Gopher Football Summer Scout: Running Backs

With freshmen Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith coming off good seasons in 2015, the future looks very bright for the Gophers at running back.

GopherDigest publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2017 and their top targets.

First up, was the quarterbacks.

Now, let's look at the running backs. 

What the Gophers have on roster

If you're going to talk about Gopher running backs for the upcoming season, you have to start with sophomore Shannon Brooks. The Georgia native averaged almost six yards a carry (5.95 ypc) on 119 attempts and scored seven touchdowns, and when received more than 14 carries a game, Brooks averaged 125 yards on the ground and 1.25 rushing touchdowns. Shannon is one of the most physical runners I've seen in a long time as he loves to head into contact, and he's very good at excelling through the contact to gain extra yards. My expectations for Brooks on his upcoming sophomore year are very high. I expect Brooks to be the "bell cow" back for Minnesota and receive anywhere from 17-20 carries a game for all 13 games. No reason that Brooks shouldn't be a 1000 rusher for the Gophers this fall.

Not to be forgotten about, fellow Georgia sophomore Rodney Smith is also coming off a productive freshman season. Smith ended his 2015 campaign with 670 rushing yards at a 4.26 clip, and scored two rushing touchdowns. Where Rodney really excels is in the passing game and his vision. Within Jay Johnson's new offense, I can absolutely envision Smith on some middle screens of wheel routes out of the backfield as Smith has very good hands and make defenders miss in space. Smith also excels at reading his blockers and knowing where the hole is going to be, and not necessarily is right now. I think Smith will definitely still be in the rotation with Brooks this fall, but he may see seven to ten carries a game instead of the 12 he averaged last season. Smith is still going to be a large part of the Gopher offense and going to be a major factor in the passing game.

The star of the Gophers spring game was redshirt freshman James Johannesson who rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. Johannesson may be one of Minnesota's most improved players on offense after this past spring, as the physical talent has always been there, but the true adjustment has been the speed of the game. Going from Fargo football to Big Ten caliber players is going to be a bit of an adjustment for any player, and Johannesson received a bulk of the load this spring with his fellow teammates nursing various injuries. For James to take the next step, he just needs to keep playing. The more he's able to adjust to the speed of the game while improving his vision and lateral ability, the more of a threat for playing time he'll become.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Femi-Cole will be a power back for Minnesota when he eventually steps onto the field. The former Canadian star has to keep working on his durability and his pad level, while maintaining his physical prowess. 

Bulter Community College running back Kobe McCrary is going to be an interesting guy to watch this fall with the departure of former big back Rodrick Williams. McCrary was a productive runner while at Butler CC and he's a big guy at 6'1" 230 lbs. I could see a scenario where if Brooks, Smith and McCrary get snaps on the Gophers offense this fall, and McCrary will also provide depth on special teams as well. That being said, you don't bring in a JUCO running back to sit on the bench, so McCrary will get his shot this fall.

Projected 2016 depth chart

  1. Shannon Brooks
  2. Rodney Smith
  3. Kobe McCrary

What the Gophers want in 2017

Minnesota isn't going to be graduating a running back this year with four of the five running backs on scholarship being underclassmen. From the types of running backs that Gophers staff have offered this spring, it appears that Minnesota is going to be going for a bigger running back. One that could maintain potentially 20 carries a game. 

Possible targets

The Gophers were one of the first big-time schools to move on Florida running back Erin Collins as when Minnesota offered, Collins was told that he's "at the top of their board". Since the offers, Collins now has scholarships from Iowa, Indiana and Louisville among others, but Collins is potentially planning a visit to Minnesota this summer and the Gophers are among the schools standing out for Collins right now.

Minnesota is the only BCS offer right now for Locust Grove (Ga.) running back Caleb Huntley, and that could pay dividends down the line here. Huntley a big, bruising back at 5'11" 215 lbs, and he's a one cut, get north and south quickly, but that's what you need in the Big Ten. Huntley has told GopherDigest that Minnesota is currently leading for his services.

Another Georgia running back that the Gophers are sitting well for is Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett's Josh Samuel. Watching Samuel on film, it doesn't make sense at all why Minnesota is his only offer right now as Samuel is a elusive back that loves to get north and south in a hurry, and the Gophers won't be his only offer for long. Samuel could potentially be on campus this summer as well. 

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