Iowa Football: Looking at the Running Backs and Fullbacks

Pinpointing the star of the backfield, the future, the outlook, and some final thoughts on how snaps get divided.

THE STAR: I don't think there's really a star of this group. There's three that will get a good chunk of the playing time and they all bring a little something different to the table for the Hawkeye offense. If there was a star, it could be Akrum Wadley, and that may be in a year. However, for this year, and because of shared snaps, there's no standout.

Daniels will still get his share of the carries and he's their type of back because of his physical running style, how hard he runs, his leadership and presence, and how he's probably the most complete back on the roster. Wadley is the home-run hitter of the group. He can shake defenders in the open field and has the breakaway speed to rattle off the chunk plays. Derrick Mitchell is their top receiving target out of the backfield and a pretty good blocker as well. This year could be his shot to get actual carries to see what he can do in a typical running back role.

THE FUTURE: After this year, the future is clearly Akrum Wadley but he has to keep the arrow pointed upward and stay on the right path. He needs to continue to improve his ball security issues, continue to add weight, and continue to be a student of the game. Those were the three areas that he needed to make the most improvement and he has. But it can't trail off. He could be the man in 2017 and be a 1,000-yard-plus rusher but it's tough to do that when you need to be close to a three-down back and he still weighs less than 200 pounds. So the potential is there but there is work left to do to reach that point. If he can't make it all the way there, Derrick Mitchell steps into a huge role and the spring of 2017 becomes huge for him. 

Beyond that, the future is a little uncertain. Marcel Joly hasn't made any huge strides or shown evidence of proving to be a staple in the rotation anywhere down the road. Both of the freshmen, Toks Akinribade and Toren Young, have impressed coaches early but neither have flashed too much yet to be able to discern anything at this point. The door will be open in 2017 for Eno Benjamin to step in, play right away, and take on some kind of a role. 

FULLBACKS: Two were used last year and they were good ones in Macon Plewa and Adam Cox. There's not a fullback on the roster that is the caliber of Plewa and Cox and we'll see if that has any impact on the running game. I do think they'll still use two different running backs and I think the winners are Drake Kulick and Brady Ross. What I will say is that Kulick is actually a nice receiving weapon out of the backfield for the fullback and I wonder if that comes into play at all this season. 

THE OUTLOOK: Iowa will net over 1,000 yards on the ground, most likely in easy fashion, but they may not have a rusher garner 1,000 yards. Daniels has never proved he can stay healthy for a full season to accomplish that. Wadley is a playmaker but with it comes flaws such as ball security, a small frame, and he had his own durability issue a year ago and that was with limited carries. I think it'll be more of a running back by committee and I think both near 1,000 yards on the ground but both fall just a little bit short. But in combination, Iowa should be able to get what they need from this position.

FINAL THOUGHTS: For this I am going to tackle how carries could get divided. It's difficult to expect either back to escape the season unscathed. A bold prediction I'd make is that Derrick Mitchell will lead the team in carries for at least one contest, but probably more. Especially when you look at what happened last season. At some point Mitchell will be needed and it'll be intriguing to see how he responds. Daniels is the starter but Wadley has earned touches. They'll likely use a hot-hand operation on who gets the ball and when.

Beyond that, I'm interested to see if Iowa can somehow break some tendencies with personnel when it comes to running backs. When Mitchell is in the game, it's all but assured that the Hawkeyes will be going to the air. How do they counter some of the tendencies to keep the defense on their toes? Or will it be the Iowa way, you know it's coming but can you stop it? 

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