When it comes to the state of Florida, there's no shortage of running backs in this Class of 2013. It's top heavy with some big names with extraordinary talents.
This group is led by five-star prospects Alex Collins (South Plantation) and Derrick Henry (Yulee) and four-star recruits like Kelvin Taylor (Glades Day), Greg Bryant (Delray Beach American Heritage) and Ryan Green (St. Petersburg Catholic). I have seen them all play live this fall with the exception of Green, who's out for the year because of injury. These five are all big time and you can make a strong case for each one as the top player at this position from Florida. And when breaking them down it's like splitting hairs. Yes, it really is that close.
A year ago no one would have envisioned Alex Collins as the top rated running back recruit from the Sunshine State. That distinction went to Taylor or Henry, depending on who you talked to.
Collins played as a high school freshman but not a sophomore at South Plantation. Then he came back out his junior year and committed to Miami this past January. Now, he's catapulted himself to the No. 6 back overall in the country and the top guy in the Sunshine State.
Collins is an extraordinary athlete. He played lacrosse this past year for the first time. He's so fast and has a super first step. He can just accelerate to top end speed so quickly. Weight wise he went from 178-pounds last season to a current weight of 207. Along the way he's hasn't lost a step. In fact, he's quicker and more explosive than ever. Add to that his vision and balance and you have one of the most coveted backs in the nation. Something else I noticed a few weeks ago when I saw him play is that Collins is not afraid to lower his shoulder and take on defenders.
Collins is currently committed to the Hurricanes but will his decision change? Earlier this month he made official visits to both Wisconsin and Florida State and there is some chatter that he could flip.
Perhaps the No. 1 question I get among these running backs is this – can and will Derrick Henry actually play running back in college?
My answer is simple – why not?
All Henry has done is rush for a mindboggling 10,700 yards and 141 touchdowns during his prep career. Perhaps the most impressive stat regarding this Yulee standout is this – despite being a marked man, despite facing 8, 9 and even 10 guys in the box, Derrick Henry has rushed for a state record 43 consecutive games of 100 plus yards or more.
Henry is 6-foot-3 and 243-pounds. He is not your average running back. He's huge. Maybe Henry's not the most graceful but I say with confidence that this kid is a thoroughbred. Henry is deceptively athletic, agile and quick, especially considering his size. And he's fast too. He can run with power and also run right by you.
Yet there are many Henry doubters out there. I was one and a big one until I saw him play earlier this fall. I would imagine that he will fit in exceptional well at Alabama where he will play for Nick Saban. I can certainly see him in a Jalston Fowler type of role and work himself into the Crimson Tide running back rotation.
I remember when Brandon Jacobs came out of Louisiana about a decade ago and we said the same things about him as a future running back. He was too big blah, blah, blah. We were all wrong on Jacobs and you just have to give Henry a real shot here at running back. I know I would.
Checking in at a strong No. 3 is Kelvin Taylor, the son of former Gator great Fred Taylor. And like dear old dad, Kelvin will call Gainesville home and play for the University of Florida. Taylor has been a big name in recruiting since he burst on the prep scene as an 8th grader at Glades Day. All Taylor did was rush for 1,500 yards that year and he hasn't stopped since. Taylor now has a state record 11,217 yards and 178-touchdowns. Taylor runs with speed and power. Taylor is blessed with outstanding instincts, vision and balance. He also does a very nice job of following and hugging his blockers when hitting the hole or taking things outside. Taylor is patient and looks like a complete back that can beat a defense in a variety of ways.
Both Taylor and Henry are closing in on the four year high school career national mark set in the 1950s by Kenneth "Sugar Land" Hall of 11,232 yards. Henry is less than 800 yards away while Taylor is sitting near 9,700 yards.
There are many in Florida that think the top back is not Collins, not Taylor and not Henry… but Greg Bryant. To be honest, Bryant reminds me a lot of Trent Richardson at the same stage. He's a compact 5-10 and 205-pounds and very strong. There's no question that of this group, he runs with the most power.
I saw him play against a very good Armwood defense back in September. What I liked from Bryant on this night was his ability to make the first defender miss. This kid has great feet and balance to go along with his other outstanding physical attributes.
This former Oklahoma commitment is now considering FSU, Auburn, Georgia, the Sooners and others.
Coming in at No. 5 is the speedy Ryan Green. Green is the most explosive back of this bunch, even more so than Collins. Green is now a hefty 5-10 and 190-pounds. He put on 15-pounds of muscle in the off-season and kept his speed and quickness. Everyone was expecting a monster senior season for Green. But it was discovered that he sustained a torn labrum in the spring. That was not diagnosed until early September and Green has not suited up since. This Florida State commitment displays a great burst of acceleration on the field. He's dangerous on the perimeter. Inside, he hits the hole hard and has the vision to find daylight. Green's under control and patient. Then he can hit that next gear. Green's an instinctual runner and has an unreal jump cut and can reverse the field. What's deceptive about Green is his power, as he can take on defenders.
So there you have it, the top five running backs in a very close rankings race in the state of Florida, as things stand right now. Now next year will be a little more clearly defined because it's finally Sony Michel's time. But that's a discussion for another day.