Maryland’s two impressive young running backs were among the most glowing positives from the 2016 football season. Ty Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged a stunning 9.1 yards per carry, while Lorenzo Harrison averaged 7.2 and scored touchdowns in the team’s first five wins. When Harrison’s indefinite suspension was lifted in December, the Terps were just about set at the running back position for the next couple years.
Then the program landed two blue-chip backs in five days, further bolstering the backfield and revving up even more excitement for the season to come. Anthony McFarland committed to Maryland on Jan. 27, choosing the Terps over Miami. And in a National Signing Day stunner, the Terps received a pledge from Cordarrian Richardson. Suddenly, Maryland was looking at potentially one of the most loaded rushing attacks in the country.
But just 24 hours after crashing from outer space into the Terps’ recruiting class, Richardson blasted back off.
With the surprise commit now a surprise signee with UCF (who visits Maryland Sept. 23), it’s easy for Terps fans to feel a little down. Losing out on a blue-chip prospect always stings, and Maryland lost its chance with Richardson and Tariq Castro-Fields within 20 hours of each other.
Maryland still has plenty of backfield weapons, though. Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis signed Wednesday alongside McFarland, and the team will have seven scholarship running backs in total. Given how Maryland spread the ball around last year, it’s not out of the question for all seven to make an impact this fall.
The backfield is and will be fine without Richardson, but the “what-if” potential will linger, especially if he’s ruled eligible at UCF and fulfills his on-field potential. It's strange, because had he committed elsewhere on Signing Day, he would remain completely anonymous to Maryland fans, but instead, heading into 2017 with "only" seven running backs feels somewhat different.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Maryland’s running back haul from this recruiting class and what it means for the near future. We’ll do this for every position over the next week or so.
Who’s coming aboard?
McFarland is the star of the group. He’s the highest-rated prospect in Maryland’s whole class and was the No. 2 prospect in the state. He split carries with Harrison at DeMatha as a junior, but an ankle injury kept him from showcasing himself last season. Despite that injury, he was still a top-100 player in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Leake is a three-star recruit on the Composite, but 247Sports’ in-house rating service has him as a four-star, and his overall rating is higher than Johnson’s or Harrison’s was. He’s the only recruit in Maryland’s class from North Carolina.
Fleet-Davis, a three-star prospect from Potomac High School, brings more of a downhill running style than the other two. He’ll enter school at 210 pounds, and will probably get bigger and stronger during camp.
How much competition will they have?
Johnson and Harrison will still be stalwarts, and another offseason of training should make them even better. They both averaged under 10 carries per game in 2016, even though Maryland was at its best when one or both were breaking big runs.
The Terps also return Jake Funk, who saw some time in his freshman season, and LaDerrien Wilson, who redshirted last year. (Side note: it would have been pretty wild having both a LaDerrien and a Cordarrian in the same backfield.) Here’s the whole squad, walk-ons included, for 2017.
What’s the impact for 2017?
Assuming McFarland is healthy—and all the coaches are optimistic in that regard—he’ll be one of Maryland’s most dynamic playmakers right away. He can line up as a slot receiver, and that versatility won’t be ignored.
“Ant, really for us, is going to be an all-purpose toy,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Wednesday on Facebook Live. “He’s a kid that can legitimately play anywhere: in the slot, running back, outside, inside, A-back [basically a slot receiver/tight end hybrid]... In my mind, he’s kinda half A-back, half running back.”
Maryland’s carry leaders will probably be Johnson, Harrison and McFarland in some order. Beyond that, Leake and Fleet-Davis will most likely battle Funk and Wilson for situational roles. Most if not all of these backs will also play on special teams.
There’s a noticeable level of youth here, with no seniors and just one junior in the rotation. But there’s also an undeniable abundance of talent, and Maryland’s running game will be a big part of the team’s identity for years to come.