One of the nation's best running backs is off the market. Taj Griffin out of McEachern High School in Georgia committed to play at Oregon overGeorgia, Clemson and others on Thursday.
247 Sports' Justin Hopkins had the news:
The Ducks have extended its national reach and scored a major commitment. On Thursday the nation's No. 29 overall player, per 247Sports, Taj Griffin committed to Oregon over SEC and ACC powers.
The decision wasn't unexpected, but given the sheer number of schools interested, Griffin becoming a Duc is nonetheless disappointing for those spurned. For much of his recruitment, it looked as if Griffin, a 4-star recruit based on 247Sports' composite rankings, planned to leave the state. Oregon was an overwhelming favorite on 247Sports' crystal ball rankings, and Clemson was also right in the mix with Georgia.
“Oregon, USC, Clemson, Ohio State and Florida State are my top five,” Griffin told 247Sports' Kipp Adams (subscription required). “USC, Oregon and Clemson are the three schools recruiting me the hardest and trying to get me the most right now.”
The reason for that is largely related to Griffin's skill set.
Listed at 5'10" and 175 pounds, Griffin is decidedly not your typical SEC running back. He's slight and shifty, far more comfortable running outside the tackles than pounding out six-yard gains in the middle of the field. Also a track and field star in high school, Griffin runs the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and has one of the best athletic profiles of anyone in the class—regardless of position.
Griffin is listed as an all-purpose back, meaning he falls outside the standard running back strata. Overall, Griffin is the No. 50 recruit nationally and seventh-best player in the state of Georgia. He's rated as the top all-purpose back in the country.
For Griffin to shine at Oregon, he's going to have to refine his skill set as a running back. Right now, he's more of a ridiculously fast player who happens to have a predilection toward embarrassing people with the ball in his hands. It would be surprising if he doesn't get a long look at returning kicks early in his career if he's unable to crack through the running back depth chart. If you give the ball to this kid in the open field, good, explosive things are going to happen.
Right now, there just isn't enough behind the speed to make him an instant contributor. He tends to go down relatively easy on first contact, though actually touching him, admittedly, isn't easy. With his slight frame and still-developing skills as a pass-catcher, Griffin is a situational back right now more than anything. It's ultimately unclear whether his body can support the extra weight necessary for him to be able to take a pounding without losing the athleticism and speed that makes him special.
In that way, he's going to need the Ducks to use him unconventionally. Finding ways to get the ball in his hands on bubble screens, toss plays and end-arounds might be the way to go. Especially early in his career, developing that versatility will make Griffin a weapon.
Because for all of the noted concerns about his size right now, Griffin is electric as a playmaker. He's a smart, elusive open-field runner with the type of second burst that makes it nearly impossible to catch him after he gets a step. It's not hard to look at Griffin in the open field and see flashes of De'Anthony Thomas and other small backs who have had plenty of success in time shares.
Running back is becoming an increasingly splintered, specialized position. Griffin fits into the mold created by the Darren Sproleses of the word—though he is far from that level as a receiver.
Don't expect Griffin to be pushed much as a freshman. Perhaps he'll receive the occasional five-carry game in a blowout or when the team needs a quick fix of offensive explosion. But until he's more refined and adds a little bit of bulk to sustain himself on the field, it'd be a poor decision to risk his long-term health.
If Griffin does get extended playing time, though, look out. Defensive coordinators are going to have to account for him on every single play he's active.
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