Slade A Likely Heir To Barkley, Sanders Dynasty
Starting running back Miles Sanders announced his intention to skip out on his senior year at Penn State in favor of the 2019 NFL Draft last week, leaving another big question mark on the offensive side of the ball entering next season.
Fans couldn’t have asked for a better performance out of Sanders after predecessor Saquon Barkley left for the draft. He rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns in his only season as the Nittany Lions’ starter.
Now that Sanders is off to the pro ranks, Penn State is tasked with replacing him. Recruiting at the running back position has gone about as well as possible in recent years for Penn State, so here’s a look at the team’s options in the backfield next season.
Ricky “I wanna go fast” Slade seems poised to take over the starting role at running back for the Nittany Lions next season.
Slade served as the main backup this season, rushing for 257 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. The former five-star recruit is the logical choice to take over at the top of the depth chart.
Standing at 5’9″ and weighing in at 198 pounds, Slade won’t bring a ton of physicality to Penn State’s run game next year. However, he has speed to burn and is one of the team’s most elusive playmakers in the open field.
Mark Allen’s season-ending injury forced Slade to step up as a true freshman, but coach James Franklin was confident he would take on a larger role at some point this season, anyway.
The key to Slade’s success as a potential starting back, of course, will be his health. Slade missed Penn State’s games against Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan due to an undisclosed injury.
Penn State doesn’t have too many experienced options at running back beyond Slade. Journey Brown is the only other returning back who took snaps this season, with
Brown spent his redshirt freshman season in a reserve role behind Sanders and Slade, appearing in nine games. He ran for just 44 yards on eight carries.
With the amount of talent coming into Penn State’s running back room, Brown may have to have a strong spring and training camp to truly lock down the backup role behind Slade.
CJ Holmes is an intriguing player to look out for heading into the 2019 season. He transferred from Notre Dame to walk on at Penn State after a quiet freshman season in South Bend, where he rushed for 32 yards on eight carries in 2017. After sitting out this season, Holmes has three years of eligibility remaining.
Penn State has two blue-chip prospects joining its running backs room in 2019, including four-star recruit Devyn Ford.
Ford is the fifth-best running back in the 2019 recruiting class, according to 247Sports‘ composite rankings. He officially put pen to paper on his letter of intent on National Signing Day but won’t enroll early. That may set him back slightly in the battle for the backup role.
Still, Ford is one of the most impressive prospects in Penn State’s incoming class of recruits. He might not have the straight-line speed of Ricky Slade, but he has excellent vision and is fairly physical at his position. Since Sanders is off to the NFL, Ford should have an opportunity to push for snaps as a true freshman.
Unlike fellow four-star running back recruit Devyn Ford, Noah Cain will enroll early and has already arrived on campus.
Cain was a late commitment in the 2019 recruiting class, but he ultimately stuck with his original choice and signed his letter of intent on National Signing Day after having doubts at the eleventh hour. He played for IMG Academy last season and should add a different element to Penn State’s running game next.
Cain comes in at only 5’10”, but he weighs 208 pounds with room to put on muscle as his career progresses. The power back could become a viable option for the Nittany Lions, especially on third down and in short-yardage situations. The strength he brings to the table, as opposed to Slade’s game-breaking speed, could help him make a serious push for a big role entering his true freshman season.
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Sitting next to each other at Penn State football games can be the start of beautiful, lasting friendships.
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