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Are We Better or Worse: The 2015 Notre Dame Running Backs

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Great expectations? A truly breakout season ahead?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It's another annual off-season series starting up for your discussion needs. Today we're going to talk about the Irish running backs.

Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).

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2014 Running Backs (Prediction from 5-14-14)

Experience- 6.6

Depth- 3.6

Versatility- 8.1

Talent- 8.0

Productivity- 8.2

Here's a snippet from my talk about the tailbacks heading into last year:

I'm worried about the depth. Sure, you can transition Carlisle back to running back if need be but there isn't much comfort level with the amount of bodies. It's not like it'll take a couple backs to get dinged up for Carlisle to move, either. If one running back gets hurt that likely means Amir is going to the backfield. I can understand wanting to open up carries for your young backs in Folston and Bryant but a legit fourth option would be nice.

Turns out, a fourth option wasn't needed as all of the running backs were able to maintain quality health throughout the season and Carlisle was never moved back to running back at any point.

One of the talking points last off-season was getting the ball into the hands of the running backs more in the passing game. If you recall, the Irish were coming off a season of just 25 receptions, 150 yards, and 0 touchdowns from the backfield following 2013. I thought they had the chance to triple that output but it didn't really happen. Receptions went up slightly to 32, yardage did more than double to 316, but just 1 touchdown was scored.

2015 Running Backs

PLAYER YEAR STATS
Tarean Folston Jr 263 attempts, 1,359 yds, 9 TD
Greg Bryant RS So 57 attempts, 303 yds, 3 TD
Dexter Williams Fr N/A
Josh Adams Fr N/A

Experience- 6.9

Depth- 6.1

Versatility- 7.0

Talent- 8.2

Productivity- 7.8

This fall's group feels a little more experienced even without a rising senior in the group. The career carries tell the same story as the Irish came into 2014 with 269 and will head into 2015 with 320, thanks largely to Folston getting a full year's worth of No. 1 tailback attention.

I'd like to boost the experience higher but what's holding me back is that there really isn't a tested-in-a-big-game second option or a player who has shown he's worthy of No. 1 reps yet. That might be Greg Bryant's expected timeline this year but it hasn't been proven.

Thanks to the addition of a couple freshmen the depth gets a big boost. I consider us fortunate that the whole "Let's not recruit a running back, whatever we can just move Amir Carlisle" scenario never needed to take place last year.

I seemed to have severely over-estimated the running backs' versatility last year. I find it one of the strangest things about the past couple seasons just how few touches the running backs get in the passing game in a spread offense that isn't exactly running the ball all over the place.

This is a talented bunch although not outrageously so at this point. Especially with the top two guys there seems to be some room for growth and improvement but I'd be surprised if either were so good that they were in the conversation for one of the best tailbacks in the country. I'll add that it's been a while since we've talked about Dexter Williams and he feels a little underrated from a talent point of view. I wouldn't be surprised if, due to an injury somewhere, he stepped up and had a freshman season akin to Folston in 2013.

Overall production from last year was another thing I overshot. A total of 1,456 yards and 13 touchdowns is merely okay and nothing special, especially from 3 running backs. With Zaire at quarterback shouldn't the stats go way up for the running backs in 2015?

Maybe. If we're talking about an offense that is efficient and productive enough to run the ball over 60% of the time then sure the backs are going to get theirs and likely go way over 1,500 yards as a group. However, even with an increase in running the ball a lot of those extra carries are likely to come from Zaire who has the ability to rush 4 or 5 more times per game than Golson in 2014. If Zaire is averaging something like 12 carries per game how many touches is that really going to leave the other guys?

What about C.J. Prosise? Ah, yes he's the x-factor isn't he? I didn't include him (kind of weird to think he's only bringing 10 career carries to the mix) just because I don't know how to define his role right now. Does he average around 3 carries per game? That was his limit in the bowl game, and unless he's truly going to play running back and challenge for starters minutes there, I have a hard time thinking he'll be averaging close to a carry per quarter or more. But with Prosise in the mix, and he will be to some degree, he gives the numbers at running back a nice boost across the board.