Michigan State football is looking for a clear No. 1 workhorse running back to take over, but who will it be when the season kicks off?
With LJ Scott departing for the NFL after an up-and-down Michigan State football career, the Spartans are looking for that clear starting running back to run the show.
There are plenty of options to take over as the No. 1 back, but who should it be?
The starter in the backfield won’t truly matter until the offensive line is re-tooled and more efficient. That was a major problem for the run game last year which is why no running back averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry — and Scott was averaging an ugly 3.3 yards per touch.
Connor Heyward would be the safe choice after leading the team in rushing with 529 yards and five touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry, but he didn’t flash the proper elusiveness to make him a workhorse back. He ran downhill more like a third-down and goal-line back which isn’t a bad thing — and he has incredible hands which could make him an all-purpose option.
But I’m not sold on him. He seemed to run into piles instead of around them and wasn’t all that dangerous in the open field, though he could run defenders over.
La’Darius Jefferson is another intriguing option. The former high school quarterback had 255 yards and two touchdowns on 3.3 yards per touch. He showed flashes of being a No. 1 back, but couldn’t consistently prove himself. He was still learning the position in 2018, so we can give him a pass for his poor YPC average.
Lastly, there’s Elijah Collins. The redshirt freshman came to Michigan State as a speedy back with size and he looked decent during the spring game, but it was such a small sample size. He’s had a decent spring, from all accounts, and he has the most to gain this fall. He’s an exciting option because he has size, speed and elusiveness.
If you’re looking for a dark-horse contender for starting running back, it would have to be Anthony Williams Jr., an early enrollee true freshman from Illinois. He looked great during the spring game and lethal in open space, both making catches out of the backfield and hitting open holes hard. He likely won’t start right away, but could earn more carries as the season progresses.
So who should win the starting job this fall? In my opinion, Jefferson or Collins should get the nod, but Heyward will likely sit at No. 1 when the first depth chart is released. I’d love to be proven wrong, but if Michigan State’s run game is going to succeed, it needs to go with speed (and elusiveness).