It’s tough to know exactly what the running back position will look like for Ole Miss this year. The Rebels backfield is dealing with two early departures as well as some new runners entering the fray.
I’Tavius Mathers, who carried the ball 67 times for 290 yards and three touchdowns, announced after the season that he was transferring to Middle Tennessee State University for his senior season. Running back Mark Dodson, who rushed for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns on 36 carries, also announced he was transferring to the University of Memphis, where he will have two years of eligibility left.
This leaves a lot of uncertainty in the Rebels’ backfield, but one thing that’s certain is that the lead back will be senior Jaylen Walton. Walton rushed for over 500 yards for the second year in a row, finishing his junior season with 106 carries for 586 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, along with 19 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Walton brings game-breaking speed and elusiveness to the Rebels backfield along with soft hands out of the backfield, and should continue receiving the largest share of carries for the running backs.
The only other player returning with game experience is sophomore Jordan Wilkins. Wilkins was used as a power back last season to contrast with Walton’s speedy style, but also showed off burst when he took a carry for a 73-yard touchdown in the regular season finale against Mississippi State. With 52 carries for 361 yards and a touchdown on the season, Wilkins is primed to take a much bigger role in the offense this season. There’s a good chance Wilkins slides into the number two spot at running back.
Also entering the competition will be junior Akeem Judd. Judd was a junior college transfer from Georgia Military College last year, but sat out the season with a redshirt. Judd had some injury troubles during his junior college career, but should be healthy for his upcoming season with the Rebels. At 6 feet, 220 pounds, he is another physical back who could help solve the issues Ole Miss has had running down the middle the past couple of seasons. Judd also showed potential to catch the football out of the backfield and help in pass protection during the spring, and should see a lot of time this fall.
The other two backs who could see time for Ole Miss next season are sophomore Eugene Brazley and incoming freshman Eric Swinney. Brazley is a smaller, speedy back similar to Walton, and ran for 128 yards last year on 26 carries. Meanwhile, Swinney was a four-star prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings, and has the chance to contribute right away with his excellent speed and agility.
With the aforementioned departures, there will be plenty of room for the backup running backs to carve out bigger roles for themselves this season. How they perform in these roles could have a big effect on who takes over for Jaylen Walton as the starter after his senior season, making this season a very important one for the Rebel backfield.
This article was written by Cody Thomason from University of Mississippi / Daily Mississippian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.