Michigan Football: Does De'Veon Smith Deserve to Be No. 1 RB?

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIMarch 6, 2014

De'Veon Smith may be No. 2 at the moment, but he's No. 1 quality. Michigan has at least two options in the backfield.
De'Veon Smith may be No. 2 at the moment, but he's No. 1 quality. Michigan has at least two options in the backfield.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Derrick Green may be the next in line for No. 1 duties at Michigan, but don’t dismiss De’Veon Smith from the conversation—the sophomore could be the Wolverines’ top option in 2014.

Lost along the way, the following information rarely gets mentioned while discussing the backfield: Per 247Sports, Smith, a 4-star recruit, was the No. 15-ranked running back of 2013.

Green, a 4-star recruit, was ranked No. 8. However, Rivals.com crowned him as the class’ best, providing a favorable tilt in his perception and leaving Smith on the backburner in the eyes of some fans.

At this point, it’s weighing 1A vs. 1B.

Now sophomores, each have demonstrated enough on the field to command a premium role in Doug Nussmeier’s offense, which should feature most of the fleet rather than one or two.

Per Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News, the coaching staff’s new arrival said the following about the current state of the backfield:

We haven’t established a runner. There’s a group of running backs right now, and that will be an interesting competition to watch develop.

You’d like to use multiple backs. You look at the pounding the running backs take these days and how physical the game is. One back carrying the load all the time makes it awful difficult to stay healthy and sustain success over a season. I think you can accomplish the same things as an offense and get more guys touches.

It’s spring, so of course there’s an open competition.

As capable as the next guy, Smith should get his share of looks as Nussmeier and Brady Hoke further develop running strategy, which could easily flourish with Smith as the lead act.

Winged Helmet to Winged Helmet

Despite Team 134’s agonizingly inefficient rushing attack, there were late positives—Green and Smith. Honestly, Nussmeier can't go wrong with either one. And as mentioned above, he plans to fully extend his resources. 

Plenty of totes are on the way.

In 2013, neither back was given a true chance to excel. Al Borges, Nussmeier's predecessor, absolutely refused to let anyone but Fitz Toussaint have carries during the heart of the schedule—and that's when the Wolverines' run game appeared at its weakest. 

The following table compares Smith's freshman limited numbers to those of Green:

Growth Spurts
Stats via MGoBlue.com; Green's 40 time via 247Sports, Smith's via MGoBlog

This table highlights noteworthy efforts:

Break Out When You Can
PlayerGood GameGood GameGood Game
Smith8 carries, 41 yards vs. Northwestern, W 27-197 carries, 57 yards vs. Ohio State, L 42-41N/A
Green19 carries, 79 yards, vs. Northwestern, W 27-1912 carries, 47 yards vs. Ohio State, L 42-4111 carries, 58 yards, 1 TD vs. Central Michigan, W 59-9
ESPN Game Logs

As the evidence shows, stat-wise, neither were blockbuster runners this past fall. 

However, the paltry lines were most definitely products of poor player management and a reluctant, stubborn coordinator. They're far more efficient and exciting than the samples suggest. 

Dropping Hints? 

This past fall, pass blocking from anyone wearing maize and blue was scarce—linemen were terrible, tight ends had issues and running backs certainly weren't offering much assistance. 

That being said, based on appearances, Smith showed promise in that department.

Green is more of a giver, whereas Smith seems to be comfortable in either situation. By virtue of talent, it'd be easy to view Smith as the lead-blocker type for Green, the "featured" runner of the set.

But be careful when attempting to cast the former Warren Howland star. 

He's more than a speed bump for linebackers trying to sack the quarterback or nail Green—he's a multidimensional threat waiting to be let loose. 

Nussmeier Factor

As soon as he was announced as the new guy, his old work was reviewed.

Needless to say, researchers weren't disappointed. Nussmeier's track record with running backs such as Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart (remember him?) and Altee Tenpenny, among others, spoke for itself. 

Alabama may have had NFL-ready O-lines, but it also had NFL-ready backs.

Nussmeier obviously realized something rather simple, and he ran with it—pairing quick, instinctive runners with size behind big athletic guys up front equals lots of yards and touchdowns. 

Practical with his approach, Nussmeier intelligently distributed carries and allowed for development. He rarely fed the ball to an incapable suitor.

Whomever had the hot feet received the work. That's how Michigan's offense should have operated this past fall...but with Nussmeier, perhaps later is better than never. 

A relationship with a player-minded, results-oriented coordinator should catapult Smith this season—if not past Green, with him to the top in terms of team production. 

Together, they can restore power to the backfield.

But one of them must lead, and it doesn't necessarily have to be Green. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.


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