yard rushing form?
That remains to be seen.
Going all-in with the new guys is a risky undertaking. The Wolverines need stability. Excluding Robinson, Toussaint was Michigan’s leading ball-carrier in 2012 with 514 yards.
Again, nothing too impressive.
The Wolverines have juniors Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes. However, neither has proven worthy of being staples in the offense.
Will UM's running backs flourish or flounder in 2013?
It’s perfectly fine to fondly gaze upon the future of Michigan’s stars-in-the-making. However, make sure you take a good, hard look at what the Wolverines have to work with and just how difficult it’ll be to get three freshmen on the same page.
Michigan has a coaching staff capable of doing that. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has done wonders with running backs, particularly when utilizing a two-back set. He was successful with Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams during his days as Auburn’s play-caller.
Seeing Borges do the same by pairing a first-year guy with Thomas Rawls or Toussaint wouldn’t be a shocker.
But keep in mind that Michigan’s running back corps is a work in progress. Its fate this season could be one of glory or failure.
Expect something better than what Michigan did in 2012, but don’t expect the world from the Wolverines’ developing running game.