Wisconsin has a plethora of positional questions heading into summer camp, what with a starting quarterback not being picked yet and an entirely new front seven taking the field against LSU in the first game. Fortunately, running back is one question the Badgers have answered perfectly. If you missed Gary Andersen handing out the study guide, the answer is Melvin Gordon (you get extra credit if you answered Corey Clement, too). In fact, even the NFL is high on these two, naming them one of the best backfield duos in the country.
|DEPTH CHART: Running backs|
|Melvin Gordon||RS JR||6-1||213||288||2,328||16||Kenosha, WI|
|Corey Clement||SO||5-11||217||67||547||7||Glassboro, NJ|
|Austin Ramesh||RS FR||6-1||247||N/A||N/A||N/A||Land O' Lakes, WI|
|Taiwan Deal||FR||6-0||216||N/A||N/A||N/A||Capitol Heights, MD|
|Caleb Kinlaw||FR||5-9||180||N/A||N/A||N/A||Goose Creek, SC|
Most to prove
You look at Gordon's stats and it's pretty clear that he doesn't have much left to prove at the college level. The fact that he thought about declaring for the NFL Draft after last year is evidence of his accomplishments and his appearance on the Doak Walker Award and early Heisman Trophy watch lists validates those thoughts. So, while Gordon has a lot to prove, he does not have the most to prove. Clement has the most to prove and I don't really think it's close. Last season, Clement had a great debut. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry for goodness sake! There is one major caveat to consider when poring over Clement's stats: against whom did he accrue them?
Clement was the third-string running back last year behind the aforementioned Gordon and senior starter (and current New England Patriot) James White. Needless to say, Clement was not seeing the ball much before the fourth quarter of most games. If you look at his game log, there are some impressive yardage totals: 101, 149, 109, 83. Unfortunately, these came against some not so impressive teams: UMass, Tennessee Tech, Indiana and Purdue. In Wisconsin's most important games last year, Clement either didn't record a carry (Ohio State, Iowa, BYU, Minnesota and Penn State) or recorded very few (seven total against Northwestern, Arizona State and South Carolina).
While Clement shouldn't have to carry the load this year (*knocks on every piece of wood in Chicago*) due to Gordon's presence in the backfield, Gordon will probably declare for the NFL after this season and then Clement will be looking at two years as the bell cow/workhorse (depending on your preferred prized farm animal comparison) for the Badgers. It's all well and good to run over the Purdues and the Tennessee Techs of the college football world. In fact, I encourage it. But to be the featured back at a place like Wisconsin, you also have to run over the Iowas and Nebraskas. These last few years, the Badgers have been able to feature two backs prominently and if Clement can build on the success he had his freshman year, he'll also be able to quell a lot of Badgers fans' fears about Gordon leaving early. In fact, there might not be any dropoff at all.
Melvin Gordon says he believes Corey Clement is one of the best RBs in the country.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 29, 2014
A bonus "most to prove" goes to running backs coach Thomas Brown. In his first year at the helm of Wisconsin's most prominent position group (sorry o-line), Brown must prove that his limited coaching experience won't be a hindrance to keeping Wisconsin's running game operating at a high level. There are many positive signs coming out of spring ball and Big Ten media days, with players saying the right things about how well Brown is fitting in. But the most important thing to note is that Gordon is on board with Brown.
I listed Austin Ramesh with the running backs, but the 247-pound battering ram is also in line to play some fullback this season since Derek Watt has moved to the Swiss Army Knife position. If you read Bill Connelly's excellent preview of Wisconsin, and if you haven't... please go do that. I'll wait.
Now that we're all caught up and on the same page, you'll remember that Wisconsin struggled to get points in the red zone last year. That's weird for a team that had such stellar rushing statistics, right? While some of the blame has to fall to the offensive line, having a massive back like Ramesh either blocking for Gordon or carrying the ball himself and coming in like Miley Cyrus will certainly help lessen the chance that the Badgers leave the red zone with less than six points. His career rushing totals at Northland Pines High School were 5,939 yards (good for third in state history) and 60 rushing touchdowns, while averaging over nine yards per carry. Ramesh won't be getting many carries, but he has the opportunity to make a big difference in the Wisconsin running game this year. Bookmark this page, but only if I'm right at the end of the season.
Rest of position group
The last two members of the running back group are true freshmen. One of them is going to have to step up and be the third back for the Badgers. If history is any indication, and it often is, the third back for Wisconsin will get more work than most third running backs in the country. Gordon mentioned Taiwan Deal during media days, noting that Deal was "a hard worker" but that it is tough to gauge a running back's skill until "they put the pads on." Both Deal and fellow true freshman Caleb Kinlaw have a chance to grab carries right off the bat. Deal is bigger, but Kinlaw is faster (having run track all four years of his high school career) and you can't teach that Ess Eee See speed. I see Deal winning the job, but if Kinlaw impresses and is able to catch the ball out of the backfield well, he would be a nice change-of-pace/scat back type of player in the mold of a younger James White.
Did you know?
Caleb Kinlaw comes from a long line of NFL-caliber players. His uncle is Courtney Brown (Penn State, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos) and his cousins are Joe Hamilton (Georgia Tech, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts) and Pierson Priouleau (Virginia Tech, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints). His brother, Rodney, also starred at Penn State from 2003-2007.