One Foot Down’s fall camp position previews roll on to the running backs. With a fifth-round NFL Draft pick out the door, the previous position coach taking the offensive coordinator job at Louisville and some big offseason injuries, the Irish will have plenty of questions to answer in the backfield this year.
With that in mind, I present the five running backs on the roster as flavors of one of my favorite candies: Sour Patch Kids.
*AUTHOR’S NOTE: writing about Sour Patch Kids while trying to eat healthy is a slippery slope. The same may be true for reading about Sour Patch Kids, so proceed with caution.*
Let’s get to it.
Logan Diggs — Cherry
If you’ve ever opened a bag of Sour Patch Kids, odds are the plurality were red children. It stands to reason that the most prevalent flavor in a typical bag equates to the (theoretical) No. 1 running back.
A healthy Diggs looked like the most natural back on the 2022 roster. His receiving numbers weren’t eyepopping (6 receptions, 51 yards, 1 TD), but his 230 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground were all better marks than Chris Tyree despite Tyree playing in four more games.
Then a torn labrum in this spring’s Blue Gold game sidelined Diggs, most likely keeping him out until October. At the risk of straining the Sour Patch Kids metaphor, the 2022 season is one of the rare bags where cherry is not the dominant flavor. But assuming Diggs gets back to and stays near 100% health for the back half of the season, he should become the number one option given his mix of smooth running ability and versatility as a pass catcher.
Chris Tyree & Audric Estime — Lemon & Lime
Some things just go together. Like thunder and lightning, peanut butter and jelly or … lemon and lime. They complement each other beautifully. Just ask fans of Sprite.
Tyree is the lighting to Estime’s thunder. The jelly to his peanut butter. The lemon to his lime.
Tyree is a constant threat to take kickoffs to the house, but don’t be surprised if the coaching staff elects to preserve him against lesser competition for fear of another injury to an already depleted position group. Tyree’s stature and injury history suggest he wouldn’t thrive as a workhorse back, but his receiving ability (24 receptions, 258 yards, 2 TDs in 2021) and speed in the open field make him a fantastic gadget option.
Estime, on the other hand, is built to dish out some hurt. He only recorded seven total carries last season, six of which came in a 55-0 shellacking of Georgia Tech. But Tyree’s physical disposition and two major injuries in the position group have Estime poised to be the number one ball carrier to begin the 2022 campaign.
Estime didn't quite get the air Diggs did last week on the hurdle attempt, but I still loved it. pic.twitter.com/rZMqk4L4bt— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) November 20, 2021
Diggs’ return will inevitably siphon carries from both Tyree and Estime. But Estime especially has the opportunity to compel the coaching staff to continue giving him reps if he can prove his worth in Diggs’ absence.
Jadarian Price — Blue Raspberry
Sadly for Price, he won’t be taking his first college snaps until the 2023 season barring an improbable recovery from a torn achilles suffered in June. That’s disappointing considering the splash the four-star early enrollee made this spring.
Despite the departure of Kyren Williams following the 2021 campaign, Notre Dame’s backfield was a perceived strength heading into 2022. That’s because they had three flavors of running back — the smooth Diggs, the speedy Tyree and the punishing Estime — already in the fold. The versatile Price came in as a new flavor (blue raspberry, if you will) and made a good situation even better.
Notre Dame fans got a peak at why coaches were so excited about Price when he recorded 126 total yards in the Blue-Gold game, including a 51-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass from fellow early enrollee Steve Angeli.
Diggs’ injury even opened the door for Price to possibly get some work as the No. 1 ball carrier, at least to begin the 2022 campaign. If his rehab goes better than expected, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse at Price in the postseason, though even that is a long shot.
Gi’Bran Payne — Mystery flavor
If you weren’t aware, back in 2021 Sour Patch Kids unveiled a mystery flavor as part of a promotional contest. (That flavor? Banana cream pie). And mystery seems appropriate for Payne considering how unpredictable his role will be this season.
Seemingly destined to redshirt this season, injuries to Diggs and Price have forced Payne into the No. 3 running back spot by default. The four-star product of LaSalle High School in Cincinnati was originally recruited by then-Indiana running backs coach Deland McCullough to play in Bloomington. Upon McCullough’s hiring at Notre Dame, Payne decommitted from the Hoosiers and pledged to the Irish this past April.
While fate has offered Payne an opportunity to play significantly as a freshman, he’ll have to stay healthy himself. He missed all but one game as a high school junior due to an ankle injury, and a reaggravation of that injury hampered him during his senior year (just 274 rushing yards on 66 carries for the season). But he flashed during his sophomore campaign, rushing 77 times for 790 yards and nine touchdowns and catching eight passes for 141 yards and three scores.
Which version of Payne Notre Dame gets could go a long way toward the Irish run game weathering the first half of the year without Diggs.