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Florida State’s 2019 running back preview

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It can’t be worse than last year, right?

NCAA Football: Florida State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at this time, I penned the running back preview for the 2018-19 Florida State team. This is what I wrote:

One position where FSU has no questions is running back.

Sophomore Cam Akers returns after breaking Dalvin Cook’s freshman rushing record. Jacques Patrick elected to skip the NFL Draft for one more year in Tallahassee. Meanwhile, young players like Khalan Laborn and Anthony Grant are eager to prove their worth as well.

In short, this could be the best running back group Florida State has boasted in the modern era.

Boy, was I wrong.

Florida State averaged 2.7 yards per rush last season. That mark ranked 129th in the nation, ahead of only San Jose State at 1.9.

The Seminoles also avered 87.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked 128th in the country. The two teams below FSU? Washington State (who runs an air-raid offense) and SJSU.

And do we even need to bring up the famous David Hale tweet at this point?

Was a lot of this brought on by FSU’s bad offensive line? Of course, but some of the blame resides with the running backs as well.

In short, FSU’s running game was terrible. However, there is hope for improvement in 2019.

The Departed Senior

Here’s what I wrote about Jacques Patrick last year:

At 6-3, 235-pounds, Patrick is the thunder to Akers’ lightning. He doesn’t possess elite top-end speed, but is tough enough to pick up the hard yards in short-yardage situations. Patrick is also a great receiving back, recording 21 catches for 171 yards last season.

Patrick rushed for 387 yards at 3.5 yards per carry last season, far from the senior season any predicted for him. He also recorded 16 catches for 102 yards.

Like all of FSU’s running backs, Patrick was hampered by a bad offensive line in front of him. But the 235-pound back never developed into the bruiser that many thought he could be coming out of high school.

Patrick also had the unfortunate timing of arriving between a pair of elite talents in Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers. He was was never the bell-cow back at FSU, only a second option.

Patrick went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Returning Star

Here’s what I wrote about Akers last year:

It starts with Akers, the five-star recruit who was the gem of the Seminoles’ 2017 recruiting class. Despite quarterback issues and offensive line inconsistencies, Akers managed to rush for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns. He recorded his first 100-yard performance against Miami and ended the season with an impressive 5.3 yards per carry.

Listed at 5-11, 210-pounds, Akers has the bulk to carry the football 20+ times a game while still having the breakaway speed to outrun the defense. While Willie Taggart will spread the ball around in his Gulf Coast Offense, expect Akers to be the primary workhorse for Florida State in 2018.

One of the top-rated recruits in the 2017 signing class, Akers was forced to improvise and work magic behind FSU’s atrocious OL.

Looking back on film, there were often times when Akers abandoned clear running lanes and panicked in the backfield. But who could blame him, when the offensive line would often fail him, time and again?

Akers finished his sophomore season with 706 rushing yards at 4.4 yards per carry. He also added 23 catches for 145 yards. This was a big drop off from his freshman year, when he broke Cook’s FSU freshman rushing record.

If Florida State can get average offensive line play this season (which might be asking too much, honestly), then Akers could be primed for a big season. After all, this is his money year. Akers already has 355 carries under his belt, and that’s before a junior season where he’ll be expected to be the workhorse yet again.

The Comeback Kid

The start to Khalan Laborn’s college career has been far from what people predicted.

The former five-star recruit redshirted in 2018, then suffered a season-ending knee injury two games into 2019.

In fact, Laborn has not even recorded a carry in college. The only time he’s touched the ball on offense was his highlight-worthy 37-yard catch against Virginia Tech.

After sitting out last year, it appears that Laborn is ready to return to action. He’s been full contact in practice and all reports indicate that he’ll be on the field when FSU faces off against Boise State.

This is great news, as Laborn is a special talent when healthy. He was ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose back out of high school and can add an explosive receiving element out of the backfield.

Much like Akers, this is Laborn’s third year in the program. After a serious knee injury as a sophomore, there’s a possibility he jumps to the NFL after this season to maximize his earning potential.

The Unheralded Youngsters

Anthony Grant — a three-star sophomore — became Florida State’s primary option on kick returns last season.

With Akers and Laborn locked in as starters, Grant can be a solid third man off the bench. The experience he receives this year will be critical, as he may be FSU’s most experienced running back in 2020.

The Seminoles did not sign a running back in their latest class, but did bring in walk-on Treshaun Ward. He chose to walk on at Florida State over other FBS offers from schools like Maryland and Cincinnati.

Expectations for 2019

Much of the running back production depends on the state of the offensive line.

If FSU can get below average play from its offensive line, that would be huge for the running game. We’ve seen the special talent that Akers is, along with flashes from Laborn.

Both were five-star recruits which means, if nothing else, the ceiling for this unit is high. Florida State averaged 2.7 yards per rush last year. Let’s hope they can do a little better than that this season.