The No. 1 player on this list set an Ohio State freshman rushing record in 2017, then a year later became the first Buckeye to rush for 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, and is now focused on producing his best season ever.
No. 1 — JK Dobbins, Junior Running Back
As a high school recruit, JK Dobbins was the No. 2 all-purpose back in the nation and signed with Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Texas, USC, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, and others.
Dobbins enrolled early and made his mark quickly, showing his teammates that he was much more mature than your typical freshman.
An injury to starting running back Mike Weber in fall camp in 2017 allowed Dobbins to step in and carry the workload as a freshman, rushing for 1,403 yards.
Dobbins led the Big Ten with a 7.2 yard-per-carry average and was second with 10 rushes of 30 yards or more.
Dobbins’ numbers dropped dramatically in 2018.
He rushed for 1,053 yards last season, averaging just 4.6 yards per carry and managing just one rush of 30 yards or more.
The reasons for Dobbins’ decline have been debated since they began, but he is now looking to move beyond that debate with a push to return to his freshman form.
What He Does Well
JK Dobbins is an elusive running back with great lateral quickness.
As a freshman, he was impossible to tackle in one-on-one situations. As a sophomore, he found fewer and fewer of those opportunities and didn’t fight through enough tackles.
Dobbins is a talented pass catcher and an effective weapon on screen plays. He had six receptions of 20 or more yards last year, compared to his four rushes of 20 or more yards.
Dobbins also possesses the necessary speed to turn the corner, but hasn’t been able to maintain his top speed for long distances.
He is a very smart running back who allows big plays in the passing game thanks to his outstanding pass blocking and blitz pickups.
JK Dobbins In 2019
Last year is difficult to ignore when projecting JK Dobbins in 2019, but it was such a departure from his freshman season of 2017 that there is still plenty of hope for a big 2019.
Dobbins says the right things when talking about what went wrong last year, particularly his penchant for looking for the big plays while splitting reps with Mike Weber. This season, Dobbins won’t be looking over his should and will be allowed to find a rhythm, much like he did in 2017 as a true freshman.
The offensive line he has blocking for him this season is a grittier bunch and they understand that the running game begins and ends with them.
Dobbins should be a more comfortable running back this season, relying on the same vision and feel that allowed him to put up 1,400 yards in 2017. He’ll also have a quarterback who is a running threat, which will force defenders to slow down just a tick when they attack the read option.
Expect a bigger year for Dobbins than last year, and even though he is going to be the workhorse, his carries may actually go down because he’ll be doing more with the ones he gets this year.
If you’re looking for a projection, the 1,403 yards of 2017 is a nice baseline. If he can approach the 7 yards per carry he managed as a freshman, then things are going to go very well for both Dobbins and this Ohio State offense.
What They Are Saying
“When you’re looking for the home runs, you miss the home runs I guess you could say. You gotta let the game come to you and I wasn’t letting the game come to me. I wasn’t being patient, I was trying to force stuff, stuff like that.” — JK Dobbins on his lack of big runs last season.
“Yeah, J.K.’s got to run big for us and play big for us the first six games. The offensive line is going to block, but we’ve talked to J.K. several times about turning 3-yard carries into 5-yard carries and 5-yard carries into 6- and 7-yard carries and if he does that the big plays will come. Last year when he was going in and out with Mike, I think sometimes he was looking for the home run. I think he’d tell you that. This year in those first six games he’s got to get his pads down and play veteran for us, play good. The offensive line has to do the same thing to take the pressure off that position.” — Ohio State head coach Ryan Day on the importance of JK Dobbins stepping up this season.