Under the Microscope: Virginia Tech Running Backs
Ryan Williams stormed onto the fantasy football scene in 2009 as a redshirt freshman. His emergence to starting running back was due to Darren Evans tearing his ACL during the 2009 fall camp. Darren Evans was the feature back in 2008, and now he returns from injury in 2010. Can Williams retain his feature back role, or will Evans’ return create a split carry situation for the Hokies?
Cast of Characters
Ryan Williams (So)
Darren Evans (R-Jr)
David Wilson (So)
What’s the Scoop?
Running back Darren Evans was the leading ball carrier during the 2008 season with 1,382 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Fantasy owners looked for big things out of Evans in 2009, but there were rumblings that redshirt freshman Ryan Williams could work his way into the fold. Williams is a dynamic playmaker that brought several intangibles that Evans lacked.
Then during fall camp Darren Evans tore his ACL. The running back situation was thrown into uncertainty, with several players vying for the starting job. Ryan Williams emerged as the top back, racking up 1,835 total yards and 22 total touchdowns. Williams was able to showcase his big play ability as he became one of the top fantasy running backs in the country.
Now Darren Evans is coming back from his injury and should be placed back in the discussion for playing time. The coaches have moved former tailback Josh Oglesby to fullback, creating an opening for Evans’ return. The coaches have also made the decision to use more two back formations so both Williams and Evans can be on the field together.
The Hokies lose two offensive linemen for the 2010 season. Left tackle Ed Wang and left guard Sergio Render move on, leaving a big hole on one side of the line. Tackle Nick Becton and guard Greg Nosal look to step in on the left side.
Fullback Kenny Jefferson graduates leaving the door open for the recently moved Oglesby. The Hokies also lose another blocker in tight end Greg Boone . Redshirt senior Andre Smith looks to be the best candidate to step in, but there are several other young players in the hunt.
The most notable name returning is quarterback Tyrod Taylor . There have been large expectations for him to take the team to the next level. His leadership in developing the newcomers will be vital in helping the offensive line come together.
Wide receivers Danny Coale , Jarrett Boykin , Dyrell Roberts , and Xavier Boyce all come back. Three starters come back from the offensive line. Center Deau Warren , right guard Jaymes Brooks , and right tackle Blake DeChristopher will give stability on the right side to the running game.
Let’s take a look at how the carries have broken down over the past six seasons between the top two running backs in order to get a feel for what we could expect for 2010:
Ryan Williams – 293 carries
Josh Oglesby – 78 carries
Darren Evans – 287 carries
Kenny Lewis, Jr. – 64 carries
Brandon Ore – 267 carries
Kenny Lewis, Jr. – 57 carries
Brandon Ore – 241 carries
Kenny Lewis, Jr. – 54 carries
Cedric Humes – 162 carries
Branden Ore – 160 carries
Mike Imoh – 160 carries
Mike Imoh – 157 carries
Cedric Humes – 130 carries
Over the course of that past four seasons the offense has utilized a feature back. Back-up running back Kenny Lewis, Jr. was the second leading back for three of those four seasons. He and Josh Oglesby’s inability to show enough playmaking ability were a major factor in the coaches utilizing a feature back.
It was a different story during the 2005-2004 seasons. Two or three running backs were featured due to their abilities on the field. Mike Omoh was the top back in 2004 in a split carry situation, but the emergence of Brandon Ore kept a split carry situation in play during the 2005 season. Once Imoh and Humes had graduated, Ore stood alone as the only feature back in 2006.
If Your Fantasy Draft Was Today...
History has shown that when there is more than one playmaker in the backfield, the coaches have utilized both backs in a split carry scenario. If Darren Evans ’ recovery goes well and he is back to his old form, it will be hard to keep him out of the production fold. The addition of two back formations that can utilize Williams and Evans at the same time will surely cut into Williams’ production as the play calling will be geared at keeping defenses off balance.
Williams has all the talent to be a top five fantasy running back, but he will likely see his carries cut down due to the return of Darren Evans. The uncertainly is in the carry distribution. Will it be more of a 60/40 or 55/45 split, or will Williams’ big play ability tip the scales more in his favor?
Williams is a better receiving option, and his big play ability should help ensure that he doesn’t see a major dip in touchdowns. Having a 200 pound frame also means that the coaches won’t have a reason for pulling Williams off the field in the redzone in order to favor a bigger back. Don’t expect Williams to score 20 touchdowns like last season, but he could score in the teens.
Due to the concerns about how much Evans could eat into his production, it might be safe to avoid jumping the gun when drafting Williams. He should still be considered an early round draft pick, but avoid reaching for him. There are several other backs out there that have safer situations like John Clay, Daniel Thomas, and Bernard Pierce. Try to avoid getting too hyped up over last year’s numbers, and play it safe with Williams and see if he can fall to you for the right price instead of overpaying for him.
Evans is a wildcard come draft day. Most fantasy owners will be pessimistic about Evans’ future, so his Average Draft Position (ADP) should drop considerably. Don’t let this turn you off to Evans’ fantasy value for 2010.
Evans is worthy of a late round draft pick either as a sleeper or as a "handcuff" insurance policy for Williams.
Joe Arpasi is the co-owner of CollegeFootballGeek.com , your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.
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