Steve Robertson -

A look back at how the top running back prospect from each of the last ten classes has turned out.

Whenever a player is ranked number one at his position in any state across the map, high expectations are placed upon that individual. The running back position is an extremely popular position however. Most highly rated backs are expected to contribute immediately and explosively. Today we will take a blast into the past, and check out the state of Mississippi’s top running back prospect the past 10 years. Did they live up to their expectations, or switch positions in college, or possibly squan

1. Cordera Eason – Class of 2006: A big 6’1” 235 pound running back from Meridian High School, was a dominating player on the high school level. After being ranked as the number one player overall in the state of Mississippi, and becoming the 2005-06 Mississippi Football Player of the Year, Eason signed with the home-state Ole Miss Rebels. When Eason enrolled at Ole Miss in 2006, there was another running back that transferred to the Rebels by the name of BenJarvus Green-Ellis from Indiana that would be eligible to play that season. Little did everyone know that Green-Ellis would claim the starting running back spot the next two seasons (06 & 07) and dominate, leaving the former number one player in the state, Eason, in the shadows for the time being. After appearing in 21 games in a very limited role his first two seasons, Eason had only accumulated 10 carries for 21 yards. After the departure of Green-Ellis, Eason was primed for a bigger role in the 2008 season. He started 12 of the 13 games that season while gathering 647 yards on 140 carries (4.6 ypc) and 5 total touchdowns. After a career year his junior season, many expected Eason to take an even bigger step his senior season, but that did not happen however. He saw action in 12 games his senior season, but finished fourth on the team in rushing with only 133 yards on 36 carries (3.7 ypc) and 1 touchdown. After being signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent in the 2010 NFL draft, Eason’s professional career was short-lived. After being cut the same season by the Bengals, Eason signed with an IFL team in 2012 known as the Colorado Ice, and played the 2012-13 seasons there before returning to Ole Miss in 2014 to obtain his Bachelor’s Degree in social work. Eason is currently the Running Backs coach at Meridian High School in Mississippi.

2. Robert Elliott – Class of 2007: Standing 6’0” tall and weighing 192 pounds during his senior season at Okolona High School, Robert Elliott enjoyed a magnificent high school career that saw him rush for over 5,000 yards and earn first-team all-state following his senior season. He was ranked as the number 8 running back and number 55 player overall in the country before announcing his plans to keep his talents home the next 3-4 years at Mississippi State. After redshirting his first season, Elliott appeared in 4 games his redshirt freshman year, tallying 61 yards and 1 touchdown on 18 carries before suffering a knee injury in the 5th game of the season that cost him the rest of his redshirt freshman campaign. After returning from the knee injury in 2009, and having to learn new head coach Dan Mullen’s offensive system, Elliott played in a reserved role at running back, backing up an all-time Bulldog great, Anthony Dixon. After Dixon’s departure to the NFL, Elliot posted his best numbers at Mississippi State the following year recording 221 yards on 60 carries (3.7 ypc). Unfortunately, Elliott did not build on his career-best season. Instead, he fell behind on the depth chart his senior season and only appeared in 6 games at running back. Although Elliott did not exactly live up to the lofty expectations placed on him out of high school, he provided depth throughout his career and became an outstanding special teams player over time, as he served on nearly every coverage team.

3. Desmond Johnson – Class  of 2008:  A former three-star recruit from Yazoo City High School in Yazoo City, Mississippi, became the state’s number one running back prospect in 2008 after a spectacular junior season that saw him rush for 2,509 yards and 33 touchdowns, earn Yazoo County Player of the Year, and division 3-4A Player of the Year. His senior season was cut in half due to injury, but he still managed to rush for 1,003 yards and 15 touchdowns. Johnson signed with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, where he redshirted in 2009. After the redshirt season, Johnson only appeared in one ball game (season opener vs Alcorn State) his redshirt freshman season, rushing for 72 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries. Expecting to take on a bigger role his sophomore season, Johnson did not disappoint. While playing in 10 games (missed 3 due to a knee injury), Johnson showed everyone his versatility out of the backfield, posting 646 yards on 115 carries and 172 receiving yards on 23 catches accumulating 9 total touchdowns for the year. Desmond’s biggest performance of the year came in the biggest game of the year for the Golden Eagles, the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl game, where Johnson rushed for a career high 102 yards on only 10 carries (recorded longest run in Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl game history at 62 yards) and scored a touchdown. After finishing his season with a bang, Johnson rolled into his junior season with great confidence, but unfortunately suffered an injury in the first game of the season that cost him half the year. Still, in only six games, Johnson rushed for 424 yards on 75 touches and a pair of touchdowns. Entering his final season in Hattiesburg, Desmond could not seem to put it all together. After facing a coaching change that saw his former head coach Larry Fedora head to North Carolina, Desmond dealt with the switch to new head coach Ellis Johnson. After finishing 11-2 in Fedora’s final season, Desmond Johnson and the Golden Eagles failed to win a ball game in 2012. He still rushed for 519 yards on 98 carries (solid 5.3 ypc) and 3 touchdowns.

4. LaDarius Perkins – Class of 2009 : Perkins was a three-star recruit from Greenville, Mississippi where he garnered much attention for his track and football skills at St. Joseph High School. During his senior year, Perkins rushed for 1,915 yards and 34 total touchdowns, averaging an astounding 13.5 yards per carry. After the exceptional senior season, Perkins signed with Mississippi State in January of 2009 over offers from Auburn and BYU. After redshirting in 2009, Perkins wasted no time bursting onto the scene in 2010 as a redshirt freshman, attributing 566 rushing yards, 247 receiving yards, and 6 total touchdowns. After a dominating performance against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl where Perkins gained 319 all-purpose yards, he earned the SEC Freshman of the Week award. The following season Ladarius could not match his previous numbers, but mainly because of the role he was being used in, which was a change-of-pace back. His junior season is where things really propelled as he took over the starting running back position. Ladarius rushed for 1,024 yards on 205 carries, scoring at least one touchdown in the Bulldogs first 7 games (1 of only 2 players to do so in the country), while amassing 10 total touchdowns. He was named All-SEC Second-Team after his impressive junior campaign. During his senior season in 2013, Mississippi State began to let a guy named Dak Prescott (may have heard of him) take the grasp of the offense, which meant plenty of running opportunities for the true dual-threat quarterback. Perkins finished second on the team in rushing with 542 yards on 137 carries and 5 total touchdowns. Perkins finished second in school history with 4,253 total yards before being signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2014. After bouncing around from a few teams in the NFL, Perkins has finally found a content spot with the Edmonton Eskimos (Canadian Football League).

5. Matthew Wells – Class of 2010: Fresh off a great junior season that saw him rush for 1,352 yards and 21 touchdowns, Wells entered his senior year as the top running back in the state. Despite missing 4 games his senior season, Wells still managed to rush for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns, while adding 36 tackles and 4 interceptions on the defensive side of the ball. Even after the impressive rushing seasons he had at Lawrence County High School, schools still saw massive potential on the defensive side of the ball. Once his season ended and signing day approached, Wells decided to play his college football at Mississippi State over the rival school Ole Miss. Mississippi State had let it be known even though he was the state’s number one running back, safety would be his position in Starkville. After redshirting in 2010, Wells gained enough weight, while keeping his excellent speed to move from safety down to linebacker where he enjoyed an All-SEC Freshman type of season, finishing with 36 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 1 pass breakup. Looking to build upon the great freshman season, the speedy linebacker did just that with a stat-filling year, as the sophomore amassed 34 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 pass break-ups, and 1 forced fumble. Proving to be a consistent player, Wells earned a starting linebacker spot before his junior season began as he continued to turn his game up a notch every year. Following the improved sophomore season, Matthew became more productive with more time on the field as he recorded 50 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 sack. Entering his senior season, Wells was known as one of the best defenders on an extremely talented Bulldog defense. He once again started all 13 games for Mississippi State and recorded stellar stats with 45 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss (second on the team), and 4 sacks. After a solid career with the Bulldogs, Wells got drafted in the 2015 NFL draft by the New England Patriots in the 5th round, but was traded to the Chicago Bears shortly after. After going to the Bears, Wells bounced around from 3 teams in two years. Recently he signed with the Atlanta Falcons, but was waived during final cuts in September of this year. Well finished the 2016 season with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League.

6. Chief Brown – Class of 2011:  Brown ran for 2,173 yards and 28 touchdowns during his senior year at Winona High School, but even after the impressive stats on the offensive side of the ball, defense remained a possibility in college. Brown signed with the Ole Miss Rebels in 2011 where he continued his career in the secondary of the Rebel defense. After redshirting in 2011 and not making much of a contribution in 2012, Brown received the Jeff Hamm Memorial Award, rewarded to the most improved defensive player on team in the spring of 2013. During the 2013 season, Brown played in every game while recording three starts. Even though Brown's number of starts were not high, his presence on the field was still felt as he managed 38 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery at the safety position. The impressive year left lots of people wanting to see more of the talented safety, but about a month before the start of the 2014 season, Brown tore his Achilles which sidelined him for the first eight regular season games. After returning from the injury, Brown was used in a reserved role. He only recorded 2 tackles to finish the season. Entering his final season of eligibility in 2015, Brown was fully healthy and ready to have a similar season he had in 2013. He appeared in every game that season with two starts at free safety, and recorded 26 tackles, 6 passes defended, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery to wrap us his career at Ole Miss.

7. Xavier Grindle – Class of 2012:  After rushing for 2,103 yards and 20 total touchdowns his senior season at East Marion High School in 2012, Grindle became the number one running back in the state of Mississippi and a three-star recruit. Grindle eventually signed with Mississippi State where he redshirted his first season. After the redshirt season, Grindle transferred out of the program and headed to Pearl River Community College. He made a position switch also from running back to cornerback at Pearl River Community College. After two seasons at Pearl River, Grindle signed with North Texas as a cornerback the second time around in the recruiting process. Grindle made his way back into the talent pool this past year and signed on with West Georgia this past December.

8. Kailo Moore – Class of 2013: Moore was a four-star prospect and the number one running back in the state of Mississippi in 2013 according to scout. Moore rushed for 1,218 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year at West Bolivar High School before signing with the Ole Miss Rebels. During his first season in Oxford, Moore played in 12 games on special teams while seeing limited action at the running back position. He finished his freshman season with 91 total yards on 18 carries and 3 catches. In the spring of 2014, Moore made the switch from running back to cornerback. During the season, he appeared in every game on special teams and as a reserve cornerback. He collected 5 tackles and 1 fumble recovery. Last year, Moore remained a reserve cornerback while still appearing on special teams. Before the season, Moore was listed as the number 3 cornerback in the secondary rotation, but even with the injuries mounted for the Rebels this season, Moore only contributed 11 tackles.

9. Aeris Williams Class of 2014:  Coming from West Point High School, Williams rushed for 1,697 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior season as he became a four-star prospect and the number one running back in the state of Mississippi. He played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic game and also was a U.S. Army All-American Bowl nominee. After his senior year, Williams signed with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After enrolling, Williams redshirted his first season on campus. During the 2015 season, Williams appeared in limited action as he recorded 206 yards and 3 touchdowns on 40 carries. During the 2016 season, Williams rushed for 720 yards and four touchdowns on 137 carries. The former Mississippi Mr. Football has taken on a bigger role this year finding his rhythm later in the season. Saving his best performance for when it mattered most, Williams rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-20 blowout win over rival Ole Miss. Williams ended the 2016 season atop the Bulldog depth chart and enters the spring as the bell cow of the Bulldog running stable.

10. Malik Dear – Class of 2015: Dear was selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl following a senior season at Murrah High School that included 12 rushing touchdowns and 7 receiving touchdowns. After committing to Mississippi State in 2014, Dear held true to his word and signed with the Bulldogs in 2015. During his freshman season in 2015, Dear appeared in 11 contests with zero starts. He rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and caught 22 passes for 217 yards and another two scores. He injured his ankle during his freshman campaign that cost him two games. During the offseason, Dear has lined up in the slot most of his career, but can be seen toting the rock on occassion. Wide receiver is now his primary focus. As a sophomore, Dear rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in addition to his 23 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns.

11. Justin Connor – Class of 2016: Connor, hailing from North Panola High School, rushed for 1,640 yards and 14 touchdowns his senior season. After being ranked a 4-star recruit, Connor signed with the Ole Miss Rebels who planned to use him as a cornerback, but afterwards asked him to grayshirt his first season on campus. After wrestling a decision if he should stay at his dream school or transfer to a community college and play immediately, Connor decided to transfer to the popular East Mississippi Community College. Connor recorded 18 tackles at corner for the Lions. He also added that he plans to take the recruiting process slow this next go around instead of rushing into a commitment.

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