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Playing catch-up with running backs
Throughout the 2017 recruiting cycle, one of the biggest questions about Ohio State’s recruiting class — which currently holds a tenuous lead over Alabama as the nation’s top-ranked group — is whether the Buckeyes are able to find a complementary running back to add alongside Texas 4-star J.K. Dobbins.
For most of the last year, the primary option for Ohio State has been Mississippi’s Cam Akers, a 5-star prospect out of Clinton who visited Columbus three separate times between summer 2015 and summer 2016, But Akers — a former Alabama commitment — has only been on campus one time since Dobbins committed to Ohio State in March.
Over the last few months, though, what appeared to be a recruitment that was being led by Ohio State has become increasingly muddled. Ole Miss, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and yes, even ‘Bama again, have worked the conversation back toward the middle. And as of now, things appear to be pretty wide open for the country’s second-ranked running back. One thing that Akers has said won’t impact his decision is whether a school has other running backs already committed, and that’s a good thing since every team he’s interest in — except for Ole Miss — does.
Take a look the players already committed, and their national ranking at the position, to the schools Akers is reportedly considering:
- Alabama: Najee Harris (No. 1), Brian Robinson (No. 11)
- Auburn: Alaric Williams (No. 5 Athlete), Devan Barrett (No. 16), Octavius Matthews (No. 2 JUCO athlete)
- Florida State: Zaquandre White (No. 8), Khalan Laborn (No. 2 All-Purpose Back)
- Georgia: D’Andre Swift (No. 4), Toneil Carter (No. 7)
- LSU: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (No. 25)
- Michigan: AJ Dillon (No. 19 ATH), O’Maury Samuels (No. 21), Kurt Taylor (No. 51)
- Ohio State: J.K. Dobbins (No. 1 APB)
- Ole Miss:
- Tennessee: Ty Chandler (No.6), Trey Coleman (No. 42 ATH), CJ Cotman (No. 39 cornerback)
While a handful of those teams look to have a more favorable situation than Ohio State, a number of potential changes remain that could throw the entire thing out of whack.
Last week, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh visited Harris at Antioch High School in California and, though the nation’s No. 1 prospect has been solidly committed to Alabama for almost 18 months, there is a quiet optimism coming out of Ann Arbor that the Wolverines could sway him.
But that would certainly mean removing a player such as Kurt Taylor from the Wolverines’ class. To muddy those waters even more, reports emerged Thursday that Akers has informed the Michigan staff he intends to take a visit there in November.
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) October 20, 2016
Akers has long insisted that he’ll visit Ohio State officially but to this point there has been no plan cemented for that to occur. This weekend he will be in Alabama for his first official; when will he get to Columbus?
If Michigan really is pushing for Harris, could a potential flip from ‘Bama by Harris turn Akers back to ‘Bama? Would Ohio State, knowing that a potential Akers commitment could push Dobbins to take his own visits, try to maintain a quiet pursuit rather than a public and outward approach?
Georgia would — at least according to conversations with southern sources over the summer — be willing to move on from Carter if Akers wanted in. LSU is selling the idea that he could be the next Leonard Fournette; Florida State is almost certainly going to lose Dalvin Cook after this season and has the allure of almost guaranteed early playing time to offer.
Then there’s Ole Miss, the home-state school that almost certainly wants and needs Akers the most. Will the Rebels avoid serious NCAA penalties from their rash of infractions? For much of the last year, I’ve heard that Akers — privately — has been telling people he does not want to stay home for college. But there’s no doubt that the allure of being a hometown hero grows as signing day gets closer and the realities of college life encroaches.
The Buckeyes coaching staff has made it clear to Dobbins that they want him in their class and if they are unable to add Akers there will not be any collective wailing or gnashing of teeth. The Buckeyes are plenty happy with just Dobbins.
That said, when you examine Ohio State’s roster, the reasons for recruiting another tailback should be apparent.
|Mike Weber||Redshirt Freshman|
Samuel — hardly a “true” running back in the Ohio State offense — is likely NFL-bound after the 2016 season. Weber, if he follows the path of the players before him (which he appears to be doing) could very well be an early entry to the league after next season.
That would leave just Williams, McCall and Dobbins on the roster heading into 2018. McCall likely will transform into more of a hybrid player as he adds weight and earns more playing time, leaving two players on the roster to compete with as an every-down-type of tailback.
That should be attractive to Akers, certainly, and his relationship with Tony Alford has been good from the start. But when will he visit Ohio State again?
As of today, when — or if — remains up in the air.