We’re previewing Maryland football’s roster one position group at a time this summer. This week, we’re focusing on the running backs, which should be the Terps’ strongest position group in 2019.
Thomas profiled projected starter Anthony McFarland yesterday, and today, I’ll be taking a look at Javon Leake. He finished fourth on the team in rushing yards last season, but thanks to a boom-or-bust (mostly boom) skillset, he averaged over nine yards per carry and led the team with seven touchdowns. He’s not expected to be the main focus in the rushing game, but if last year was any indication, Leake could be making a big impact in 2019.
Javon Leake, RB, No. 20
Hometown: Greensboro, NC
High school: Page High School
2018 stats: 34 rush, 309 yds, 7 TDs; 1 rec, 4 yds; 17 kickoff returns, 409 yards, 1 TD
Career stats: 43 rush, 408 yds, 9 TDs; 1 rec, 4 yds:
Leake ranked as the No. 7 all-purpose running back in the 2017 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite, as the high three-star prospect showed both rushing and pass-catching ability in high school. He received 11 Division 1 offers, including South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, ultimately choosing a Terrapin positional group with opportunities to be had.
He played in nine games in his freshman season, but only received nine carries. He made the most of those opportunities, however, rushing for 99 yards and a pair of scores. Leake also took a kickoff return to the house, proving that he’s a threat whenever the ball is in his hands. That trend continued as a sophomore in 2018, as he averaged a score once every five carries.
Leake is a home-run threat whenever he sees the ball.
Through his first two seasons in College Park, Leake has 44 touches across 21 games. That’s 2.1 per game, or in layman’s terms, not a whole lot. But that hasn’t mattered for the rising junior, who has averaged 9.36 yards per touch. That’s a torrid pace, and while a small sample may be the reason, it’s all we have to measure him on.
Leake’s propensity to pick up big yardage isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. He also seems to have a nose for the end zone, as he’s scored nine touchdowns on those 44 opportunities. That’s once every 4.89 touches, which leads the team by a wide margin in that time. Last season, he had rushing scores of 64, 43 and 36 yards, among others, showing off his big-play ability time and time again.
That doesn’t even include his kick-return ability, which has proven to be another asset of his. Ty Johnson — now with the Detroit Lions — was known for his kick-return prowess, but Leake was right there beside him all year long. The latter returned 17 kicks for 409 yards (24.06 yards per return), including this 97-yard sprint against Illinois, a game in which he scored four total touchdowns.
He won’t be the bell cow, but he should see a larger workload.
After a terrific redshirt freshman season, all signs point to Anthony McFarland being the main weapon in the running back group. He carried the ball a team-high 131 times for 1,034 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns in 2018. But even with him as the leading rusher, the Terps still used a running back-by-committee approach last year.
Maryland running backs combined for 308 carries last season, with four receiving the majority of the workload. Johnson had 66 carries on his own, and now those touches are up for grabs. There are a lot of mouths to feed, with McFarland and Tayon Fleet-Davis (75 carries) expected to have large roles. Lorenzo Harrison and Jake Funk are also returning from injuries and should be in the mix as well. But if Leake can continue to make big plays happen, he’ll continue to see more opportunities himself.