Utah Running Backs Under the Microscope

Joe at CollegeFootballGeek.comCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2010

Utah has been a destination for quality fantasy running backs over the years. But 2010 brings some uncertainty as the Utes have two dominant backs at their disposal—with a third waiting in the wings. What will the coaches do with these studs in the fall?

Cast of Characters

RB – Eddie Wide (Sr)
RB – Matt Asiata (R-Sr)
RB – Sausan Shakerin (So)

What’s the Scoop?

Matt Asiata emerged in 2008 registering 818 total yards and 13 total touchdowns. Asiata entered the 2009 season as one of the more sought after fantasy running backs, with running back Darrell Mack moving on. Then in the fourth game of the season against Louisville, Asiata was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

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 1223 total yards and 13 total touchdowns.

Over the offseason Matt Asiata was granted an extra year of eligibility, allowing him to play in 2010. Asiata missed spring camp as he continued 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?

Who’s Gone?

All-American left tackle Zane Beadles is the only lineman lost to graduation. Utah did lose three of their four starting wideouts from 2009 in David Reed, Aiona Key, and John Peel.

Who’s Back?

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 wideout returning in Jereme Brooks.

The lack of experienced talent at wide receiver, and a loaded offensive line and backfield means that Utah could emphasize the run more in 2010.

The most surprising thing that came out of spring camp was the coach’s praise of sophomore running back Sausan Shakerin. The coaches have liked what Shakerin has shown so much, that he will work his way into the production fold as well this fall.

Offensive Production

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

It is 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. Darrell 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...

It is very difficult to gauge exactly how the coaches will handle the situation. The first thing that will need to be assessed is Matt Asiata’s rehab. If he 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.

Even though Sausan Shakerin will be in the fold, don’t expect him to be a major factor.

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. Although it is very difficult to project these two players until fall camp gets under way, here is a preliminary projection for Wide & Asiata:

Eddie Wide – 165 car / 918 yards / 8 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. If he is healthy, we do anticipate a split carry scenario. He should command more rushing TD opportunities.  If Asiata is not able to come back healthy enough to demand a significant 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 wise to wait until the middle rounds to take a stab with Wide. Asiata might make a good late round sleeper candidate, especially in touchdown-heavy league scoring formats.

If Wide is the workhorse, then he would be worthy of an early round pick. There will need to be solid news from fall camp before you could use such a high pick on Wide.

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.

Joe Arpasi is the co-owner of CollegeFootballGeek.com , your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.


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