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2018 Northwestern football position previews: Running backs

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The RBs should be one of the deeper groups on the team.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

For the second part of our 2018 Summer Guide, we move onto position previews. For each position, we’ll outline personnel, key players, and what the big question facing the unit is before finishing up with our projected depth chart for each position.

The next position group in the series is the running backs, where Jeremy Larkin looks poised for a big season.

Overview:

Returning Starters: None

Projected Starter: Jeremy Larkin

Key Loss: Justin Jackson

Other Returners: John Moten IV (Jr.), Jesse Brown (So.), Alex Bousky (Sr.), Chad Hanoaka (Sr.)

Newcomers: Drake Anderson, Isaiah Bowser

This fall, Northwestern will return to Ryan Field for the first time in a long time without four-year starter and central offensive threat Justin Jackson. Jackson finished his career as the most pruductive running back in Northwestern history, leaving a gaping hole in the Northwestern offense. In lieu of Jackson, the next Northwestern ball carrier will have godly-sized shoes to fill, but this is a role that Jeremy Larkin appears ready to (try to) fill.

After redshirting his first year in Evanston, Larkin appeared in all 13 games for the Wildcats this season as their primary backup running back. Despite only collecting a handful of carries per game, Larkin averaged six yards per carry. As a result of his impressive 2017 season, Larkin is the presumptive favorite to start at the running back position with John Morten IV and Jesse Brown providing relief.

Key Players:

Jeremy Larkin:

While Larkin doesn’t quite have the explosiveness of Justin Jackson, he demonstrated time and time again throughout the 2017 season that he has notably impressive field vision. One of the clearest demonstrations of Larkin’s spatial awareness and block reading abilities came about midway through the season against Big Ten rival Nebraska.

Larkin’s decisive patience in the backfield is reminiscent of Jackson’s at times. His touchdown in this game also displays his readiness to contribute in big moments, as the Wildcats went on to win their battle in Nebraska in an overtime thriller.

We can point to a number of runs throughout the season that indicate Larkin’s potential, but his stand-alone best carry of the season came in the biggest game of the year, the Music City Bowl. In a moment that brought every Northwestern fan to their feet, Larkin found a pair of gaps to break free for a 64-yard run, far and away the longest rush of the game.

While there’s a lot that can be said about this run, I think that Taylor Zarzou says it pretty darn well.

“And Larkin, who might be the man next year, says ‘How bout this year?’ Into the clear!”

The Northwestern faithful will surely miss screaming “Justin Jackson, the ball carrier” after every run, but the future looks bright as Larkin has the potential to be a serious backfield threat for the Wildcats next season.

John Moten IV:

At the start of the 2017 season, we wondered if Moten IV could follow up his impressive debut with another solid campaign. Then, Moten IV struggled with injuries at the onset of the season and ceded backup duty to Larkin fairly quickly.

Coming off of only 17 carries all of last season at 3.2 yards a piece, expect to see Moten IV’s role expanded further, especially if Larkin can’t handle a Jacksonian workload. Jesse Brown was solid in garbage time too, with two touchdowns on nine carries. Early enrollee Isaiah Bowser could figure into the backfield as well; he drew rave reviews this spring.

Big Question:

Can Jeremy Larkin make Wildcat fans miss Justin Jackson a little bit less?

When the greatest running back in program history leaves, it’s okay to grieve for a bit. Still, Wildcat fans should be optimistic given Larkin’s production in 2017. Larkin had an very impressive season for a backup, no doubt about it, and he has certainly earned his right to start on this 2018 Northwestern squad. That being said, he is replacing literally the most accomplished Northwestern running back in the program’s history. He is filling the biggest shoes that have ever had to be filled at this position. As far as whether or not Larkin is ready to step into a starting role, his resume suggests yes, but the question remains unanswered for now. Matching Jackson’s durability and consistency will be hard to do (not that he has to do that to be successful).

Depth Chart:

RB depth

1st string 2nd string 3rd string 4th string
1st string 2nd string 3rd string 4th string
Jeremy Larkin Isaiah Bowser John Moten IV Jesse Brown