2015 Season Position Projection: RB

Jan. 29 -- UCLA returns all but Jordon James in the backfield, and the Bruins could also add some talented freshmen to back up Paul Perkins...

***We initially ran this analysis, and this series of analyses, in December but, in revisiting it, think it's timely now, with National Signing Day just a week away.

2015 Running Backs Projection

RB Jordon James

Returning Starters
RB Paul Perkins
FB Nate Iese

Key Potential Contributors
RB Nate Starks
RB Craig Lee
RB Steven Manfro
FB Taylor Lagace
Variety of freshmen

A Look at 2015

UCLA’s running back situation went from one of the more unsettled on the team heading into 2014 to one of the most steady, and much of the credit goes to redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins. Perkins seized the starting role by the first game of the year and was UCLA’s most consistent offensive threat all year, averaging over 100 yards per game in the regular season.

With Perkins returning next year, UCLA should have its starting position locked up, and we’d imagine Perkins will be able to put together a season as good or better than 2014 with an improved offensive line in froth of him. While we wouldn’t expect him to take a leap in terms of his own ability — he doesn’t have much physical upside, so it would be incremental skill development that would raise his level of play — if he runs anything like how he ran this year, he should put up some more eye-opening numbers next season. The one thing with him is that he did seem to wear down toward the end of game, so probably packing on an extra five pounds for the beginning of the year and continuing to improve his conditioning will likely be a focus this offseason.

Starks showed flashes this season of being a potential starter down the road. At about 205 pounds now, putting on another 10 or so in the offseason could do wonders for him, and really give UCLA a power back with the ability to deliver hits to defenders. Starks might even fit the mold of a Kennedy Polamalu back better than Perkins, and that tandem, assuming good health, should be able to carry the majority of the load for UCLA next year.

Figuring out the third back will be interesting. UCLA should get Manfro back before the start of the season after he suffered an ACL tear at the beginning of the year. You would also hope that Lee, by his third year in the program, will be better able to impact the depth chart, since his speed is an asset that no one else in the running back depth chart possesses. There’s also the possibility that UCLA brings in an impact freshman — like, say, Sotonye Jamabo — and that would provide UCLA some much needed big play potential out of the backfield. Bolu Olorunfunmi could also come in and compete for the third spot. Myles Jack will also more than likely play his usual handful of snaps per game at running back. If UCLA lands Soso, he more than likely would be the third (or even second) back in the rotation, but if not, it's going to be a really open competition.

At fullback, we’d anticipate that Nate Iese will once again be the starter there, though we wouldn’t rule out a switch to defense, either full-time or part-time. In our estimation, Iese may be the best jumbo athlete on the team, and it’d make sense, if he’s not going to be a featured player on offense, to at the very least split his time between defense and offense. Iese probably only plays about 30 snaps per game on offense, so we can’t imagine it would put too many extra demands on him to play 20 or so snaps on defense as well. In any case, it’s probably easier than the starting outside linebacker filling in at running back for a handful of carries per game.

It should be a good unit, though the loss of Jordon James does take away some of the experienced depth and a solid safety net in the case of injury (even if he didn’t necessarily contribute a great deal this year). Developing a true third back, either from incoming freshmen or from the current depth chart, will be key, not only for giving UCLA a credible third option in 2015, but for preparing for the very real possibility that Perkins doesn’t stay in Westwood for his senior year.

Will the unit be improved? Probably.

Projected 2015 Depth Chart
RB: RS JR Paul Perkins, SO Nate Starks, RS SR Steven Manfro OR RS SO Craig Lee OR Freshmen
FB: RS JR Nate Iese, RS JR Taylor Lagace

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