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West Virginia Football 2016 Player Previews: Rushel Shell

The former Pitt Panther who transferred to West Virginia has been consistent but unspectacular in his years at West Virginia. As he enters his senior year, can the Pennsylvania high school record holder find a breakout campaign?

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Season Stats & Review

Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing YPC Rushing Touchdowns Receptions Receiving Yards Yards per Catch Receiving Touchdowns
161 708 4.4 8 16 101 6.3. 0

When Rushel Shell announced his intention to transfer to the Mountaineers in the summer of 2013, the Mountaineers were getting a former 5-star high school recruit out of Pennsylvania who set the state rushing record. He had a solid freshman campaign at Pitt, rushing for 640 yards while splitting time with senior Ray Graham.

Fast forward three years later and Shell has been solid but definitely unspectacular. He has rushed for 1,496 yards over two years with WVU. He has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 7.5 touchdowns in his two years here.

Some of his lack of production can be attributed to Wendell Smallwood. As a junior, Smallwood carried the ball 238 times to Shell's 161 attempts. Smallwood proved to be the more consistent and better option for the Mountaineers as the year wore on.

Some of Shell's lack of production can be attributed to style. Rushel Shell represents an old-school, throwback player who relies on power isolation blocking and a fullback to clear the way. He isn't fast but he is strong. If he can get 4-6 yards without being made to change direction, Rushel can put his head down and get tough yards. When Shell is made to dance or cutback, he slows down and can be stopped.

The Mountaineers' zone blocking run scheme isn't the best fit for Rushel. Often utilizing a shotgun or pistol approach, Shell doesn't have the downhill running scheme where he would be a best fit. This also means that when the Mountaineers get into the redzone and need 2 yards for a touchdown, the offensive line can't generate the necessary push. This relies on Shell's ability to push a pile. Its hard to  push 3 defensive linemen weighing upwards of 300 pounds by yourself.

Shell's two best games last year came against the two worst run defenses in the country. Against Texas Tech and Kansas, he broke 100 yards and 7 yards per carry. Against Georgia Southern (9th), Maryland (63rd), and Kansas State (69th) he broke 5 yards per carry. In the other 8 games of the season, he was at or below his yards per carry average.

2016 Outlook

Rushel is the presumptive starter for the Mountaineers. He is going to have competition. Newcomers Kennedy McCoy and Justin Crawford will push for playing time. McCoy has been raved about by coaches all spring. Crawford is the JUCO National Offensive Player of the Year and had over 2,000 all-purpose yards last year.

Overall, Shell has the skills to contribute. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, a must in Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid scheme. He can run between the tackles, provided the hole is there. He can, when he puts his mind to it, run through people. Look for Shell to start the season with lots of carries and hopefully something to prove. Just don't be surprised if midway through the year, you see less of Shell and more of the other running backs.

Projected 2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing YPC Rushing Touchdowns Receptions Receiving Yards Yards per Catch Receiving Touchdowns
190 855 4.5 9 15 110 7.3 0