Why Losing Joshua Thomas Isn't As Big As It Appears for Iowa State

Iowa State is losing sophomore running back Joshua Thomas, who emerged for 75 carries and nearly 300 yards as a true freshman. Here's why the loss isn't as big as it appears.

The general feeling surrounding the departure of Iowa State’s third-leading rusher from 2015 seems to be angst about both the depth of the running back position and who in the world will pick up the slack.

In reality, neither should cause all that much concern.

While sophomore Joshua Thomas will transfer from the program following his true freshman campaign in which he rushed for 295 yards and seven touchdowns on 75 carries, his production is replaceable. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound back showed glimpses of a bright future during his rookie campaign last fall, but there are several reasons the Cyclones’ rushing attack — one that will be relied on more heavily in 2016 — should be fine. 

For one, the touchdowns, while a showy statistic, aren’t a great metric. Of Thomas’ seven touchdowns, five were 1-yard carries, one was a 2-yard carry and the last was a 3-yard carry. The Cyclones used Thomas primarily in goal line and short yardage situations and he got the job done in several instances, though most short-yardage backs with a capable offensive line should be able to put forth similar results for Iowa State moving forward.

That brings up the second point. Here’s a look at some of Thomas' numbers.


Number of runs

Negative run


No gain


1-yard run


In total, 29 of Thomas’ 75 carries (39 percent) in 2015 were for one yard or less. That is in large part a product of the short yardage situations in which he was put in, but 119 of his 295 yards (40 percent) came on seven total carries.

Thomas showed positive signs, but a short yardage back is more easily replaced than a feature back like Mike Warren. Remember the angst when Iowa State dismissed bruiser Martinez Syria last summer after his true freshman campaign? The Cyclones quickly replaced him with Thomas two and a half months later.

Now, Iowa State should be able to do the same in 2016. 

The Cyclones added 5-foot-11, 225-pound bruiser David Montgomery in the 2016 class, and there was already a feeling around the program he’d push Thomas for immediate carries. Out of high school, Montgomery is the same size as Thomas, but is thought to be more of an elusive slasher out of the backfield who can be useful both in short yardage and other situations. Fellow incoming freshman Kene Nwangwu could redshirt in 2016, but provides another talented back for running backs coach Louis Ayeni. 

In addition to Warren and the incoming freshmen, Trever Ryen will continue to be counted on in the running game while players like Jauan Wesley and signee Deshaunte Jones could add to the running game at the 'M' position. Redshirt freshman Sheldon Croney — if his hand is healed — could get carries, and it's possible a walk-on could emerge too.

Ideally, Iowa State would keep Thomas for added depth and insurance, but for now the loss isn’t as major as it appears to be on paper.

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