Three of the top four rushers from last season are either graduated (Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson) or splitting time between quarterback and runningback. The third leading rusher, former 4* star recruit David Williams, returns. But he is hardly returning as an anchor for the South Carolina Gamecocks offensive backfield. After promising freshman campaign where he averaged 5.7 YPC, his production fell way off in the 2015 season with only 3.5 YPC.
While David definitely flashed promise last season, his tape was so bad that new RB coach Bobby Bentley thought he was running with his eyes closed. Nevertheless, Williams will enter fall camp as the clear cut starter at runningback by default. With little to no experience behind him, what can we expect from the other Gamecock runningbacks?
A.J. Turner - The highest rated of the incoming true freshman at RB. A.J. stands 5’10 and 195 pounds and can give the Gamecocks a little bit of everything in the run game. He has the strength to run between the tackles, but also the speed to get around the edge and pick decent yardage. I would look for A.J. to make a big push for playing time right behind David Williams on the depth chart.
Mon Denson - The 5’10 215 wrecking ball redshirted last season as a true freshman. He was a three-star recruit out of high school in LaGrange, GA. Mon will more than likely see the majority of his snaps in goal-line situations and short-yardage spots.
CJ Freeman - Despite running for over 7 YPC and 2,000 yards in his senior year of high school, CJ was not more highly recruited. Scouts often pointed to his lack of “breakaway speed” to why he was more highly rated. While Mr. Freeman may not wow you with any of his physical tools right now, the coaching staff thinks he has very good potential and could develop into a very good running back in the SEC. Look for him to compete for playing time this year and contribute to the running back rotation.
Rico Dowdle - To me, Rico is the biggest wild card of this stable of backs. The coaching staff feels they got an absolute steal by signing him to the 2016 class. As a senior at A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC Rico ran for 2,545 yards and 51 touchdowns. He also threw for a “pedestrian” 1,434 and 11 scores. He also caught a touchdown for good measure. That’s a total of SIXTY-THREE scores in one season. No, that is not a typo. Most people won’t score that many times in their entire football careers, much less in one season. Rico clearly possesses game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands, something the Gamecocks very much lacked last season outside of Pharoh Cooper and, occasionally, Jerell Adams. If the coaching staff can find ways to get Rico in-space with the ball in his hands, I’d expect some electrifying plays from the true freshman this coming season.
While there is clearly lots of upside to this group of backs, it is still all unproven. The most battle-tested player here in David Williams and, while he has shown flashes, he has yet to be consistent. The best-case scenario here is David takes a hold on the running back spot and becomes the every down guy. This allows the others to rotate in situationally, in mop-up duty, or even redshirt if need be. Worst case scenario? Williams still can’t seem to figure it out and we have a revolving door of a freshman trying to provide production on the ground.