Put it On the Board: Running Backs

We break down Cal's targets at running back in this extensive and comprehensive look at the Bears' recruiting board in the second installment of the Put it on the Board series.

On Monday, during his Pac-12 post-spring coaches' teleconference, California skipper Sonny Dykes confirmed what most had suspected: The Golden Bears would be building their class around two core needs.

The toll taken by injuries and early departures this spring was felt quite keenly at both defensive back – where Dykes said Cal will take up to five prospects – and running back, where Dykes said the Bears will pick up two ball-carriers, and that's what we occupy ourselves with today.

As with the quarterbacks, we're listing the running back targets alphabetically.

Put it on the Board: Quarterbacks

Jomon Dotson
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 64

The Skinny: Dotson does not have an offer from the Bears, but could very well be an option at both safety and running back. Dotson already has offers from Iowa State, Nevada, Northwestern, San Jose State, UC Davis and the scholarship equivalent from Yale, so his grades are not an issue. At this point, it looks as though Dotson is closer to a Plan B or C option, but he wouldn't be a bad one, and he's pretty sweet on the Bears, to begin with, as is his teammate Malik Beachum. Both of them might wind up being casualties of a small class size, but given that recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint, Dotson's name is going to be hanging around until the end.
Scouting: There's no questioning Dotson's speed. He recently ran a 10.73-second 100m and is certainly built to move at 6-foot, 165. But, that size is more suited to being a defensive back or a wide receiver, and not a tailback. Dotson did rush for 2,148 yards on just 167 carries for 24 touchdowns last year, but for such a dynamic playmaker, he only caught three balls for 25 yards, but that came mainly as a function of a two-headed monster at quarterback that saw a total of 105 passes thrown all season, so it's tough to gauge his ability to catch balls out of the backfield. He's going to be camping at Cal and going to the Oakland NFTC, so watching to see how he can take fly sweeps around the edge or how well he catches passes is going to be big for both us as recruiting analysts and for the Bears coaching staff if he's to move up the board.

Devante Downs
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 6

The Skinny: The Mountlake Terrace (Wash.) tailback was offered in mid-February by the Bears, but has since seen his recruitment explode. He has since added offers from Arizona, Vanderbilt, Boise State, Oregon State and Stanford, to go along with Arizona State, Colorado State, Utah, Washington and Washington State. The real question for Downs is whether he wants to be a linebacker, fullback or running back. The Huskies want him at running back, but both Oregon schools like him at linebacker. He could potentially be a good fit for the "Bone" position as a quick and powerful ball carrier and blocker. He is after all ranked as the No. 1 fullback in the 2014 class, and during spring ball, we saw just how devastating a good Bone can be with the spring ball performance of Lucas Gingold. He may be a tough one to get out of the Pacific Northwest, particularly if Oregon comes calling. He's planning on visiting the Bears within the next two weeks.
Scouting: Downs is a versatile athlete and a load to tackle at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. He shows great patience and lets blocks develop in front of him before committing. He has very quick feet for any back, let alone one his size. He can make sharp cuts and shows some nice short burst, a lot like recent Denver Broncos signee C.J. Anderson. Also like Anderson, he shows enough shakes to not take direct contact in the open field and gains a lot of yards after contact. He's not a big-play threat like others on this list, but he'll get you the hard yards.

Royce Freeman
Overall Ranking: 35
Position Ranking: 8

The Skinny: Listed as a linebacker, Freeman took home the running back MVP at the NFTC event in Los Angeles in March, and, like Downs, is a bruising back at 6-foot, 225 pounds. Right now, the offer he's hunting for is USC, but he's got offers from eight other Pac-12 schools, including the Bears. He's not planning on making his way up to Cal, and at the moment, he's favoring UCLA, the Ducks, Stanford and Florida. One of the things he likes most about Oregon is the up-tempo style, so that could also play big in the Bears' favor.
Scouting: He's a hard-hitting, lick-taking load to tackle and he's not afraid of contact. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 10 balls for 137 yards and two touchdowns last season to go along with his 2,482 yards and 34 touchdowns on 201 carries. He has impressive top-end speed, but doesn't have much shake and won't make defenders miss in the open field. He'll take punishment up front, though, and will get the tough yards between the tackles.

Robert Martin
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 50

The Skinny: Martin is focused on two schools, primarily, and they're a lot closer to home than Cal. The Harrisburg (pa.) product has Rutgers and West Virginia out in front, and is likely to stay close to his family, but the offer from the Bears was an eye-opener. The biggest hurdle with Martin will be grades. UConn is also an option for Martin, who saw his former teammate Chris Britton sign with the Huskies in February.
Scouting: Martin is more of a traditional back at 6-foot, 190 pounds, and rushed for 1,812 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, also spending time at linebacker. He's also contemplating playing safety at the next level.

Joe Mixon
Overall Ranking: 18
Position Ranking: 5

The Skinny: Cal was one of the very first schools to offer Mixon, who sits firmly atop the staff's running backs board, and given that the Oakley (Calif.) Freedom tailback has received nearly 40 offers since then, it's always better to be first than last. His favorite back growing up was Adrian Peterson, and the offer from Alabama could loom large. But, the Bears are the hometown program for Mixon, and his best friends Adarius Pickett and Michael Lazarus also have offers from Cal, the blue and gold hold a special place in Mixon's heart. Mixon and running backs coach Pierre Ingram have spoken frequently and at length, and the relationship between the two could play big, but not quite as big as Mixon's relationship with Pickett and Lazarus. The fact that Pickett's teammate Jalen Harvey became the first of the El Cerrito Three to commit could open the door for Pickett, and then eventually Mixon and Lazarus, but Mixon has a significant amount of national attention, and odds are that he won't announce a decision until the US Army All-American Game in January.
Scouting: Mixon is one of the most exciting, dynamic backs in this class, and there's not much to say about him that hasn't already been said. He's a big back with both power and speed, who can run between the tackles. He's a downhill runner, and can get to the outside and turn the corner very quickly. On the notoriously slow turf at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tex., Mixon ran a 4.68-second electronically-timed 40, and ran a 10.9-second 100m and a 21.8-second 200m last track season. He has yet to best either time this season, but he has recorded an 11.13 100 and a 22.86 200.

Demario Richard
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 28

The Skinny: Richard recently pulled down an Oregon offer, and it played very, very big with the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder. He also grew up in a family of USC fans. Cal's proximity to the Palmdale (Calif.) back is a plus, and since his offer from the Ducks, the potential sanctions have cooled his affections for the emerald and yellow. Richard has a close relationship with Ingram, and values coaching stability above all else, and with a new staff on board in Berkeley, it's tough to find much more security than that. He has some work to do academically, and is taking the SAT for the second time on June 1.
Scouting: Richard is a solidly-built 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, with good movement and the ability to make himself skinny when need be to fit into small spaces. He shows good lateral quickness and cut backs, along with a second gear when he gets into the secondary. He doesn't take much direct contact, instead spinning off defenders and gaining extra yards. He also shows good hands catching the ball out of the backfield and splitting out wide. He's also a tough and persistent back who won't go down on first contact. Above all, he's versatile, catching 11 balls for 212 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his 1,722 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on 188 carries. He also recorded two interceptions for 96 return yards and returned eight kickoffs for 200 yards.

Racean Thomas
Overall Ranking: 14
Position Ranking: 3

The Skinny: The Oxford (Ala.) product is wide open, and with the Bears, the Trojans and Ducks jumping in recently, he's been consumed with research. The five-star is the Hail Mary of this running back offer class for Cal, but given his proximity to this coaching staff's last stop at Louisiana Tech, maybe not quite as much as some would think. The Bears' biggest advantage is that Thomas is not about to narrow down his choices. He's being diligent about looking at offensive schemes and widening his gaze to include the West Coast programs. He's already been to Auburn twice and Georgia, with the Tigers standing out the most, followed by Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss.
Scouting: The No. 3 back in the nation, Thomas is a blend of quickness, speed and power. He can run both between the tackles and on the outside and has soft hands to catch the ball out of the backfield. He's not only quick, but has top-end, elite speed.

Nick Wilson
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 29

The Skinny: Wilson committed to Arizona just two weeks after what was, by his account, a stellar visit to Berkeley on Elite Junior Day. The race isn't over for Wilson, but he's been keeping mum lately, unless talking about his commitment to the Wildcats, which he says is "100 percent" solid. If any school has a shot at getting back into things for the Fresno (Calif.) Central East running back, it's the Bears, especially considering that former Grizzly Brendan Bigelow is poised for a big junior season as the starting tailback in the new Bear Raid. Bigelow's season could be the biggest arrow in Ingram's quiver when it comes down to the home stretch.
Scouting: Wilson is up there among the top backs in the west, right next to Mixon. He's a pure running back, not quite as big as Mixon and doesn't quite have the kind of breakaway speed that Mixon has, but he's solidly built and not afraid of contact. The real attraction with him is the footwork he shows between the tackles, which is a good foundation on which to build.

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