Since the graduation of John Hubert at the end of the 2013 season, the running back position for the Wildcats has been in a state of...flux.
Charles Jones took the main starting spot in 2014, and held it for three years — amid much call for his replacement. During those three years Jones split carries with the likes of DeMarcus Robinson, Jarvis Leverett, and whoever was playing QB at the time, plus three other guys that are still on the team.
During the 2015 season, a sophomore walk-on emerged as a possible true replacement, but between games of 100+ yards in 2015 and 2016, there were large stretches where Justin Silmon got few carries. It was strange, but he played. Silmon finished 2016 strong, going for 133 yards against TCU in the final regular season game of the season, and 77 against A&M in the Texas Bowl.
Then, during the 2016 season another potential star emerged. Rumors of the 2015 Scout Team offense were littered with tales of Alex Barnes running all over everyone, same with spring and fall practice. But Barnes’ breakout didn’t come until a 72-yard effort against Oklahoma State turned into a 129-yard, 4-TD effort against Baylor in Waco, and a 103-yard 1-TD effort in the blowout win over Kansas. But Barnes was not able to finish the season after suffering an injury
thanks to a cheap shot during the Kansas game. Barnes averaged nearly 8 yards/carry during the 2016 season, but only carried the ball 56 times. Barnes also had one very intriguing footnote: he never had a negative yardage play during the 2016 season. Not once did he get tackled for loss. Crazy.
And then there is Dalvin Warmack. The enigma. Fairly highly touted out of high school — the first, and only, two-time winner of the Simone Award, given annually to the KC Metro Area Player of the Year — Warmack has lived right in the high expectation, low participation zone. In 2015, Warmack played in four games at running back (two games he only returned a kick), but made a significant impression in the Liberty Bowl catching two passes out of the backfield for 22 yards. 2016 was more of the same, with an 8-carry, 90-yard performance against Florida Atlantic, but pretty small loads in every other game.
So what does 2017 look like?
Based on what we’ve seen out of Barnes, Silmon, and even Warmack to this point, it’s a safe bet to say that, properly managed, this may be one of the best running back units, overall, that the Kansas State Wildcats have fielded since the mid-90’s.
Barnes and Silmon are one and two. The depth chart says it, observations from the spring game and what tidbits from practice we’ve gotten have said it, even Bill Snyder has basically said as much. It’s their show, we just get to watch.
Warmack will be competing several other young, talented guys to claim any snaps that aren’t claimed by the Barnes/Silmon Beast. Redshirt freshmen Mike McCoy and Tyler Burns have both drawn high praise for their production during practice and spring games.
McCoy is big — at 6’2”, 230lbs he’s a monster of a running back — and has speed too. There have been comparisons made by teammates to Alabama’s Derrick Henry. McCoy created the same buzz on the 2016 Scout Team that Barnes created on the 2015 version. So it could be very hard to keep McCoy off the field in at least some capacity.
Burns is no slouch either, and showed great flashes of ability during both the 2016 and 2017 spring games. During the 2016 spring game, Burns was the goal-line back, and scored two touchdowns while only gaining 23 yards. He is said to be faster than his brother, former Wildcat defensive back and All-American kick returner Morgan Burns. Don’t expect to see Tyler returning kicks any time soon, but he could factor into the rushing attack in blowouts and injury situations.
Also on the roster are two freshmen who are almost certainly headed to redshirt seasons. Cornelius Ruff and Dylan Wentzel are both Kansas guys, and both accepted walk-on offers to join the Wildcat program. One other potential new guy was Bernard Goodwater, but Goodwater is playing receiver for the Wildcats after spending his high school career playing running back.
Overall, expect Barnes and Silmon to split 95%+ of the carries, but don’t be surprised if one or the other takes over the main load (>60%). Hopefully, we’ll get to see some more Warmack, as well as McCoy and Burns, just to keep our palate wet. Also, lets hope that Dana Dimel and (running game coordinator) Charlie Dickey put the backs to best use, and we don’t end up with a situation like the 2013 quarterback battle...