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Florida State football position preview: Running Backs

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Who will step up to fill Cam Akers’ shoes?

Alabama State v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Tomahawk Nation is continuing its 2020 Florida State Seminoles season preview by breaking down each position group, from starters to contributors to potential emerging talents. We kicked things off with the glory-hogging quarterbacks, and now we’ll take a look at the running backs.

Mike Norvell’s offense is built around the running game, and the running game at Memphis has been nothing short of extremely good:

In 2018, Memphis’ offense finished 14th in S&P+, with a rushing attack that ranked fifth in S&P+. Here’s what (now) ESPN’s Bill Connelly had to say about that team:

Bill Connelly, SBNation

[Darrell] Henderson was amazing, averaging a downright stupid 8.9 yards per carry and nearly rushing for 2,000 yards while averaging just 16 carries per game. Patrick Taylor Jr. and Tony Pollard contributed another 20.4 carries per game and combined for 1,674 more yards.

Last season, Norvell’s final coaching the Tigers, the offense was eighth in S&P+ and the team went 12-2. In all honesty, it’s better than Memphis really has any right to be.

With the transfer of Anthony Grant, there are six running backs on Florida State’s roster that will look to fill the enormous shoes of Cam Akers.

Khalan Laborn, redshirt junior

The former consensus five-star and 247Sports Composite’s No. 1 ranked running back in the class of 2017 has had a difficult road in Tallahassee. After losing a battle to fellow 2017 uber running back recruit Cam Akers and consequently redshirting his freshman season, Laborn flashed in the 2018 opener against Virginia Tech catching passes and returning kicks. Unfortunately, in the team’s second game against the Samford Bulldogs Laborn suffered a devastating dislocated kneecap and missed the rest of the season. The silver lining is the injury wasn’t as bad as initially feared.

Laborn rehabbed, and in 2019 he had a solid comeback season spelling Akers, rushing 63 times for 297 yards and catching ten passes for another 66 yards across ten games. There were some off-field issues too, as Laborn was suspended for the UF game for a violation of team rules. Despite that, Laborn has a pretty good opportunity to win the starting job in 2020. Here’s what we said about Laborn back in the spring:

Laborn has game-breaking talent and elusiveness if he is healthy and focused. Those are two things you hate to hear said about a player, but these are the circumstances. This is an extremely talented player who needs to put it all together heading into his third spring (and third coaching staff). Laborn has the ability to be an every-down back in Norvell’s offense, as he possesses the physical ability to run inside zone and the speed/wiggle to burst to the edge on outside zone.

Deonté Sheffield, redshirt junior

A former three-star from Destin, Sheffield saw his first collegiate action last season, though mostly in a reserve role. Before that Sheffield, who helped recruit for FSU when he was a prospect, put in his dues and hard work on the scout team. However, in the Sun Bowl against Arizona State last season Sheffield made the most of his career-high 18 carries with 87 yards. Can he seize a bigger role this season? Even if not, he helps provide much-needed depth at the position.

Jashaun Corbin, redshirt sophomore

Corbin is a do-it-all one-cut back who originally committed to Texas A&M despite hailing from Rockledge, FL. A former four-star, Corbin had a very good freshman season for the Aggies in 2018, racking up 347 efficient rushing yards and 85 receiving yards on just ten catches, to go along with over 400 yards in kick return duties. That was good enough to lead all SEC freshmen in all-purpose yards. All of that work earned Corbin the starting job going into the 2019 season, as well as a spot on the Doak Walker watch list.

Texas A&M v Clemson Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

However, like Laborn, Corbin suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2019 season. For Corbin, it was his hamstring in a loss to Clemson, and he ultimately decided to transfer to Florida State.

Corbin, if healthy, has a great chance to win the starting job for the ’Noles this fall. He fits a lot of what Norvell likes to do in the running game, especially in zone looks. Don’t be surprised to see Norvell use Corbin like a chess piece moving him into and out of run and receiving situations.

La’Damian Webb, redshirt sophomore

Webb originally committed and signed with Mississippi State out of high school as a three-star running back from Opelika, AL, but later ended up in JUCO at Jones College. He excelled, being named a second-team JUCO All-American last season with 1,000 all-purpose yards before choosing to continue his college career at Florida State.

TomahawkNation scouted Webb back in February. Despite his smaller frame at 5’8 and sub-200 lbs, don’t let it fool you, Webb likes to run with physicality. Webb should help provide additional depth to a position that only a few months ago was in some trouble.

Ja’Khi Douglas, freshman

Douglas, a four-star, played receiver in high school but his body (5’9) and skill type is closer to that of a WR/RB hybrid. Therefore, it’s no surprise he’s learning the running back position. In short, he’s the type of hybrid player that could thrive in an offense like Norvell’s. He has the wiggle you look for in a space player and his background as a receiver will help him catch out of the backfield.

Lawrance Toafili, freshman

Toafili is another blue-chip pickup for the ’Noles from the 2020 class. Originally committed to Willie Taggart, a visit with Norvell helped solidify his commitment. Toafili was rated as the 19th best running back in the country by 247Sports Composite. Unlike Webb or Douglas, Toafili does not want for size. The 6’0 200 lb runner has tremendous power and lower body control. He is also more of a one-cut runner, and it will be interesting to see if and what kind of role Toafili can carve out for himself this season in what has quickly become a quality position group.