Oregon is a running back powerhouse. Many great Ducks have been in contention for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best RB over the years, and some were even considered as Heisman candidates. Yet the Ducks have had issues at running back consistently for the last decade.
Lache Seastrunk was a highly-touted five-star running back who arrived on campus in 2010 and sat at fifth on the depth chart. After transferring to Baylor, Seastrunk had a fantastic career as a starter in a very similar offense to the one being utilized in Eugene at the time. The Ducks were so good at running back that a five-star who would be a Heisman candidate at another school was not good enough to see the field at Autzen.
Byron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. In 2014 he lost the starting running back job and had 1,003 yards receiving. A 1,000-yard rusher losing his role as a starter is nearly unheard of in college football.
Darrian Felix was arguably the fastest player on the team in 2019, and yet he had only 78 career rushes through three seasons as a Duck before transferring to South Florida before the season had ended. How can a player who should have been a home-run hitter have played so infrequently for three years?
The problem for all three of these players was the same. Despite their undeniable talent, the Ducks were simply too deep at running back for them to carry the ball.
Seastrunk had Heisman finalist LaMichael James and co-starter Kenjon Barner, as well as career third man Kenny Bassett eating up all the carries on offense. His path to playing time was blocked by two all-time great Duck running backs.
Marshall was a good starter, but Thomas Tyner was bigger and faster, and Oregon’s all-time leading rusher Royce Freeman came in and took over the starting job by mid-season. Once again, there simply weren’t enough carries for all of the players.
Felix perhaps didn’t have the star power in front of him that Seastrunk and Marshall did, but he wasn’t a great fit in the Oregon offense under Mario Cristobal and Marcus Arroyo. CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio all brought different things to the table, and all were too good to play less frequently than Felix.
The Ducks have seemingly had endless numbers of great ball carriers over the years, and that is the problem. The Ducks consistently struggle to find enough carries to highlight all of these fantastic running backs. Tony Brooks-James had a solid 2016 after taking over starting duties from an injured Freeman, rushing for 771 yards and 9 touchdowns, only to find himself as the third running back on the depth chart the following season.
The 2020 season will see the same issue for the Ducks. Sean Dollars and Jayvaun Wilson will struggle to see carries over the next two seasons over the aforementioned Verdell, Dye and Habibi-Likio despite their talent. Trey Benson, despite being referred to as “the perfect running back” for the Duck offense, will have to contend with the same three running backs, as well as second-year players Dollars and Wilson.
Next season Oregon already has Seven McGee, a four-star player who may earn a fifth, committed at running back. Will McGee be able to take carries from a four-year starter in Verdell or Dye? Probably not. Will he be able to take carries from Dollars, Wilson, Benson or any of the other running backs at that point? It is certainly possible, but with so many highly-touted backs, you have to wonder who the odd-man-out will be.
The Ducks had an embarrassment of riches at running back for seemingly the entire 2010s, and that trend looks ready to continue well into the 2020s.
Top Photo Credit: Gary Breedlove
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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