The No. 9 player on this list has yet to play a single down at Ohio State, but he was enrolled this spring and impressed his coaches the entire time. Also, he plays running back, and there’s usually a place for talented freshman running backs in this offense.
No. 9 — J.K. Dobbins, Fr. Running Back
J.K. Dobbins missed his entire senior season after suffering a leg injury in the opener. He enrolled at Ohio State in the winter and arrived healthy and ready to work. He has been full speed throughout his time at OSU, which also included a spring camp where he moved up the depth chart pretty darn quickly.
Dobbins began the spring as the No. 4 tailback behind Mike Weber, Demario McCall, and Antonio Williams, but by the fifth practice he had moved up to No. 3, and challenged McCall for the backup spot all spring long. It was a close battle throughout, and if McCall does end up moving to H-back in the fall, you can thank Dobbins for making it happen.
His rise up the depth chart has been similar to that of what both Curtis Samuel and Ezekiel Elliott did as freshmen. That’s good company to be in. Dobbins shares similarities with both players. Samuel and Elliott had elite speed, and Dobbins does as well. In high school, he was routinely hand-timed in the 4.3s, which projects into laser-timed 4.4s.
Like Samuel and Elliott, however, Dobbins isn’t just a speed back. He has tremendous balance to take a hit and keep moving, but his agility and feel for running in traffic is fun to watch. He is comfortable in a scrum and has more options available to him than most. Catching the football is in his wheelhouse as well. Pass protection is also a skill that he possesses, just as it was for Elliott and Samuel.
What He Does Well
I wrote about Dobbins a few weeks ago for the Freshman Focus series, so I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote then, rather than saying the exact same thing but in a slightly different way. Thank you for understanding.
I could be completely wrong, but I believe J.K. Dobbins is the best running back to come to Ohio State since Ezekiel Elliott. He’s compact (5-10 208), fast (4.4s all day long), strong, and nimble.
Dobbins is a skilled runner in traffic and has the agility to move with it, against it, and between it. He can bounce from spot to spot, or simply power down and then burst through a gap just a step or two shy of top speed. There is no time wasted, but he also doesn’t hit the hole too soon. He’s got a great feel for where to be and when to get there. And if he’s a little late, he’s got the speed and quickness to make up the difference.
J.K. Dobbins in 2017
Dobbins is going to play this season because it would foolish to keep him on the shelf. How much does he play? That’s the real question. There has never been many quality carries available for Ohio State’s No. 3 tailback under Urban Meyer, but this situation might be a bit different. For one, J.K. Dobbins and Demario McCall are different kinds of backs who do different things, so there may be more of an effort to put those things to use. If they were similar backs, then the playing time for No. 3 might be lacking. If you have two No. 2s, however, then maybe you find room for them.
How many touches does that mean? I was originally thinking that his touches would be affected by where Demario McCall will be. However, I don’t think it will matter. Wherever McCall ends up, he’s going to get the football. He’s too good not to. The key for Dobbins is to show that same ability and provide a reason to get him the ball. When Urban Meyer is crafting his list of his 10 playmakers, Dobbins can’t leave any debate that he deserves the football.
More than McCall impacting Dobbins’ numbers, maybe we should look instead to how many carries J.T. Barrett takes away from the running backs. If he is handing the ball off more, then Mike Weber’s carries will build, which will then trigger Tony Alford to run other players in at the position to keep Weber from being overloaded.
The bottom line here is that there are enough running backs that the Buckeyes shouldn’t have to fixate on just the starter this year. Dobbins can make plays, he just needs the opportunity. I can see him moving up this list pretty quickly. He’ll be another one to revisit later this summer.
What They Are Saying
“J.K. is going to play in the fall.” — Urban Meyer
“He makes very few mistakes, very few mistakes for a young player. One of the things that’s impressed me the most about him, we knew he could run fast, jump, we got all that, but what he’s done in the pass-pro where he’ll stick his face in there. I think for high school kids coming into college, for running backs, probably the hardest skill set to perfect is pass protection. Is he where he needs to be right now, absolutely not, none of them are, but he jumped head-first into the waters and understanding where you fit in pass-pro. Those are things that showed up very quickly, that he’s willing to throw his body in there and go, and again he’s a very explosive athlete.” — Tony Alford
“You’ve cut the learning curve (by enrolling early), and he’s cut it immensely. Coming here early allowed him to cut that learning curve so you can imagine how much better he will be and how much more prepared he will be when we get here in August.” — Tony Alford
“J.K has probably a little more power, he’s a bigger guy. J.K. is 208, 210 pounds give or take, so he’s got some weight on Demario (McCall) that way, but it’s tight and that’s good. You don’t want these big discrepancies or you have problems if things fall off. Hopefully we get to the point where we can throw anybody in the game and not miss a beat.” — Tony Alford on the competition between Dobbins and McCall
“J.K. has really come on, J.K. Dobbins. He runs hard, like he does not care. He just goes. I like that in him. I’m close to him too. I kind of took him under my wing a little bit.” — Dre’Mont Jones