Michigan State Positional Breakdown: Running Backs

Alex BrooksContributor IAugust 21, 2011

Michigan State Positional Breakdown: Running Backs

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    With the 2011 season quickly approaching, most of us bloggers are admittedly looking for filler articles. I have decided to break down different players for Michigan State and their position on the team. The first position to look at? Running backs.

    *Note: We will not be including backs Nick Hill or Jeremy Langford in our analysis, although both could be vital to this team barring injury or freak accident at any time.

LeVeon Bell

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    • Class: Sophomore
    • Hometown: Reynoldsburg, Ohio
    • High School: Groveport Madison
    • Height: 6′2″
    • Weight: 237 pounds
    • Major: No preference

    2010 Stats:

    • 605 rushing yards on 107 attempts
    • 8 rushing touchdowns
    • 97 receiving yards
    • 6 kick returns for 142 yards

    2010 Grade: A. Few players on this team deserve a better grade than Bell. Being a true freshman on a team that already had a two-back system, few expected much from him. But Bell took advantage of a hurt Larry Caper and showed why he is the back of the future at Michigan State and why he was deserving of being on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

    Strengths: At 6’2″ and 237 pounds Bell is a beast and is very difficult to bring down. He runs straight ahead and certainly does not shy away from contact. Even better is that despite his size he has shown great bursts of speed, exploding through holes for some very big plays. He is an excellent pass blocker as well.

    Weaknesses: He could use some work on catching the ball out of the back field, and his production sort of hit a wall last October. This is called the "freshman wall" and it does happen to a lot of good players. Bell just needs to reassure us that the back we saw in September and early October was the real LeVeon.

    NFL Player He Most Resembles: Peyton Hillis

    Dream Season: I doubt Bell will be able to overcome Edwin Baker at the top of the depth chart but it is possible he passes Caper. However, even if he doesn’t, Bell will still see significant playing time. I would say that 800 rushing yards in a three-back system would be a fantastic season for Bell, coupled with 10 touchdowns.

    Nightmare Season: Turns out the back who hit the "freshman wall" is the real LeVeon Bell. His production drops as he gets less and less playing time behind Caper and Baker. I would predict that a nightmare season would mean somewhere around 300 rushing yards.

    What We Think Will Happen: I highly doubt that Bell’s production will drop dramatically. However, his carries may drop a bit with Baker emerging as one of the top backs in the conference and with Caper being at 100 percent. I would expect similar stats from around last year, around 600 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.

Larry Caper

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    • Position: Running back
    • Class: Junior
    • Hometown: Battle Creek, Mich.
    • High School: Battle Creek Central
    • Height: 5′11″
    • Weight: 223 pounds
    • Major: Advertising

    2010 Stat Line:

    • 38 rushes for 144 yards, 3.8 yards per carry
    • 2 rushing TDs
    • 12 receptions for 133 yards
    • 1 receiving TD

    2010 Grade: C+.  Caper started out the first two games with a hand injury but had a difficult time working himself back into the feature back role he once had in 2009. With the emergence of LeVeon Bell as an All-American Freshman and the emergence of Edwin Baker as a Heisman candidate it became increasingly difficult for Caper to demonstrate his abilities. There were, however, flashes in certain games like versus Wisconsin where he averaged 7.3 yards per carry on three attempts and 5.3 yards per carry on seven attempts versus Illinois.

    Strengths: Caper has great size for a back with his speed and has tremendous lateral moves to make defenders miss. His outstanding balance and strength can only be matched by his great blocking ability and good soft hands. He is great at catching balls out of the backfield. Also, I don’t think you could find a nicer guy or more thoughtful teammate than Caper.

    Weaknesses: While Caper has decent straight line speed, his acceleration is not tremendous. He is able to outrun defenders but does take a bit of time to do so. Apparently he is also a tad injury prone as well.

    NFL Player He Most Resembles: Can I say Javon Ringer? Yea. I like that one.

    Dream Season: Caper regains the starting role that was once his. Even if he were to become the primary back, racking up big numbers in a three-back system would be difficult. I would say 600 yards and seven touchdowns would absolutely earn Caper an A for this upcoming season.

    Nightmare Season: Bell, who hit a wall of sorts in the second half of last season, regains his All-American form and sits atop of Baker for the No. 2 running back spot on the roster for the entirety of the season. Even in that situation I would still expect Caper to get around 50 touches. So I would  say around 175 yards and one or two touchdowns would be cause for a let down.

    What We Think Will Happen: I doubt we will see either Bell or Caper take a commanding lead for the No. 2 spot, nor will either touch Baker for the starting job. But I would expect Caper’s workload to get a bit heavier as the coaching staff will want to cycle through the three backs as much as possible to keep them all fresh throughout the season. I would expect Caper to get around 75 to 100 touches for 350 to 400 yards and four touchdowns.

Edwin Baker

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    • Position: Running back
    • Class: Junior
    • Height: 5′9″
    • Weight 210 pounds
    • Hometown: Highland Park, Mich.
    • High School: Oak Park
    • Major: Interdisciplinary studies in social science—human capital and society

    2010 Stat Line: 

    • 207 carries for 1201 yards (5.8 yards per carry)
    • 13 rushing touchdowns
    • 3 receptions for 22 yards

    2010 Grade: A+.  His freshman year he only appeared in a total of eight games and only had one rushing touchdown. “The Rock” certainly turned it around as he became the feature back in a three-back system in 2010. Not only did he become the primary ball carrier for the Spartans but he gained national recognition as one of the best up-and-coming backs in the country, earning himself a spot on the All-Big Ten first-team roster. Baker’s dramatic rise was not predicted by too many people, but his dominance on the field in 2010 certainly earned him an A+.

    Strength: Baker’s smaller height allows him to have fantastic balance. He is a bulkier back but has fantastic speed for his size. His great balance and low center of gravity combined with great vision enable him to string together cutback moves and jukes to make defenders miss all while being able to outrun them in the open field. He was also dubbed a “Workout Warrior” by ESPN bloggers for his dedication and work ethic in the weight room.

    Weaknesses: Unfortunately his hands are not so stellar. It shows in his limited number of receptions in the backfield. For the most part, the screens tend to go to Larry Caper who shows softer hands. His mediocre hands are also exposed when he tries to pass block. This is not his forte either, but for pass blocks you tend to see LeVeon Bell in the game.

    NFL Player He Most Resembles: Frank Gore

    Dream Season: Baker has set his own goals for the upcoming season: 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Man, if Baker can reach that, that would be an unbelievably successful year for him. Those goals would likely get him in the talks for the Heisman and he would no doubt be an All-American. I wouldn’t say that if he didn’t reach that it would be a disappointment, but those are some lofty goals.

    Nightmare Season: I really cannot imagine any way Baker can regress from a season ago. A nightmare season for him would likely involve a poor offensive line not being able to open up holes for him to run through. And if that happens it would become increasingly likely that the coaching staff uses Bell, a power back who may be able to drill through the line.

    What We Think Will Happen:  While 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns is starry-eyed and very admirable, we don’t think that will happen. I could however see 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. I think most would be very satisfied if Baker could reach both of those marks.