Hi everyone, I hope you’ve all had a restful holiday season, or at least have the opportunity to rest and recover from the holiday season before jumping back into the grind.
To get your January kicked off, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert. He’s the first, in what I hope is a flood of graduate transfers into the Kansas State program (I’ll talk about that a little later).
James Gilbert - RB - 5’8, 191 - Indianapolis, IN (Arsenal Tech)
Rivals: 3* (5.5) - 20th Best Player in Indiana
247: 3* (81) - 1650 National Ranking - 24th Best Player in Indiana
247 Composite: 3* (.8284) - 1461 National Ranking - 22nd Best Player in Indiana
Offers Out of High School
Ball State, Akron, Cincinnati, Temple, Toledo, Western Michigan
High School Accolades:
Career Rushing Leader at Arsenal Tech - 4,817 yards
2014 Indiana Public School Player of the Year
2014 Honorable Mention Class 6A Indiana All-State RB
High School Highlights
High School Film Break Down
What impresses me most about Gilbert’s high school film is his eyes. His best skill, in my opinion, is the ability to pick through the interior of the line, and then explode trough narrow creases. This above all else, should pay dividends in the new K-State offense that focuses on flooding the point of attack and creating creases. K-State will put a bunch of bodies in front of the running back, Gilbert has the patience and vision to find the hole in all the congestion.
Physically, Gilbert is a hard runner that is more quick than fast. He’s short, which allows him to stay low and make cuts bigger defenders have a hard time following. He also finishes strong with solid lower body drive. He gets underneath tacklers and usually gets an extra yard or two out of every play because he doesn’t provide much of a target when he lowers his pads. He gives defenders the option of tackling the top of his helmet or his ankles when he goes into contact.
Ball State Career
Rushing Attempts: 152 (Team leader)
Average Per Carry: 4.0
Rushing Touchdowns: 8 (Team Leader)
Receiving TD: 0
Gilbert had a solid freshman season for a bad Ball State team. His best game, was on the road against Texas A&M, where he rushed for 70 yards on 11 carries, and scored a touchdown. He was in a part of a running back tandem that limited his total carries, and somewhat depressed his stats. He still managed to lead Ball State in carries and touchdowns, which is impressive for a true freshman.
Rushing Attempts: 251 (Team Leader)
Yards: 1332 (Team Leader)
Average Per Carry: 5.3 (Team Leader)
Rushing Touchdowns: 12 (Team Leader)
Receiving Touchdowns: 0
Gilbert was a break out star for Ball State as a Sophomore. He had 7 games where he rushed for over 100 yards, including a 264 yard explosion at Buffalo. His durability as a runner was on display all season, as he tallied over 20 carries in 7 games, including 4 games over 25 carries. He tallied at least 10 carries in every game in 2016.
His 1332 yards are fourth best at Ball State for a single season and his 264 yard game against Buffalo ranks second best for a single game rushing performance in Ball State history. He was named All-Conference First Team in the M.A.C. and was also named the team MVP for Ball State.
Rushing Attempts: 48
Average Per Carry: 4.3
Rushing Touchdowns: 3
Receiving Touchdowns: 1
Gilbert saw his 2017 season end in the third game when he suffered a gruesome season ending hand injury against Tennessee Tech that prevented him from holding the football.
In his truncated 2017 season, Gilbert still managed to score 4 touchdowns in 3 games, including 3 rushing touchdowns and the first receiving touchdown of his career. He was able to secure for a redshirt for the 2017 season, which subsequently allowed him to grad-transfer to K-State.
2018 (Redshirt Junior)
Rushing Attempts: 152 (Team Leader)
Yards: 659 (Team Leader)
Average Per Carry: 4.3
Rushing Touchdowns: 7 (Team Leader)
Receiving Touchdowns: 0
Gilbert bounced back from his injury-shortened Junior season to once again put up respectable numbers for Ball State. He wasn’t quite the bell cow he was as a Sophomore for Ball State, but some of that can be attributed to players who filled in for him in 2017 taking away some of his carries. He didn’t break the 20 carry barrier once as a Redshirt Junior. He tallied 19 carries 3, times, including in Ball States narrow loss to Notre Dame.
Two of his best games of the year came against Notre Dame and Indiana. He ran the ball 19 times for 72 yards against Notre Dame and ran the ball 16 times for 89 yards and a touchdown against Indiana, showing that he can compete against upper level competition. Gilbert also missed a game with a back injury that limited him in the final 3 games of the season.
Gilbert on Tape
2018 vs Notre Dame
Outside Run 1
This run shows Gilbert’s quickness and burst. Notre Dame’s #53 (Khalid Kareem) reads the play perfectly, but Gilbert is able to accelerate past one of Notre Dame’s best defenders and pick up 13 yards on this run. Gilbert’s burst is obviously the key factor in this play, but I also like how he finishes the run, falling forward and squeezing out 2 or 3 more yards for Ball State.
Outside Run 2
This is another example of Gilbert using his burst to run out of a bad situation and pick up yards. Notre Dame also has this play read well, with #91 (Adetokunbo Ogundeji) beating his block and getting into the backfield, but not being able to catch up to Gilbert once he hits the gas.
Gilbert then uses his acceleration to beat the Notre Dame safety. The safety has a nice angle to make the tackle, but Gilbert sees him coming and accelerates at the perfect moment to leave the tackler grasping at air.
Blitz Pick Up
This play might be subtle, but it’s one of the key factors that separates a grad transfer like Gilbert from any freshman or JuCo running back K-State could bring into the squad. Pass protection is one of the last things running backs pick up, and Gilbert already has that skill in his repertoire.
In this protection scheme, Gilbert is responsible for blocking Notre Dame’s defensive end #53 (Khalid Kareem). Ball State must have supreme confidence in Gilbert’s ability to get one of Notre Dame’s best defensive players on the ground, because normally leaving a running back one-on-one with a defensive end is a recipe for disaster.
Gilbert attacks Kareem’s legs and gets him on the ground, saving his quarterbacks life. If he misses this block, Ball State’s QB would be removed from the field with a spatula.
2016 vs Western Michigan
Yards After Contact
This play shows off Gilbert’s lower body strength and finishing power. The Western Michigan (who went 13-1 in 2016) defender has a clear shot in the back field, but can’t bring Gilbert down. Once he breaks the initial tackle, he accelerates through an open hole, gets low, and drives several Broncos past the first down marker.
Gilbert’s ability to finish runs strong will be an important factor in K-State’s offense next year. Controlling the time of possession will be crucial for the Wildcats next season, and Gilbert’s ability to turn a 7 yard run into an 11 yard run (or a 1 yard run into a 3 yard run) will be a crucial factor in keeping the offense on the field and wearing down opponents.
Gilbert is at his best as a one-cut, downhill runner. On this play he presses the hole, sees the lane, puts his foot in the ground, makes his cut, and then shows off his acceleration through the hole, brushing off arm tackles. Once again, he finished this run hard, picking up an extra 3 or 4 yards by finishing forward.
You don’t typically think of smaller backs as inside runners, but Gilbert’s ability to see the play and hit the hole hard makes him an exception to the rule. If you just look as his measurables, you may assume that he’s more of a finesse runner, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. If anything, he is better in the power game inside the tackles the tackles than he is as an outside runner.
This run gets me more excited than anything else on Gilbert’s tape, including some of his longer touchdown runs.
His vision in traffic and his ability to keep his shoulders square while moving sideways is elite. On this play, he sees #4, the player responsible for outside containment, waiting for him at the edge, so he cuts back into the middle, across the face of one defender and then makes another cut to elude the linebacker, while still maintaining enough forward momentum to carry a third defender forward towards the first down marker.
Adding a player like James Gilbert to the empty running back depth chart was a huge first step for the 2019 Kansas State roster. It’s crucial to find the right fit with graduate transfer players, and coach Klieman was able to snag a running back that he should be able to plug into his system from day 1.
Gilbert brings a tough, inside running style to the field. He has excellent vision, solid feet and runs with an attitude. While he has suffered a couple injuries in his career, his major injury was a freak hand that shouldn’t hamper him at all now. Kansas State is getting a running back with plenty of tread left on his tires.
That said, I think Kansas State will remain active in the grad transfer market at several positions, including running back. I see Gilbert as an important piece of a running back group, but I’m not sure I project him as a 20-25 carry per game guy in the Big 12. He runs hard and takes a ton of punishment on almost every carry. I’m not sure that is sustainable with his frame at this level of competition. I would love to see Coach Klieman add at least one speed back to compliment Gilbert’s power running style. Kansas State should have plenty of carries to offer, even with a player of Gilbert’s high caliber added to the fold.
I have my eye on one player in particular, but I’ll wait until it becomes official before letting the cat (or Wildcat hopefully) out of the bag.