by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Name: Xavier Menifield
Position: Running back
School: Sierra Canyon High School (Chatsworth, California)
Star rating: 3-star
Other offers: Air Force, Army, Wyoming
The Scouting Report
From ESPN Recruiting Nation:
“Menifield is an elusive all-purpose running back with the ball carrying and receiving skills which could keep him on the field in all yardage situations. Has the minimum height along with excellent athleticism and playing speed for the running back position at the major level of competition.”
What he’s saying
"I decided to choose Northwestern because they have a really good coaching staff and they have great academics. They are also in a big time conference, and that's what really did it for me. I can't wait to go there and become a part of such a great program. I am stuck with Northwestern. I'm not going anywhere else," he said.
What’s the hype?
There are a few things about small, shifty, explosive running backs playing in Northwestern’s option system that would make any recruit give the Wildcats a long, hard look. Just go back to last season. Venric Mark revealed just how effective a diminutive back with breakaway speed can be in the Wildcats’ pitch-and-run sets. After playing mostly on special teams over his first two seasons, Mark stepped right into the featured option back spot and never looked back; his statistical milestones don’t need repeating here. Next season, with an offseason to drill home option principles and blocking schemes, the option attack could grow into something even more devastating.
That is something a recruit of Mark’s build and running style, someone like Menifield, would want to be a part of. Or maybe I’m just being presumptuous. The point is, by all accounts Menifield is an excellent fit for Mark’s soon-to-be vacated role, and the comparisons were just too obvious to avoid. His size, scouting report and game tape portray a dynamic open-field runner with underrated toughness and power. Replicating anything close to Mark’s 2012 season is, obviously, the best-case scenario. I’m simply laying out a convenient if superficial comparison.
What about this year?
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go right ahead and assume Mark has this starting running back gig pretty much locked up. Mike Trumpy, Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley add complementary elements, and if the option flows anywhere near as seamlessly as it did last season, the Wildcats will be in great shape.
With another offseason to learn the system, that’s not an unreasonable expectation to harbor. Mark, Colter and the rest of the backfield might just be more explosive and more productive than last season. In fact, I think they will be: Buckley and Jones supplement Trumpy and Mark in ways Northwestern’s reserve backs could not last season. Unfortunately for Menifield, there’s probably only a small chance he plays this season. A redshirt season in 2013 is the most reasonable expectation.
What about the future?
The upshot is that by watching and learning under Mark for a season, Menifield can soak in everything he needs to know about the offense before breaking camp next summer. When he enters a Mark-less backfield in 2014, he can challenge Buckley, Jones and possibly Godwin Igwebuike (position switch permitting) for carries in a crowded but talented backfield. His skillset is tailor made for the offense Northwestern ran in 2012, and even if the Wildcats turn towards a more conventional passing offense once Kain Colter graduates after this season, the system is simply too productive and, when implemented correctly, too successful to leave behind completely. Menifield can adapt to whatever scheme is laid out in front of him, and his talents will be maximized in Northwestern’s offense sooner rather than later.
The Mark comparisons are unfair, production-wise; you can’t reasonably expect Menifield to put up Mark’s numbers right away, if ever. Expecting big things from a talented and similarly-built back is not, and Menifield is more than capable of becoming a productive asset in a complementary skill-specific offense.