How Will Crowded Backfield Shake Out For Michigan Wolverines in 2013?

By Brandon Burnett
Thomas Rawls Michigan Wolverines
Jesse Johnson – USA Today Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have often struggled to find capable options out of the backfield in recent years. As Brady Hoke and the Maize and Blue transition to a pro-style offense in 2013, that now looks to be the last of their worries.

Excluding Denard Robinson, soon-to-be senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has been Michigan’s leading rusher over the past two seasons. Toussaint suffered a broken leg late last year, however, and it remains unclear as to whether he can recover in time for the start of 2013.

Even if he does, the carries that come his way may be few and far between due to the amount of capable ball-carriers flooding the Wolverines’ backfield.

Junior and Flint, Mi. native Thomas Rawls earned 57 total carries as a sophomore last season and will be hungry for even more in 2013. The 5’10”, 218-pound back is a north-and-south guy that loves contact and will get his opportunity to prove his worth in UM’s new run-oriented offense.

Justice Hayes, a redshirt sophomore, will be looking for some touches as well, though he may become one of the odd men out after Michigan’s talented crop of incoming freshmen grow familiar with the offense. Led by the No. 1 RB recruit in the nation, Derrick Green, the Wolverines’ backfield is suddenly stocked full of skill and power.

Green instantly becomes the most talented back of the bunch. The 5’11”, 220-pounder packs such a big punch, people are already comparing him to Marshawn Lynch. He loves to punish the opponent yet surprisingly possesses an impressive amount of burst through the hole that could make him one of the most dangerous backs in the nation, even as a freshman.

Along with Green, freshmen Deveon Smith and Drake Johnson are on board as well. Johnson was redshirted in 2012, but Smith is a member of the 2013 class and shouldn’t be completely forgotten about just because the Wolverines landed Green. Smith, who is 5’11”, 210 pounds,  is built very similarly to Green, just not quite as explosive. What he lacks in explosiveness, however, he makes up for in vision.

Don’t just assume a guy like Smith will be redshirted this season, either. This backfield may be crowded, but Smith is still talented enough to step in and compete for playing time immediately.

Depending on how UM’s freshmen progress throughout the spring and summer, there could be as many as six running backs competing for carries heading into the season. Toussaint is the most proven of the bunch, but he struggled in 2012 before suffering a broken leg and who knows how effective he can be less than one year after the gruesome injury.

It’s hard to predict how much of an impact a true freshman can really have heading into his first year of collegiate football, but I feel like Green will wind up being Michigan’s leading rusher at season’s end. Rawls and Toussaint will each see a respectable workload as well while Hayes, Smith and Johnson fight for garbage time and likely nothing more. Smith could be the one to surprise me, though.

Either way, there’s going to be plenty of excitement when the Wolverines run the ball in 2013. Considering we’ll be watching a Michigan team with no Denard Robinson on it, that’s really saying something.


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