Fans of the the University of Georgia saw what Marcus Lattimore, a true freshman, did last year for South Carolina and asked, "Why not us?" The belief was that if we could get a heralded, running back recruit he could make an immediate impact for us, just like Lattimore did for the Gamecocks. Richt landed the running back the fans all wanted: Isaiah Crowell. Crowell was rated the #4 running back in the nation by Rivals and was a five-star recruit just like Lattimore. Suddenly, the sun was shining on Athens, for our saviour had arrived. It was even assumed that Crowell would easily supplant Ealey and King on the depth chart, as much a credit to Crowell’s talent as to a sign of how disappointing the ground game was in 2010.
While I am glad Crowell chose UGA, and I hope that he has a great career, I was surprised at how many of our eggs we (coaches and fans) were putting in the Crowell basket. Although I don’t follow recruiting too closely, it seemed to me that we had a highly rated tailback in just about every class, and it was also my impression that most of these backs did not live up to the hype, so I did a little research. Here are all the running backs Richt has signed since taking the head coaching job at UGA, broken out by year, and their corresponding national rank at their position. Yahoo!’s rival site only went back to 2002, Richt’s second year, so I don’t have the rankings for the 2001 class.
2001: Tyson Browning, Mike Gilliam, Tony Milton
2002: Tyson Browning NR (Athlete), Michael Cooper #8, Reshard Dudley #12
2003: Kregg Lumpkin #2, Danny Ware #45
2004: Thomas Brown #4, Danny Ware
2006: Shuan Chapas NR, Knowshon Moreno #10
2007: Caleb King #8
2009: Washaun Ealey #11
2010: Ken Malcome #24
2011: Isaiah Crowell #4
As you can see, Isaiah isn’t the first highly touted running back recruit Richt has signed. I must admit, that I have never seen any tape of Crowell running the football, so what makes him so different than the others on this list? There are some players that had a solid career at UGA, but I see only one true difference maker, Knowshon Moreno, and he didn’t even play his freshman year.
Here is a summary of the careers of the UGA running backs that were rated in the top 15 in the nation at their position by Rivals:
- Michal Cooper #8: In 2003, as a freshman, Cooper led Georgia in rushing with 673 yards on 156 carries. He only had 29 carries his sophomore year, and transferred in the fall of 2005 after falling behind Tyson Browning and Thomas Brown on the depth chart.
- Reshard Dudley #12: Dudley failed to qualify.
- Kregg Lumpkin #2: Lumpkin was rated behind only Reggie Bush in 2003. Lumpkin's career was plagued by injury, limiting him to only 66 carries his sophomore year and 12 carries his senior year. He ended his career with 1700 yards on 352 carries, but what I remember most is a dropped pass in the 2003 SEC title game vs LSU. Lumpkin is currently a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Thomas Brown #4: Brown was a 4-star recruit in 2004. He finished his college career with 2646 yards rushing, 372 yards receiving, 749 kick return yards, and 9 yards passing. He was an excellent player and a key member of the 2007 team that finished with a record of 11-2 and ranked second in the nation. Brown is currently a member of the Cleveland Browns.
- Knowshon Moreno #10: Moreno was red-shirted his freshman year and turned pro after his junior year, so he only played for two seasons at Georgia. He was electric in those two years, rushing for 2734 yards on 498 carries. Moreno is currently a member of the Denver Broncos.
- Caleb King #8: King was a 5-star recruit in 2007. He was red-shirted his freshman year after breaking his leg in his senior year of high school. He left the program in the fall of 2011 after failing to stay academically eligible. King finished his career with 1271 yards on 255 carries over three years. King is currently a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
- Dontavious Jackson #8: Jackson left the University in the summer of 2010 with only 3 career carries. Jackson transferred to UAB after being suspended for part of the 2010 season as punishment for an alcohol-related arrest.
- Richard Samuel #2 ATH: Samuel was rated the #2 athlete in the nation in 2008, meaning that no one knew where he should play, and UGA coaches have proven that analysis correct. Samuel played running back his freshman and sophomore seasons, totaling 528 yards on 114 carries. Fumbles cost him playing time and he was passed by Washaun Ealey and Caleb King on the depth chart. Samuel moved to LB his junior year and red-shirted. Samuel spent of of spring practice 2011 at LB, but moved back to RB following the dismissal of King and Ealey.
- Washaun Ealey #11: Ealey played two seasons for UGA, transferring to Jacksonville State in the summer of 2011. He totaled 1528 yards rushing on just 282 carries.
Past poor performance doesn't guarantee future failures, but given the above, I think it is unrealistic to expect Isaiah Crowell to have a dominate freshman year. My hope is that what has held all the other heralded players that came before him back was the timidity of the coaching staff to turn them loose. With the departure of Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, the coaches will have no choice but to hand Crowell the ball and to hope that they have found their Lattimore.
Best of luck in the 2011 season. Go Dawgs!