STARTER: LESHUN DANIELS
BACK-UP: AKRUM WADLEY, DERRICK MITCHELL
OTHERS: MARCEL JOLY, ERIC GRAHAM
INCOMING: TOKS AKINRIBADE, TOREN YOUNG
2015 GRADE: A-
ANALYSIS: The high grade comes because they always had someone step up and produce big numbers in nearly every single game. Whether it was Jordan Canzeri, especially against Illinois, Akrum Wadley against Northwestern, or LeShun Daniels against Minnesota and others, Iowa always got plenty of contribution from this posiiton outside of a game or two.
It also gets a strong grade because it was obviously a position of strong depth. They had three different running backs capable of taking off for 200 yards. There wasn't another team in the country that had that.
The grade isn't perfect because they weren't perfect. They didn't roll Michigan State. They didn't get the tough yards they needed in that game and it made Iowa one-dimensional in the Big Ten Championship Game. They got rocked by Stanford. That's the next step they need ot take, to be able to produce against whoever they line up across.
OUTLOOK: Jordan Canzeri graduates leaving the duties up to Daniels, Wadley, and Mitchell. What does that mean? I see Daniels and Wadley splitting the carries and doing well in that role as long as they can remain healthy. They're more than capable to duplicate last year's effort on the ground assuming those two can stay healthy. Mitchell's role should not change. He's their third down back, and will be in during passing situations as a receiver out of the backfield and a willing blocker. I don't see Joly or Graham getting much time.
But what happens if there are injuries? Daniels and Wadley both got banged up during the 2015 campaign. I think that's the scenario where Mitchell gets an expanded role or a true freshman gets his chance to prove himself. I think they'll want to separate and leave a year in between Akinribade and Young.
So who gets those snaps from the duo of true freshmen? Probably Akinribade. He brings a little something different to the table in terms of explosion and speed. Wadley has that but he and Akinribade are a bit different. Wadley is quicker laterally. Akinribade has the straight-line speed. Young is a lot like Daniels and I see a redshirt year for him.
Young is the tough inside runner that can run through tackles like Daniels. He's LeShun 2.0. With him being so similar to Daniels who will get a lot of carries, I see Young taking a redshirt and Akinribade getting some snaps to separate the two by year.
I see the running back position going a lot like last year. They'll have about three guys they can count on to produce significant snaps. Daniels and Wadley will get the first shots and they'll be the guys as long as their healthy. Both are prone to injury so a third or possibly fourth guy will be needed and the depth is there for them to make that move without slowing down.
"I just take the beating, get back up, and do it all over again." - RB Eric Graham
"I wanted to redshirt my freshman year to get a taste of the feeling of college and everything. I wanted to make sure I'm ready. I thought that was the best-case scenario."
"We just tried to slow (Akrum Wadley) down a little bit. He's so fast. He wants to get to everything in a hurry. The more reps he got, the more comfortable he got. We just wanted to slow him down, stop his spinning, and then things worked out for him." - Running Backs coach Chris White
"I thought all four running backs would be great competition. LeShun had a great spring. He had spurts and great games. The guy that really pleased us was Derrick Mitchell who came over from wide receiver as a third down back and running the ball as well. He was a wide receiver so he catches the ball out of the backfield, is a big kid, about 215 pounds. Thing I'm really pleased about him is he's an awareness guy. He has a good feel with protections. He's a great blocker and catches the ball out of the backfield." - Running Backs coach Chris White
"We like bigger backs to be honest with you, but change of pace guys like Akrum and Jordan bring a lot to the table, too. In our conference, it's good to have a guy over 200 that can do both, make guys miss, and get explosive plays. That was the biggest thing this year from last year is the long runs. With Jordan, Akrum and LeShun, we didn't get that last year." - Running Backs coach Chris White
"Hopefully we can get Akrum to 185 pounds; hopefully we can get him above 185. That's goal number one for him. But you know, it's who do you want, Shonn Greene or Fred Russell. It's one of those deals. I'll take them both if we can get them. If we can get both of those guys playing anywhere close to those two, that would be a good thing. The big thing now would be to get these guys healthy where they can play the way they are capable of playing." - Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
"I thought (Akrum Wadley) took a huge step in Chicago. To me, I'm hoping that's a career-changer for him. All players go through, you know, learning stages, and the biggest issue with Akrum was just ball security, which is more than ball security It's responsibility of the football team. If you do touch the ball, you've got to really treat it as it's important. It's hard to win if you don't, and I can't quantify this but my belief is he felt the responsibility of the football team and he really took it to a different level and I'm hoping that will move him forward. I hope he'll do the same thing with his training. I'm not saying he's been loafing, but to have a college football physique and compete at this level, like the guy we just saw, it really takes dedication." - Head Coach Kirk Ferentz