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Gopher Football Spring Scout: Running Backs

After a season that put Rodney Smith firmly on the map as one of the best Big Ten running backs, Minnesota's got a great duo of backs with Shannon Brooks now full healthy heading into the spring.

GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2018 and their top targets.

First up, was the quarterbacks.

Now, let's look at the running backs. 

What the Gophers have on roster

After Shannon Brooks went down in fall camp with a broken bone in his foot, we knew that Rodney Smith was going to have to carry more of the load early on, but Smith rook off and never looked back en route to an All Big-Ten season with 1158 rushing yards (4.8 ypc) and 16 rushing scores behind a below average run blocking offensive line. Frankly, Smith was snubbed from first-time all Big-Ten status because he is playing for Minnesota, but I don't believe there was another running back in the Big Ten that was able to accomplish more with less help than Smith, and that's what makes him so impressive. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a very light workload for Smith this spring as coach Fleck and staff have to know how important the running game will be with a brand new quarterback coming in.

Minnesota's big play threat on offense in Shannon Brooks battled injuries in his 2016 campaign missing three games, but he still averaged over 13 carries a game in games in was active in, and ran for 4.7 ypc with five rushing scores on the season. There could absolutely be an argument that Brooks has as much, if not more running back talent than Smith, but does it honestly matter? I don't think so. Both are going to get double digit carries every game that they're healthy, and that'll be able to help both hopefully healthy throughout an entire 2017 season.

Kobe McCrary served as a large contributor on special teams throughout his first season at Minnesota, but what folks will remember was his 17 carry performance against Indiana State where he rushed for 176 yards and two rushing scores as well. I don't foresee McCrary's role changing too much as he'll serve has the primary back-up to Brooks and Smith and be a large contributor on special teams. If Brooks or Smith do get dinged up ahead of him, McCrary will likely step into a larger role.

It's going to be a make or break season for redshirt sophomore Jonathan Femi-Cole. He redshirted in 2015 and didn't see any game action as a redshirt freshman last season. Femi-Cole is somewhat buried on the depth chart with quality guys ahead of him, but it's time to start making waves for the Canadian product on offense or special temas. 

Projected 2017 spring depth chart

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

What the Gophers want in 2018

Sources have told GopherIllustrated to expect Minnesota to target two running backs in their 2018 class with Kobe McCrary graduating and the real possibility that Rodney Smith will test the NFL waters. 

Possible targets

Georgia running back Nolan Edmonds has early offers from Minnesota, Illinois, California, Purdue and Syracuse and he could be visiting Minnesota this upcoming weekend. Edmonds has family up in the Twin Cities region with grand parents and cousins near by, so that'll bode well for Minnesota's chances. If Edmonds makes up it this weekend, he's absolutely on commitment watch.

Raleigh (N.C.) running back Trent Pennix grabbed an early offer from Minnesota, and the Gophers have subsequently grabbed his attention because of it. The North Carolina running back recently said that, "Minnesota is recruiting me hardest and that means so much to me because they make me feel like I will be a huge part of their football program,". Pennix has told GI recently that he's going to try and get up to Minnesota in the next month or so, and if that happens, things will be really trending in the right direction for Minnesota.

One of the first 2018 offers out to running backs went to St. Louis (Mo.) Lutheran North's Donovan Marshall, who holds offers now from Iowa State, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Yale among many others. Marshall and a few of his teammates will be visiting Minnesota during their spring break (sometime between March 18-25), and looking at his offer sheet, you'd have to think Minnesota is the favorite here.

It's not every day you see Minnesota recruiting Syracuse, but here we are with running back Stevie Scott, who has offers from Syracuse, Duke, Minnesota, Boston College and Pittsburgh among others. The Gophers have been pushing hard for Scott to get on campus here this spring, but nothing is set in stone yet. Scott will have a lot of options much closer to home, so Minnesota's going to have to work on getting him on a visit.

Rome (Ga.) running back Jalynn Sykes has a host of offers including Minnesota, and the Gophers staff is doing what they can to stand out among a plethora of SEC offers that are closer to home. Sykes has told GopherIllustrated that he's "planning on" visiting Minnesota "pretty soon", so that'll go a long way toward getting Sykes attention. 

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