Sharp struggled to start last season, finding himself in a rotating running back battle with Jocques Crawford and Angus Quigley. But then the Iowa State game happened. Trailing the Cyclones 20-0 at the half, Kansas inserted the lightning-fast Sharp and he exploded with 186 total yards and two touchdowns, with most of those yards coming in the second half.
From then on, the job was his, and Sharp didn't disappoint. In conference play, Sharp was one of the Big 12's top running backs, finishing in the top three in rushing yards.
Now the senior returns after an excellent conditioning session that saw Sharp post 40-yard dash times in the high 4.2 range on some watches. He'll likely be an even bigger part of the offense this year, so don't be surprised if he punches over the 1,000-yard mark this year.
But Sharp can't do it alone, and questions remain about an inexperienced group behind him.
For now, the number two spot belongs to Toben Opurum, a talented freshman the Jayhawks were able to swipe away from bigger offers by giving him the chance to carry the ball, rather than block for ball carriers. He's big (235 pounds), and has excellent burst. He's also well-rounded — pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield are among his strengths.
Fighting with Opurum for the second spot is sophomore Rell Lewis. Lewis is a shifty back with speed, and emerged following a strong spring where he showed his potential by putting up 119 combined yards in the spring game.
Two newcomers bring up the final two spots, with JUCO Transfer Daniel Porter sitting in the fourth position. Coaches have raved about Porter's potential this fall, a potential he showed in junior college when he rushed for 823 yards and five touchdowns last season. Porter is a slashing runner who can take advantage of his speed in the open field.
And last, but not least, is Deshaun Sands, the son of Tuxedo Tony. While Sands's bloodlines are excellent, his game isn't too bad either. He's thick for his height, and hits the hole hard, a fact demonstrated when Sands wasn't tackled for loss on any of his eight carries in the Spring Game, while working with the second team. He is likely destined for a redshirt, but could see time as early as next year.
For this year, the Jayhawks need Sharp to continue his performance and for another running back, be it Opurum, Lewis or Porter, to emerge alongside him. Whichever running back can do that will likely have a great starting position for the running back race next season.
Key running backs:
- Jake Sharp, 5-10 195, senior
- Toben Opurum, 6-2 235, freshman
- Rell Lewis, 5-10 201, sophomore
- Daniel Porter, 5-11 200, junior
- Deshaun Sands, 5-9 182, freshman