Utah has been a destination for quality fantasy running backs over the years. They have utilized a workhorse back and provided enough carries for those running backs to thrive for their fantasy owners.
But now there is trouble in the air. Utah doesn’t have one, but two dominate backs at their disposal. What will the coaches do with these two studs in the fall?
Cast of Characters
RB—Eddie Wide (Sr)
RB—Matt Asiata (R-Sr)
What’s the Scoop?
Matt Asiata emerged in 2008, registering 818 total yards and 13 total TDs. Asiata entered the 2009 season as one of the more sought-after fantasy RBs, with RB Darrell Mack moving on. Then in the fourth game of the season against Louisville, the unthinkable happened. Asiata was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee.
Enter Eddie Wide. He stepped in for the injured Asiata and registered 129 yards on 19 carries against Louisville. Wide went on to rack up 1,223 total yards and 13 total TDs.
Over the offseason Asiata was granted an extra year of eligibility, allowing him to play in 2010. Asiata will miss spring practice as he continues to recover from his torn ACL. The coaches now have a decision to make: continue to utilize one feature back or rotate both talented ball-carriers?
All-American left tackle Zane Beadles is the only lineman lost to graduation. Utah did lose three of their four starting WRs from 2009 in David Reed, Aiona Key, and John Peel.
There are four starters returning on the offensive line. Left guard Caleb Schlauderaff will move outside to left tackle, leaving the left guard position as the only spot to fill. Quarterback Jordan Wynn comes back, but he only has one starting WR coming back in Jereme Brooks.
The lack of experienced talent at WR, and a loaded offensive line and backfield means that Utah could emphasize the run more in 2010.
Let’s take a look at how the carries have broken down over the past five seasons between the top two running backs in order to get a feel for what we could expect for 2010:
Eddie Wide—203 carries
Matt Asiata—74 carries
Matt Asiata—146 carries
Darrell Mack—123 carries
Darrell Mack—253 carries
Roy Stowers—47 carries
Darryl Poston—145 carries
Mike Liti—37 carries
Quinton Ganther—205 carries
Darrell Mack—39 carries
Its easy to see that when there is a stud in the backfield, the coaches provide a healthy share of carries. But 2008 was a year where there were two talented guys in the backfield. The coaches did split carries between Asiata and Mack.
Mack was expected to be a fantasy stud after his 2007 performance, but Asiata stormed onto the scene in fall camp. Many fantasy owners had pinned their hopes on Mack being a fantasy monster in 2008, but they were left disappointed as the carries were split over the course of the season.
If Your Fantasy Draft Was Today (03/21/10)
It is very difficult to gauge exactly how the coaches will handle the situation. The first thing that will need to be assessed is: How well does Matt Asiata’s recovery go? If Asiata can show his old form during fall camp, then a split carry situation seems inevitable. But if he is not able show the same spark while running the ball, then his role may be limited. But due to his size, Asiata could serve as a TD vulture no matter what role he takes in 2010.
What is most likely to happen is that Eddie Wide retains his starting role due to his strong performance last season, and the questions surrounding Asiata’s ability to run the ball after blowing out his ACL. Both backs will command a split workload, but unless Wide is able to break several long runs for TDs, Asiata should command the bulk of the rushing TD opportunities. Although it is very difficult to project these two players until fall camp gets under way, here is a preliminary projection for the rushing duo:
Eddie Wide—160 car / 878 yards / 6 TDs
Matt Asiata—115 car / 495 yards / 9 TDs
Our preliminary projection is based on the assumption that Asiata returns to form in fall camp. This is a very important aspect of the projection. If he is healthy and in the fold, we do see a split carry scenario. He should command more rushing TD opportunities, but projecting how the TDs will be divided is extremely difficult right now due to the uncertainty surrounding Asiata. If Asiata is not able to come back healthy enough to demand a healthy share of carries, you can expect to see Wide used as the workhorse back once again. The news that comes out of fall camp will be vital in diagnosing how the situation will unfold.
If there is a split carry scenario in 2010, it would be best to avoid the urge to land Wide earlier in the draft. The middle rounds would be the best place to take a stab at Wide. Asiata would be a good late-round sleeper candidate.
If Wide is the workhorse, then he would be worthy of a first- to third-round pick. There will need to be solid news from fall camp before you could use such a high pick on Wide. If the news is rock solid news that Wide is the workhorse once again, he should be a candidate for the first RB you draft.
Drafting either player is risky this year. There’s too much uncertainty surrounding the situation, and the draft value of both players will rely on player news that breaks around the same time as your fantasy draft. Tread lightly with these two come draft day, but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on either candidate based on the news emerging from fall camp.
Interview with Utah running backs coach Aaron Alford
We had the opportunity to speak directly with Coach Alford to get his take on things.
College Football Geek: How is Matt Asiata’s recovery coming along? Any timetable for when he would participate in organized drills?
Coach Alford: Matt’s knee rehab is going really well. He is already running at a great pace and he will not participate in football until two-a-days in August. He is not ready for spring ball.
College Football Geek: What roles will Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata take in this year’s offense?
Coach Alford: Obviously with two great backs we will utilize them in a variety of ways—very similar to the 2008 season when we had Matt Asiata and Darell Mack. Obviously carries will be split much like you see with other teams with two good backs. Actually we have three good backs when you add in Sausan Shakerin.
College Football Geek: What type of specific offensive situations do you think Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata are most suited for?
Coach Alford: Can’t get too specific obviously, but both can block, run the ball, and run pass routes. When you have backs that have a variety of skills it enables us to use them in different capacities on the field.
College Football Geek: What names should we tuck away for 2011?
Coach Alford: New names will be CB Conroe Black and TE Kendick Moeai. I believe those two will have good seasons.
Joe Arpasi is the co-owner of CollegeFootballGeek.com , your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.