Terps Football: 2018 Positional Preview — Running Backs
In both of head coach DJ Durkin’s seasons at the helm of the Terrapins football program, fans and analysts alike have marveled at the team’s immensely talented backfields. Former offensive coordinator Walt Bell took full advantage of the depth at this position, rotating backs in and out to keep them as fresh as possible. If possible, this season’s stable of running backs may be even deeper and more talented than the last two seasons. With some uncertainty at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, they’ll be relied upon to carry the load once again.
This article is part of a series previewing the 2018 Maryland football season. You can find my full projected depth chart here.
(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)
Ty Johnson (Senior)
2018 Projection: Starter
2017 Statistics: 137 carries, 875 yds (6.4 ypc), 5 TD; 5 receptions, 60 yds (12.0 ypr), 1 TD
Johnson returns for his fourth and final season with the Terrapins, and has seen action in all but three of the team’s games during his collegiate career. While he was never a workhorse back in Bell’s offense, his home run ability from any spot on the field is exhilarating to watch. Just a three-star recruit out of high school, he has been a gem of a pickup by former head coach Randy Edsall and his staff.
Johnson has the skill-set to excel in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s versatile scheme. He has the vision and toughness to run between the tackles, and the speed to run off-tackle on toss plays and fly sweeps. Playing in a more pro-style system should really help him showcase himself to NFL scouts before next year’s draft. He still likely won’t be a workhorse back in Canada’s system, but should lead the team in carries.
Lorenzo Harrison III (Junior)
2018 Projection: Second-Team
2017 Statistics: 137 carries, 622 yds (4.5 ypc), 3 TD; 11 receptions, 36 yds (3.3 ypr), 0 TD
While running behind Johnson for his entire career with the Terrapins, Harrison has been no less impressive on the field. Both backs received exactly 137 carries last season and played in all 12 of the team’s games. Harrison doesn’t quite have the home run hitting speed of Johnson, but he makes up for that with his impressive shiftiness between the tackles and his ability to finish runs with authority. He also has a strong nose for the end zone, making him an excellent weapon in the red zone.
Harrison should complement Johnson well in Canada’s system, and they’ll likely see the field together many times. He may be second on the depth chart, but it’s more probable that they play the 1-A and 1-B roles that they have during the last two seasons. It’s the final year of the “Presidential Backfield”, and it looks to be a good one for the Terrapins.
Anthony McFarland (Redshirt Freshman)
2018 Projection: Third-Team
2017 Statistics: Did Not Play
It certainly feels like more than a year that fans have been waiting to see McFarland take the field in College Park. After a long recruiting process, including a live Snapchat journey that featured multiple forms of public transportation, the 4-star recruit from DeMatha Catholic High School committed to Maryland. He sat out last season while rehabilitating a high school injury, and will see his first action with the Terrapins this year.
We saw a glimpse of how Canada will use McFarland in the Red-White Spring Game, as he saw carries both as a traditional running back and as the motion-man in the fly sweep game. He’s an extremely versatile back, possessing the vision and agility to succeed between the tackles and the breakaway speed to get around the edge. While he’ll likely be third or lower on the depth chart, McFarland will see plenty of the field this season.
Jake Funk (Junior)
2018 Projection: Fourth-Team
2017 Statistics: 27 carries, 145 yds (5.4 ypc), 4 TD; 1 reception, 4 yds (4.0 ypr), 1 TD
During his first two seasons with the Terrapins, Funk has primarily seen time as a short-yardage and goal line back. He’s a bruising runner, using every bit of his 5’11”, 202 pound frame to finish his runs with a bang. His best game last season came against Indiana, where he carried the ball 7 times for just 14 yards, but scored 2 touchdowns and extended multiple drives on short-yardage runs.
Funk was Canada’s primary option on fly sweeps during the team’s Red-White Spring Game this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues in the regular season. He’ll likely continue to serve as the team’s power back, and could see time in an H-back role as well. Like most of the backs on the roster this season his depth chart position doesn’t matter too much, as he’ll see plenty of time on the field.
Javon Leake (Sophomore)
2018 Projection: Fifth-Team
2017 Statistics: 9 carries, 99 yds (11.0 ypc), 2 TD; 0 receptions, 0 yds (0.0 ypr), 0 TD
Leake broke onto the scene in the late minutes of Maryland’s blowout win over Towson and forced fans to take notice of his impressive speed and breakaway ability. It’s not often that you see the type of speed that he possesses in a 6’0”, 200 pound frame. Leake also performed well as a kickoff returner, averaging over 21 yards per return. While he has plenty of players above him on the depth chart, Leake will likely force his way into the conversation at running back this year.
Tayon Fleet-Davis (Sophomore)
2018 Projection: Sixth-Team
2017 Statistics: None
Fleet-Davis saw all of his playing time on special teams last season, and will likely do the same this year with all of the players above him on the depth chart. He is a power back in the truest sense and if Canada were to look for a fullback, he’d probably be first on the list. However, his best chance for playing time will come over the next few years, as some of the players above him graduate.
Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu (Junior)
2018 Projection: Seventh-Team
2017 Statistics: None
Like Fleet-Davis, all of Ogwuegbu’s playing time came on special teams last season. Also like Fleet-Davis, he’ll be unlikely to see time with the offensive unit in 2018.