Football position breakdown: Running back

By Dalton Ray–

We’re heading into the second week of our position breakdown after looking at the quarterbacks last week. Up next is the running backs.

For the last two seasons, Lamar Jackson has led U of L in rushing yards. With the graduation of the program’s ninth all-time leader rusher Brandon Radcliff and transfer of LJ Scott, the Cardinals have question marks at the position.

The lack of certainty in the back field and new-look offensive line may lead to early bumps in the road for Louisville. Returning backs only account for 562 yards of Louisville’s 3,148 total rushing yards of 2016.

Jeremy Smith, senior

2016 stats: 387 rushing yards on 57 attempts (6.7 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns

Smith will be the leading back in Bobby Petrino’s offense in his third and final season at U of L. With just over 650 career rushing yards, he can easily eclipse that mark this season.

A consistent runner, Smith runs with a steady pace and stride. The 6-foot-2, 225 lbs. senior isn’t the best receiving back, which prevents him from being the lone back in the system.

Smith’s strength is effortless style of running, allowing him to cut through the second and third level of the defense without a major change of gears. His large frame makes it difficult for secondary defenders to bring him down with arm tackles.

Smith excels in the red zone because of his great combination of size and short-area speed.

Malik Williams, senior

2016 stats: 147 rushing yards on 19 attempts (7.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown

Like Jeremy Smith, Williams is a junior college transfer from California. Williams didn’t play in the spring game due to an injury, which is alarming due to his previous injury that caused him to miss time during the 2015 season.

Williams is a tall runner, 6-foot-3, and ran for 525 rushing yards with five touchdowns in his injury-shorten 2015 season. He made the transition from wide receiver to running back while at Allan Hancock College.

With a former receiving background, Williams can be used in multiple ways in Petrino’s offense if he can stay healthy. The senior is a smooth and lean runner that can pull away from defenders in space.

Williams is the wildcard of the group that can potentially be a under-the-radar weapon for the Cardinals or just a casual back.

Dae Williams, redshirt freshman

2016 stats: N/A

Expected to be the breakout offensive player this year, Williams tore his ACL in the spring. While nagging injuries to Smith and Malik Williams limited Louisville’s senior backs this spring, the redshirt freshman earned most of the first team reps in that time frame.

With momentum building for Williams, he tore his ACL during a practice in early April. His 2017 season is in jeopardy, but his parents say he may hit the field in October — six months after his injury.

From Sapulpa, Oklahoma, Williams originally committed to SMU before switching to U of L. The Cardinal’s biggest back, 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs., Williams is a downhill runner. He is athletic for a big back and ran for over 2,700 yards in his final two years of high school. Expect Williams to be a situational back if he is able to return this season.

Trey Smith, redshirt sophomore

2016 stats: 28 rushing yards on 11 attempts (2.5 yards per carry)

Son of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leading receiver Jimmy Smith, Trey is still waiting on his chance as a Cardinal — and it may come this season. With an injury-depleted back field this spring, Smith ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in the spring game.

Smith has a great frame, 6-foot and 225 lbs., and is a solid runner. He isn’t a flashy or an explosive player, but Smith is efficient and steady. The Mississippi native has high football IQ, knowing when to take yards and follow his blockers.

Smith can see the field this season with the injuries surrounding players ahead of him.

Colin Wilson, freshman:

2016 high school stats: 1,466 rushing yards on 192 attempts (7.6 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns

The lone back in this recruiting class, Wilson finished his high school career with 4,900 total yards with 3,900 coming on the ground. An all-around back, Wilson has ideal size for a college tailback at 6-foot, 210 lbs.

The highest rated back Petrino has hauled in since Michael Bush, Wilson comes from Green Cove Springs, Florida. A straight-line runner, Wilson isn’t much of a agile back, but makes up for it with his downhill lean while running.

Wilson is a well-balance runner that showed enough vision and speed at the high school level to receive scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida and many more.

Wilson may not see much playing time with four players ahead of him that have experience in the system.

Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal

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