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The CJ Donaldson Experiment

The enigmatic freshman has received as much fall hype as anybody, so how might we use him?

There are many things that excite me as a football fan. True freshmen making noise and positionless swiss army knives are right up there with any of them. This guy's already that good and could be/do literally anything? Sign me up. It's rare that the same player checks both of those boxes, but such is the case with tight end slash wide reciever slash playmaker turned running back CJ Donaldson.

We must tread lightly here, not only because it's alarming how quickly this hype train has hit critical mass, but also because there are plenty of examples of true freshman swiss army knives not working out (Exhibit 1A - Kwantel Raines, who I am for some reason still super high on). In this moment, however, the things that are trickling out of camp are absolutely tantalizing. CJ Donaldson can apparently do anything and everything. He's faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. I assume that he leaps tall buildings in a single bound. The question, therefore, is what do we do with him?

The way I see it, there are are three ways to feature CJ as a runner. The first two are obvious - hand him the ball on any of the traditional running plays that we're accustomed to seeing out of the various one or two-back shotgun sets, or line all 6'2 240lbs of him up in an I-formation in a short yardage or goalline situation a let him lower the boom. The third is a bit sneakier - get him the ball on a jet sweep or shovel pass as an H-back. Observe:

The best case scenario on a play like that is wide open spaces but the most likely outcome is probably Donaldson 1 on 1 with somebody in the hole, which is apparently a match up that he's winning pretty frequently so far this fall.

There are also a handful of ways to feature CJ as a receiver, many of which are evident in his high school highlight video that shows him lining up all over the formation. He seems particularly adept at working across the middle of the field and finding space on crossing routes, which is perfect because those types of routes play a huge role in traditional air raid concepts and are accessible from any of the positions where Donaldson is likely to line up.

This is the allure of somebody like Donaldson - the potential to both look like and be many things all at once. On one play he could simply start out in a traditional H-back position behind the tackle and block. On the next he could motion to that spot from the backfield and run a route against a linebacker, or he could motion into the backfield from being split out wide and take a handoff. Players like that have even more value in a system like Harrell's because they allow him to dress up a given play in a bunch of different ways. We'll have to wait and see what Donaldson's role ends up being, but for now the possibilities are endless.