Utah is led by one of the best running backs in the nation in senior Devontae Booker. Booker shot on to the scene last season and was named first-team All-Pac-12. After getting limited carries through Utah's three nonconference games, Booker rushed for over 100 yards in each of Utah's first five Pac-12 games. He finished the season with 1,512 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, and he caught 43 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Behind Booker, the likely No. 2 back is JUCO-transfer Joseph Williams. Williams is similar to Booker in that he is a bigger back with good speed. He should be able to come in and provide Utah with strong running and allow Booker to get some rest. 2013's leading rusher Bubba Poole could also be an option at running back if need be (he is seeing more time at slot receiver lately). Sophomore Monte Seabrook showed off his speed during spring. He could act as a nice change of pace runner compared to the bigger Booker and Williams. Redshirt freshman walk-on Tani Leha'uli showed flashes of potential in spring as well and is a solid depth guy.
Booker has stated he wants to top 2,000 yards rushing this season, and the #BookerforHeisman campaign has started for the 2015 college football season. Booker is being named to a lot of preseason lists, including some All-American lists.
Booker showcased speed, power, and vision last season. Booker has the speed to outrun defenders in the open field, break arm tackles, and does a great job of finding the hole and hitting it hard. Booker made defenders pay for trying to arm tackle him. In an interview, he told me he tries to model himself after NFL running backs Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Adrian Peterson. He is the perfect running back for Utah's power running spread offense. He also showcased soft hands, gaining over 100 receiving yards in Utah's game against Oregon last season. He finished third on the team in receptions (42) and fifth in receiving yards (311). He also caught two touchdown passes.
While Booker proved to be very durable last season, leading the Pac-12 with 292 carries (261 came in conference play and the bowl game), Utah needs to have another back who can give Booker a breather in games, so he stays fresh for the fourth quarter. As Utah fans have seen the last few years, most of Utah's games come down to the wire, so having Booker at his best will be key to winning close games. Williams seems to possess enough skill that there will not be a significant drop off when he comes in for Booker. In his JUCO film*, Williams displays many of the skills that make Booker great. He is big enough at 205 pounds to break tackles, and he is shifty enough that defenders rarely get a clean hit on him. He also has very good speed for a back his size. Williams also showed he is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield on screen passes.
Utah can also utilize the smaller, quicker Seabrook as a change of pace back to Booker/Williams. Ideally, this role would have been played by Troy McCormick, but he is likely out for much or all of the season with a knee injury suffered in spring. Seabrook is a versatile athlete, possessing the skills to play defensive back, wide receiver, or running back. it seems, especially with McCormick and Dre'Vian Young both out with injuries, Seabrook has found a home at running back after switching between multiple positions in his freshman year at Utah. In spring, Seabrook made a few runs where it looked like he was going to lose yardage but utilized his speed to beat the defender to the edge and gain yards. His role will likely be limited, but his speed and athleticism warrant getting him a few carries a game.
Booker will get the headlines and take the majority of the carries, likely piling up yards and touchdowns as the season goes on. Williams is a guy who will hopefully be able to carry the ball roughly 10 times a game and get roughly 50 yards. Beyond those two, I would like to see Seabrook or Poole in the slot get a few carries on sweeps, tosses, or stretches to try to get outside and create big plays and help soften up the middle of the defense for the more power oriented running backs Booker and Williams. With a Heisman hopefully and solid depth behind him, running back looks to be the position of greatest strength for Utah in 2015.
Do you agree that running back is Utah's strongest position or do you think it is a different position?
*Film curtesy of Hudl