We continue our statistical projections for the 2015 football season with a look at the Mississippi State running backs, one of the more solid positions in Dan Mullen's offense year in and year out.
A lot of beef and power take the field to try and replace the Bulldogs' leading rusher in 2014, Josh Robinson, who accounted for over 1200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
It's unlikely any of the players vying for the starting spot will make the same impact in the passing game as Robinson -- who hauled in 28 catches for 370 yards -- but collectively they will be pretty dangerous on the ground.
All the backs will be used in different roles, and the competition for the most reps may last well into the season. But one thing is for sure -- MSU spits out gamer after gamer at running back, so you need not worry.
I included Dak Prescott in these projections as well considering he ran the ball more than any player on the team last season.
Without further ado here's my best educated guess on how MSU's ground game will shake out:
Ashton Shumpert- He saw little of the field the first half of the 2014 season before emerging as the team's leading rusher in two of the final three games. Early word out of fall camp is Shumpert has jolted out to a lead over the other running backs. His blocking is there and that part of his game has always been solid. The most important advantage he holds over the other players at his position is experience. He played as a freshman instead of redshirting so this is his third year in the system. He'll get the first carry in game one, and his performance from there on will determine if and how long he holds on to the starting job. He has the necessary tools to be an every-down back, without a doubt.
2014 stats: 47 carries, 274 yards, 2 touchdowns
2015 projection: 172 carries, 828 yards, 6 touchdowns
Dontavian Lee- The biggest of all the running backs at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Lee has drawn comparisons to former Bulldog great Anthony Dixon. He showed flashes in the spring game of what he will bring to the table -- running physical and spinning out of tackles. Assuming he doesn't take over the starting role, Lee will be brought in on third and short situations and down near the goal line. He'll also be a solid option to use late in games to pound on worn down defenses.
2015 projection: 115 carries, 607 yards, 5 touchdowns
Aeris Williams- Like Lee, Aeris Williams redshirted last season and looks to get game action this year for the first time in a Bulldog uniform. He's another power back but also brings a little speed to the table and the ability to make defenders miss. As it sits today, I don't think Williams will get near as many carries as Lee but we'll know a lot more about reps after the first couple games. With that being said, he may have the highest ceiling of the whole bunch.
2015 projection: 62 carries, 318 yards, 2 touchdowns
Brandon Holloway- I'll bet you didn't know that Holloway was the team's leading rusher in 2014 behind Josh Robinson and Dak Prescott. He broke a few long runs (the Texas A&M game stands out) and Mullen even let him run up the middle on several occasions. Hopefully that doesn't happen too much this go-round and they get him the ball in space to utilize that breakaway speed. The only thing that will hurt Holloway is the amount of players at his position that will play meaningful snaps. That's why his role won't increase even though he has another year of experience. If anything his snaps may decrease.
2014 stats: 45 carries, 296 yards, 1 touchdown
2015 projection: 38 carries, 235 yards, 1 touchdown
When you talk about the MSU rushing attack you'd be remiss if you didn't mention the team's obvious weapon in Dak Prescott. After leading the team with 14 scores on the ground and racking up just shy of 1,000 yards, #15 may see his number of carries go down this season. The deepest group of wide receivers since Mullen arrived and a huge incentive to keep Dak healthy will lead to more throws from the pocket and less pounding the ball between the tackles.
Even so, he will still get his share of carries and be relied on to make plays with his feet -- especially on third downs and when the game is on the line. I just don't think it will be to quite the extent we are used to seeing. I see Dak rushing for 700 to 800 yards and 12 to 15 scores.
Assuming these projections come to fruition and State manages at least 170 yards on the ground from the rest of the team (like last year) that will equal out to around 2,950 rushing yards for the season. That's just shy of the mark they set in 2014 when they finished third in the SEC in rushing yards per game.
It's weird to think how MSU could have another exceptional year running the ball and not have a 1,000-yard back. It speaks volumes about the depth and potential of this unit. Somebody may very well step up and eclipse 1,000 yards, but if I'm putting money on it today, it ain't going to happen.