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Maryland's returning stars, incoming freshmen should make for a loaded RB depth chart

We’ve got a logjam!

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys, spring practice is underway, so we’re going unit-by-unit and projecting what we think the depth chart will look like at each position in 2017. We’ll include notes from spring practice where we can. First we looked at the quarterbacks, and now we’re onto running backs.

Maryland’s rushing attack has been one of the team’s greatest strengths in recent memory.

The position group looks to be as deep as any on the team right now, as seven guys could contribute at running back in 2017. Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison solidified their cases to be options 1A and 1B out of the backfield last season, rushing for 9.1 and 7.2 yards per carry, respectively.

Despite losing three contributors to graduation, Maryland will add 10 stars of running back in Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis to replenish the rotation.

McFarland is the most renowned member of that group, but the others are impressive in their own right.

The players

Departures: Wes Brown (graduation), Trey Edmunds (graduation), Kenny Goins (graduation), Andrew Stefanelli (graduation)

Returning players: Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison, Jake Funk, Marcus Smith, Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu

Transfers: None

Incoming freshmen: LaDerrien Wilson (redshirt), Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake, Tayon Fleet-Davis

Projected depth chart

Running backs depth chart

Depth Chart Player Ht./Wt. Year 247 recruiting ranking
Depth Chart Player Ht./Wt. Year 247 recruiting ranking
Starter Ty Johnson 5'10/205 Jr. 0.8569
Starter Lorenzo Harrison 5'8/193 So. 0.8486
Backup Anthony McFarland 5'8/185 Fr. 0.9518
Backup LaDerrien Wilson 5'11/227 RFr. 0.8387
Backup Jake Funk 5'11/207 So. 0.8282
Backup Javon Leake 6'0/208 Fr. 0.8715
Backup Tayon Fleet-Davis 5'11/210 Fr. 0.8497
Beyond Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu 5'9/200 So. NR
Beyond Marcus Smith 5'9/200 Sr. NR

Here’s why

Johnson and Harrison are the only two backs with more than 30 carries to their names. That may be reason for concern, but it should be one of few. Much of the workload may be placed squarely on their shoulders, and that makes sense. Johnson’s 9.1 yards per carry in 2016 would have led the country if he had enough carries to qualify (he was 20 short) and Harrison was well on his way to breaking LaMont Jordan’s freshman rushing record before that airsoft gun incident.

McFarland is just about as dynamic as they come, and so long as he is fully recovered from a leg injury that robbed him of his senior season in high school, he should be an integral part of the offense.

Funk and Wilson have each spent a year in the system, though Funk played in all 13 games last year while Wilson redshirted. Funk saw limited time in the backfield, and even that decreased during conference play. However, the fact that he has a full year’s experience will be enough to keep him in the rotation, at least early on while the new guys get their bearings. At 5’11, 227 pounds, Wilson and his low-but-forceful center of gravity will likely take over the hybrid fullback/running back role Kenny Goins occupied in 2016.

The two other freshmen running backs, Fleet-Davis and Leake, should also see time this season. They each bring a combination of speed and power that should find its way onto the football field regardless of age.

Bell used six running backs last season — seven if you count Stefanelli’s one carry in the final regular season game — so it wouldn’t be surprising to see all of these guys get touches next season.

Key battle: who gets those 3rd and 4th running back touches?

Going into the season, I would expect Funk to lead the “rest” of the guys in carries, simply because he’s a known commodity. That said, DJ Durkin is all about competition at every position, so expect Wilson and the freshmen to get their chance at earning their fair share of carries.

Early in the season, I see the freshman trio and Wilson rotating as that fourth back. Much like last year, though, as the season progresses, that rotation will likely shorten. When and if that happens, my bet is on McFarland to not only separate himself from his classmates, but to move up into that third slot, making Funk, Leake, Wilson and Fleet-Davis fight it out for leftover carries.

On that front, once the team gets deep into conference play, I think we may see Leake inch out in front of his backfield mates. He was a real workhorse in high school and was flat-out dominant in an offense similar to the one Bell runs at Maryland.

Big question: how will Walt Bell use McFarland?

There’s a reason a big company like Bleacher Report produced and broadcast McFarland’s college decision. Quite simply, he’s one of the most dynamic players in the country with the ball in his hands.

He can line up in any number of positions across the formation, even moving out to play slot receiver if needed.

I’d expect to see Bell use McFarland in a role similar to how Teldrick Morgan and DeAndre Lane were used last year. The sometimes-running back, sometimes-slot receiver role will allow the Terps to get McFarland the ball in space and let him do his thing.

While we’ll all have to wait and see exactly how the coaching staff uses McFarland, one thing is for sure: they absolutely will use him. If things go well, we may see that freshman rushing record broken by a DeMatha alum anyway, just a year later than we all expected.