Ranking the Top 10 Running Back Recruits for 2011
High school running backs come in every shape and size.
That's good news for college teams who demand differing skills from the players anchoring their ground game.
It feels like the small scatbacks and all-purpose backs of the spread set are replacing the every-down workhorses of yesteryear.
But one look at last year's Heisman voting tells us there's still room for the 1,600-yard ground-pounders that dot college football's history.
There's a home for every running back in the country. For these 10 recruits, the intriguing part will be in finding where home is in time for signing day 2011.
Piggybacking off the top 25 recruits for 2011, here's my ranking of the 10 best running back recruits (with video!) for 2011.
No. 10: Amir Carlisle (Stanford)
Reminds me of: Mark Ingram
It's no surprise Amir Carlisle is the son of a strength and conditioning coach for the San Francisco 49ers: he builds up a head of steam heading into the hole, and never goes down after first contact.
Though beneficial for yards after contact, that buildup also means Carlisle wastes time and energy flailing his arms, and isn't the smoothest runner of the bunch.
But he is an absolute bull, and I'm not surprised he was priority No. 1 for Jim Harbaugh and the gritty, grind-it-out style the Cardinal are attempting to trademark in the Pac-10.
Though Toby Gerhart might be a more obvious comparison considering Carlisle's commitment to the Cardinal, his build reminds me more of Ingram: compact, low to the ground, and explosive through the hole.
Though he isn't as fast as Ingram. Carlisle's is running style combines the dangerous elements of both the Alabama Heisman winner and the runner-up in the Heisman race.
He'll probably fall short of a fifth star, but if they rewarded it for pure effort, he'd be the leader of the pack.
No. 9: Jeremy Hill (LSU?)
Hill is a soft commitment to LSU (he recently said he would look around, but that he was still a Tiger).
He's probably the biggest back of the top ten (ESPN's Chris Low mislabeled him a wide receiver; he's an RB to every evaluation site), although I would argue he isn't the hardest back to bring down.
He runs a little too tentatively for my tastes, lacks elite balance, and doesn't truck defenders or utilize his size as much as I would like.
But that may help his durability in the college game, and it is certainly helping him develop his cuts and jukes better—it's a bit like a master chess player developing his weakest pieces.
He'll never reach the top-end speed of the elite backs, but what he does have is elusive.
It's no wonder spread teams like Florida, LSU and Michigan want him as badly as the up-the-middle guys like Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida State. He's a great player to have threatening the edge, as evidenced in this footage of him taking a late dumpoff pass the distance.
I could see him developing into a really complete back with a great senior year, but as of now, he's a bit like a big dog who doesn't realize how big he is. Growing into his body for another year will help.
No. 8: Brandon Williams (Baylor)
Reminds me of: Marcus Lattimore
Williams is a very upright runner in the open field who has the height (6'0) of a prototypical every-down back.
The footage I watched showed that Williams breaks runs well to the outside and has deceptive lateral speed, the kind that makes defenders take poor angles and lose containment.
Adding 15 or so pounds without losing that speed will be the deciding factor in terms of adding a fifth star his senior year. (Committing to Baylor early may also preclude a promotion—the scouting services prefer promoting uncommitted recruits for the sake of argument).
He'll be a workhorse of a kind Baylor hasn had on offense in years. The Bears have recruited well in past years, snatching prospects away from the Oklahomas and A&M's in conference, and, with Ahmad Dixon, the national schools as well.
No. 7: Jameel Poteat
Reminds me of: the love-child of LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James
Poteat is a mixed bag of a back. He runs the draw play very well and commits to the hole with abandon, and has terrific acceleration. He also has very good hands and is a reliable threat catching passes out of the backfield, although he doesn't seem as natural.
ESPN has some awful film of his runs, but some great film of him catching passes. He looks like a running back in the NFL, making chip blocks in pass protection and running a lot seam routes and underneath stuff.
As such, I think he'd be a great fit in any scheme that can also deploys its running back like another wide receiver (which should explain the interest from Notre Dame, USC, Purdue, West Virginia and Pitt).
He's a mid-sized prospect at running back, clocking in between 5'10" and 5'11", 200 lbs. I like his promise in a spread-run scheme, and I hear the Ducks might be in need of a player with his acceleration and durability (the Ducks have yet to offer, btw).
Watch his clip and see for yourself.
No. 6: Deanthony Thomas
Remind me of: Cal's Jahvid Best
What you'll see in Arnett's clip is his superior cutting ability, his intelligence, and his reactivity in the hole, all things that help break a five yard run into the secondary.
He has a way of setting up blocks downfield and of cutting behind them without tipping his hand as to his direction that reminds me of Best. Though he is without the top-level open field speed, he runs very well laterally, another strength of Best's game.
Also, he lowers his shoulder well on contact, and if he doesn't get yards after, he smacks defenders in the face enough times that they eventually flinch.
This clip is from a state championship game against California's elite defenders, so take those unbroken tackles with a grain of salt—this is the best of the best.
That said, he comes from a school where the blocking is above average, so its difficult to gauge how well he'll do at the next level.
Count me among the people who believe he's good, but not the best 2011 has to offer. I could see him excelling at any school that emphasizes sideline-to-sideline running. Tosses and sweeps, rather than up the middle runs, are his game, as they allow him more time to read and cut upfield.
According to Scout, he favors UCLA, USC, Oregon, Cal, Washington, but I've seen the Sun Devils and, of course, the Gators in the mix. I think Cal would be his best bet, but I hear he's probably the Trojans' to lose—surprising, since I think the pro-style offense isn't the best fit for him.
No. 5: Herschel Sims
Reminds me of: Baron Batch
The running back with the loaded name...but does it fit?
Eh, not so much. Aside from the name, comparing Texas RB Herschel Sims to Georgia legend Herschel Walker misses the divergent nature of the two backs' running style.
While Herschel Walker was a notorious trucker with impressive yards after contact and an ability to exert his physical will over defender, most of Herschel Sims' runs involve him breaking containment, catching the edge, and using his speed in the open field to be dangerous.
As well, Sims is shorter than Walker, and lacks the physically dynamic edge. In other words, its a pointless exercise to look for any comparisons beyond the name.
Like Poteat, Sims will best get his yards in a wide-open scheme. Alabama, UCLA, Arizona, Georgia and the rest of the Big 12 have also thrown their hats in the ring.
I'd really love to see him at a place like Texas Tech, and this is where the Baron batch comparison applies—he can hit those signature wide splits and get gone. Oklahoma would be another great candidate—Sims can punish a defense forced to cover four-wide sets.
If he adds some weight as a senior, it'll be worth reevaluating him, but as it is, he's the scrappy speedster of the bunch.
No. 4: Rodney Coe
Reminds me of: Terrelle Pryor
It might make no sense for a running back to remind me of a quarterback. But with his size (6'4") and loping gait, Rodney Coe resembles Pryor when he does decide to take off and run.
He's got above-average acceleration and speed, and shakes off hits like insignificant waves without losing his balance.
He's currently a two-way player, and his time as a linebacker makes him that much more attractive to teams that still like to pound the ball, which explains the interest from Michigan State, Alabama, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.
Barring a move to the defensive side of the ball, I think he's one of the most intriguing prospects as a running back. If he can keep his balance, his skill set will be brutal to contend with at the college level.
No. 3: Aaron Green
Reminds me of: Sam McGuffie
It's the year of the running back in Texas, and the talent comes in many varieties.
Aaron Green is 2011's cut-crazy, jitterbug speedster who flings himself at defenders with reckless abandon. He has terrific vision to complement that die-hard drive, which is good, because he lacks the elite size to take on defenders head-to-head.
His sophomore highlight reel is loaded with clips of him accelerating up into gaps with amazing speed, and he can't get caught from behind.
He lacks elite size, but will be the top target of spread-run schemes the country over.
It starts with Texas, whose offense could be remade in his image if the Longhrons choose to shore up their prospects on the ground with backs like him.
I compare him to Youtube phenomenon Sam McGuffie, who brought the promise of defender-shaking play in space to Ann Arbor but struggled with concussions and contact his first year.
Defenders hit harder and speed can be a liability if it hits a wall. Until he shows he can take a hit at the next level, Green, like McGuffie, might have a similar problem.
No. 2: Isaiah Crowell
Reminds me of: Trent Richardson
Crowell combines sick moves with breakaway speed, and can run right by a flat-footed secondary.
His highlight reel reminded me of Alabama RB Trent Richardson's gashing run against Texas in the national championship—everybody else just looked like they were standing still.
Crowell doesn't need to use the perimeter to break the long runs. He uses his jukes intelligently, sets up blocks, and gets into defenders' heads with a variety of moves. His physical stature is ideal—5'11", 190 lbs (although Scout weighed him in at 204), with powerful legs and good balance.
Every top program is in pursuit, particularly Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Clemson and Miami. USC has yet to offer, but Crowell could easily be the next Joe McKnight—and actually do something with his talent this time.
No. 1: Malcolm Brown
Reminds me of: Ricky Williams
About time you met 2014 Heisman winner Malcolm Brown.
Yes, whoever lands the 6'1, 210 lb low-down dirty Brown is inheriting the next great running back in college football.
He can truck, he can cut, he can flat-out run. His lateral speed is blue-chip, but his strong suit is in cutting up into defenders, laying them out, and staying on his feet effortlessly.
Those yards after contact, that amazing, amazing speed (particularly for a guy his size), led Scout to put it best: watching him, you realize what a complete running back should look like.
If the Longhorns land him, he and Connor Wood will revolutionize the Longhorns' scheme, and he's sure to challenge all of Williams' rushing records as well.
However, at this point it looks like most schools in and outside of the Big 12 are in play.
In his picture, he just looks like a damn nice kid. Big smile, no entitlement. Born to run. A catch.