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2019 West Virginia Football Position Preview: The Running Backs

There's no two ways about it, gang - the Mountaineers will go as far this year as the running game will carry them.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 TCU at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you look back through our program's history, you'll notice that all of our best years were powered by an explosive running game. There was the four-headed monster of Major Harris, Anthony Brown, Undra Johnson, and Craig Taylor in 1988, Robert Walker in 1993, Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Owen Schmitt from 2005-2007, and Skyler Howard, Wendell Smallwood, and Rushel Shell in 2016. However, top-end star power/national name recognition aside, it's not clear to me that we've ever had a deeper group of talented runners than we do this year.

The Triumvirate

No other team in the conference returns as many explosive 10+ yards runs, only one (Baylor) returns as many guys who went over 100 yards in a game last year, and only two (Oklahoma and Texas) return more total rushing yards. I said it a few weeks ago in my "How do our position groups stack up in the conference piece", and I'll stand by it here - we have the deepest backfield in the conference.

Tavon Austin aside, Kennedy McKoy is the probably the closest thing we've had to a true "all-purpose" back in my football watching lifetime. The 6'0 205lb senior has outstanding burst and a preternatural body swerve that he effectively uses to both elude defenders in the open field as a runner and create separation as a receiver, where he'd likely start for us if he was dedicated to learning the craft full-time.

Martell Pettaway is more of the traditional one-cut-and-go type of back, but plays much bigger than his 5'9 205lb frame would suggest. I often think that Pettaway is what Karl Joseph would've looked like had he played offense - it always seems like he's the guy initiating the contact and falling forwards at the end of a run.

Leddie Brown is the youngest of the three, but also might have the most NFL potential due to his size (5'11 215), versatility, and absolutely elite balance. I really think he has some David Montgomery potential as his game continues to mature, and please understand that after watching that guy stomp on us for the last three years I don't throw the comparison around lightly.

The X-Factor

This is by no means an original observation at this point, but Alec Sinkfield is a very good football player who's going to be very important for us this year. It felt like the redshirt sophomore was on the verge of breaking out last year as a freshman before his season was derailed by one of those weirdly lingering ankle sprains, and by the time he was healthy again, Leddie Brown had fully emerged as the guy behind McKoy and Pettaway, and that was that. However, before the injury Sinkfield was looking - dare I say - a little Slaton-esque. His one-cut acceleration is exceptional, and his ability to catch passes and make guys miss in space are going to be in high demand this year.

As for how the rotation is going to shake out, I expect that we'll see plenty of everybody and often several at the same time. There's obviously some overlap here, but the skill sets are actually about as complimentary as you could hope for, with everybody bringing something slightly different to the table. Real Deal Neal recently singled out Sinkfield and McKoy as guys who have the ability to play some receiver if necessary, but really the versatility of the group as a whole should allow us to get really funky with formations and personnel groupings this year. If the offensive line can hold up it's end of the bargain, these four have the chance to be really special.

Next In Line

We probably won't see too much of him this year barring a complete disaster, but Tony Mathis is a really good looking prospect. He strikes me as a mix of Leddie and Kennedy - just a very fluid runner with a rock solid combination of balance and body control. It's early days yet, but I'm excited to see what he turns into over the next several years.

Other backs on the roster include redshirt sophomore TJ Kpan and redshirt junior Lorenzo Dorr, but with the talent in front of them I wouldn't expect either to see much action outside of special teams.

The Superbacks

HCNB has repeatedly highlighted the situational utility of the superback in his offense, and was particularly complimentary of Zacc Weldon while reminiscing about his Troy days at Big 12 Media Day. We have a couple of guys who fit that bill physically. According to the July depth chart, converted linebacker Logan Thimons is first in line with Elijah Drummond close behind, but don't sleep on Western Michigan transfer Jackson Knipper getting into the mix, as well. All three are big-bodied guys who should be able to clear some room for our running backs in short yardage situations.