Derrick Green was the top running back in the 2013 class. He was also Michigan’s top commitment. But now, can Green take all of the hype and turn it into actual on-field production?
Michigan’s running game the last few years has not been led by running backs, but by Denard Robinson. Robinson was such a threat on the ground, the best rushing quarterback in college football history in fact, that any running back on the field with him was simply a complimentary piece and almost always Plan B out of the spread option. Robinson led Michigan in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in all three years that he started. Just once did a running back rush for 1,000 yards while Robinson was there, when Fitzgerald Toussaint racked up 1,041 yards in 2011.
Michigan really hasn’t had a stud running back since 2007, when Mike Hart left, a full three seasons before Robinson even took over. Hart ran for 5,040 yards and 41 touchdowns during his four years as the starter in Ann Arbor. He was as dependable as it got, at one point going 1,005 rushes without fumbling. Hart was the ultimate number one running back that every coach loves.
Since Hart last lined up in the backfield for Michigan, a number of other backs have tried to fill his shoes, but none have solidified themselves as a star or even a clear number-one back for an extended period of time. Sam McGuffie was the sensational recruit who flew on to the scene in 2008 for Michigan, before fizzling out and transferring. Brandon Minor, Michael Shaw, Carlos Brown, Stephen Hawkins, Vincent Smith, Thomas Rawls and Toussaint have all taken their shots at being the lead tailback in the last five seasons, with Smith and Toussaint being the most successful. All of these backs have come through the program, but none have been able to be a consistent offensive weapon or even a solid starter for long.
Now, once again there is crowd of running backs vying for the starting job. Toussaint is back for his senior year and Rawls is back along with Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet, two players who had limited impacts in their freshman season’s last year. According to Brady Hoke, nobody has distanced themselves as the clear-cut number-one back as of yet.
The clutter at the position creates a wonderful opportunity for Green to come in immediately and grab the reins. Green, unlike the other backs at Michigan, has the elite talent to not only be the starter, but be one of the best rushers in the country for the next three years.
Michigan’s last great rusher, Hart, blasted his way onto the scene as a true freshman, rushing for over 1,600 yards and maintaining his great production for four seasons. Those are obviously some high hopes for Green, but he clearly has the talent to be great. Now, Green just needs to take advantage of the opportunity.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter at @alexdaleCFB.