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Thoughts & predictions for Nebraska Football running backs post spring



Nebraska football
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

We continue to analyze each position group post-spring ball for Nebraska football and here are some thoughts, plus predictions for running back.

Spring practices wrapped up a couple of weeks ago for Nebraska football and while we have been slacking a little on our post-spring predictions/position breakdowns, we are getting back in the saddle with running back.

Of course, the biggest news this spring for Nebraska football at running back is the departure of Ajay Allen, who went to Miami after entering the transfer portal.

As I said at the time, I don’t know that it dramatically impacts my thoughts on the 2023 Nebraska football team. However, I did view Allen as a future starter and the most dynamic back of the bunch, so it hurts.

There is still plenty of depth and talent available. Nebraska football is going to run the football and I think we are going to see possibly three guys get close to 100 carries this season. We will see at least two but I feel like Rahmir Johnson is going to have an expanded role, especially now that Allen isn’t in the mix.

Johnson was criminally underused by the coaching staff in 2022. I still don’t have an explanation for it. He’s averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt in his career and caught just one pass last season after hauling in 16 back in 2021.

I understand that Johnson didn’t always take advantage of his opportunities, such as the drop against Illinois. But he’s proven he can produce in the Big Ten and don’t expect him to be wasted this season.

With that in mind, here are some depth chart projections, stat predictions, and final thoughts on running back for Nebraska football post-spring practice.

Nebraska football running back depth chart/predictions

Starters: Gabe Ervin and Anthony Grant; Backups: Rahmir Johnson, Emmett Johnson, and Kwintin Ives

I’m going to cop out a little here, but I see Anthony Grant and Gabe Ervin as 1A and 1B, essentially co-starters. Someone is going to start the game, but I don’t see the rushing attempts being all that different.

Grant had 218 carries per game a season ago, which was not enough. That’s about 18 per game. I could see a similar number, the difference is that if Ervin is healthy too, Nebraska football will have another back that can share the load.

Watching the spring game, I didn’t see a huge difference between the two. Both are solid backs and I think each is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards. However, neither will get there due to the shared workload.

That doesn’t mean the run game won’t be effective. My hope is that between receptions and rushing attempts Johnson also touches the ball close to 100 times next season. We’ll see if that happens. Emmett Johnson probably won’t have a huge role unless there is an injury or he makes a big leap in fall camp.

The wildcard is freshman Kwinten Ives. We’ll see what he can do this fall. His potential excites me though and I wonder if he’ll find a way to make some sort of impact before the year is through.

One somewhat bold prediction outside of no one gets 1,000 yards — I don’t think anyone gets 200 carries next season either, although Grant and Ervin both get close.

Final thoughts on Nebraska running backs

I really wish Ajay Allen was part of this team. But I still think the running backs are going to have a really good year. Even though I don’t see a 1,000-yard rusher, my bet is that the trio of Grant, Ervin, and Johnson rush for over 2,000 yards next season, with Jeff Sims pitching in a little too.

Matt Rhule has talked about establishing the run and the quarterback always benefits from the play-action passing game. Plus, the Huskers have worked on adding some fullbacks.

That leads me to believe we are going to see some smashmouth football, the kind we all thought Nebraska football should have been playing last season.

The offensive line wasn’t great last year. Yet, it was better when it was run blocking, and in 2023, that will be the strong suit of the O-line and the offense as a whole.

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska