When senior running back Ladarius Perkins stepped off the field for the last time at the end of his senior season, a lot of carries, yards, touchdowns, and a ton of experience went with him. He had a great career, from backing up Vick Ballard to becoming the full time starter.
For the better part of the past 4 years, State knew exactly what they had at the running back position. Is that still the case you might ask? Ehhh... sort of. While there is a lot of inexperience, there is a well of talent and some potential superstars in this stable of ball carriers.
Leading the pack is a junior running back who has served as Perkins' backup the past 2 years. Next in line, in no order, is a senior who has been plagued by injures his whole career and a big sophomore who showed some flashes as a freshman. Last but not least is a speedster that switched over from receiver, and a highly recruited incoming freshman who was crowned Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi.
Let's begin with the guy who is most likely to earn the starting job: Josh Robinson. The kid wasn't nicknamed bowling ball for no reason. His short, stocky frame that stays low to the ground as he carries the football makes him one pesky player to tackle. He doesn't go down easy at all, and the numbers bear that out.
Robinson is averaging an impressive 6 yards per carry for his career. He tallied 459 rushing yards as the backup in 2013, although he did earn two starts. He showcased his speed on a 51 yard td run against the Aggies that tied it up early in the ballgame. He broke the 100 yard barrier in a career best game at Arkansas to help lead the team to an overtime victory.
Performances like that and high expectations for the upcoming season helped land him on the Doak Walker award watch list, which goes to the nation's top running back.
Robinson has been on the field against SEC competition and had a taste of success. It remains to be seen, however, how he will handle the wear and tear of being the starter for an entire season. The good news is he has the size to do it, and he shouldn't have too much of a workload. This is definitely not going to be a one man show.
Helping Robinson out will be backups Nick Griffin and Ashton Shumpert.
Griffin, a senior, has spent a large portion of his career watching from the sidelines with injuries. Even the times he has gotten on the field, it's very unlikely that he has been 100 percent. Rumor has it that he is healthy once again. He did well in the spring, and his carries should increase a good bit this season.
If Griffin is finally healthy, that will be huge for the depth of this group. There was a lot of hype surrounding him before his knee injuries. Hopefully his talent can finally be showcased for an entire season and he can stay injury free. His personality makes him a fan favorite, and I know everyone is hoping to see him do well.
Ashton Shumpert is a guy that could easily be the starter by the end of the season. This 220 pound bruiser from Fulton, MS was a 4 star prospect and the Gatorade player of the year as a high school senior.
In his first year at State, it was easy to see what all the talk was about. He tried to run over every defender that came his way, and many times he succeeded. He came up just shy of 100 yards in his college debut against Alcorn State. Only one other freshman in the country rushed for 90+ yards and 2 touchdowns in their debut in 2013.
Shumpert sure does love to be physical. He will need to learn to avoid some of that contact if he's going to last long against SEC competition. If an extra two yards are needed for a first down, by all means, he should go for it.
But in some situations, especially in this league, it is best to go out of bounds and live to fight another play. As I'm sure this coaching staff will tell him... be physical but don't necessarily LOOK for contact. With that being said, who doesn't love watching a guy that isn't afraid to get hit? If he can play smart and stay healthy, he will absolutely be a force to be reckoned with.
Next in line is Brandon Holloway. He's the wildcard out of the bunch. After switching from receiver to running back, we will have to wait it out and see just how much playing time he will get and where. He is probably the fastest player on the team, but he doesn't have the size to be an every down back. They will do everything they can to make sure he sees the field in some way. Don't be surprised if he still lines up some in the slot.
Rounding out the running backs is incoming freshman Aeris Williams. He, just like Shumpert, was also a 4 star prospect. Named Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi, Williams put up an eye popping 2,209 yards and 30 TD's as a senior. He already has the breakaway speed needed for the SEC and should keep adding weight as he goes through the offseason program.
The big question is will he redshirt or will he play? It would be great if he could sit out a year and learn behind the four older guys. On the other hand, it might be best to get him some game experience so he could compete for the starting job in 2015. In the end, he may just be too talented to keep off the field.
Given Mississippi State's history of running backs and especially their run of success in the last decade, you just know one of these players is going to be great. From Jerious Norwood to Anthony Dixon to Vick Ballard to Ladarius Perkins, all have reached the National Football League. The question is, who will be next?