Gopher Football Post-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 fall camp.

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. 

Smith most importantly stayed healthy all spring, which is key as he's one a handful of players Minnesota can't afford to lose. Smith's burst and patience were seen consistently all spring as he immersed himself into a new system and looks to be primed for another big season this fall.

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. 

You saw Brooks this spring back with a spring in his step and looked as confident and explosive as I've ever seen him. That should make Gopher fans very excited. Brooks his holes with a lot of confidence and looks to be back to his 2015 form. An argument could be make that Brooks could have been pressing a bit last year after Smith took a hold of more carries during his injury, but Brooks looked as confident in his reads as I've seen. Very optimistic about him this fall.

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. We didn't really see a ton of McCrary this spring as Minnesota worked in a lot of Brooks and Smith, but McCrary is there waiting in the wings if something were to happen.

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 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 teams. 

Fans got to see some of that in the Gophers spring game.

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. 

They've already got one running back committed in Georgia's Nolan Edmonds and sources believe he's going to be a true three down back during his time at Minnesota. Edmonds ran an eletronic 4.53 this spring at 5'11" 205 lbs, so you know the speed is there to go with a lot of patience. Look for Minnesota to "draft" a second running back to pair with Edmonds.

Possible targets

Minnesota's attempting to get into the race for North Carolina stud running back Jahmir Smith after extending an offer last weekend, and sources have stated that Smith has been receptive to Minnesota thus fall. That being said, it's going to be tough to get Smith out of the Carolina's, plus if Stanford comes calling, the Gophers will have a lot of work to do.


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. 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.

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