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To be elite, Ohio State needs to have an elite running back; fortunately they do

TreVeyon Henderson looks to be an absolute difference-maker.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game
Henderson applies straight arm in OSU spring game, April 17, 2021
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I’m very excited about TreVeyon Henderson. Oh, I know that the Buckeyes have a full room of running backs for the 2021 campaign, but it’s Henderson that I’ve got my eyes (and hopes) on. With a talented, yet unproven quarterback (whoever starts at Minnesota on Sept. 2) and a defense (other than the line) that even the staunchest fan might have concerns about, it’s essential for Ohio State to have a balanced offense that scores plenty of points — taking pressure off of both the defense and the young quarterback. The Bucks need an elite runner, and I think that Henderson’s the guy.

Last year, both Trey Sermon and Master Teague were coming off of serious injuries. We didn’t know what to expect from either of them, but Justin Fields was there. A wacky season, to say the least, but Ohio State only had a truly elite running back for two games (out of eight): Sermon’s two record-breaking games against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the national semifinal. He also had a good game against Michigan State, 112 yards on ten carries, but that was about it for outstanding RB performances in 2020.

Against Alabama in the national championship game, of course, Sermon had one carry for two yards and a game-ending injury. It mattered. I doubt that it mattered to the tune of four touchdowns, unless Sermon also played defense and could cover DaVonta Smith one-on-one. Still, the Bucks needed an elite runner, and, without Sermon, they didn’t have one.

In the Urban Meyer/Ryan Day golden era for Ohio State football, I regard Ezekiel Elliott in the championship year of 2014 and again in 2015 as the type of elite runner you have to have to reach championship potential. He gained over 1,800 yards each year and averaged 6.9 and 6.3 yards per carry. Most importantly, he could score on any play; he had the speed and the skill.

Similarly, J.K. Dobbins was elite in his freshman year — 1,403 yards, 7.2 yards per rush — and again in 2019. In that season (his final one at OSU), Dobbins ran for 2,003 yards, with a 6.7 yards per carry average, and he scored 21 touchdowns. In his sophomore season, when he shared rushing duties with Mike Weber, Dobbins seemed somehow much slower and averaged only 4.6 yards per rush. I’m aware, of course, that the offensive line has something to do with backs’ success and so does the competition, but with the truly elite runners, you hold your breath and expect them to score on every carry. Importantly, so does the defense and allocates attention accordingly, leaving opportunities elsewhere for the offense.

Enter Treveyon Henderson. He probably won’t emerge as the obvious go-to guy until the third or fourth game, but he will beat out Master Teague (and Miyan Williams, Evan Pryor, and Marcus Crowley). Henderson’s an interesting case. We all know that he was the No. 1-ranked running back in his class, a five-star recruit that led his Hopewell, Va., team to an undefeated season and state championship in 2019.

But that was really Henderson’s only season as a running back. He opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, and, as a sophomore, played mainly defense, with an occasional stint as a wildcat quarterback. Therefor, Henderson was originally considered as an “athlete” by the major recruiting services. Is that one year performance really enough to go on?

It sure is. As a junior, Henderson rushed for 2,424 yards on 198 carries — a whopping 12.2 yards per rush. Star high school runners often have averages like this one, but when you look at the film, you quickly see that Henderson is different.

He’s the fastest player on the field. He seems to emerge from a congested clump of players, changing direction, displaying phenomenal balance; impossible to bring down. He scored TDs on nearly every play you see; it’s not surprising, I suppose, since he scored 53 of them that season (45 rushing, five receiving, three on kick returns).

Henderson joins the Buckeyes with lots of hype, but to me it seems legitimate. I think that Brian Dohn from 247Sports is correct when he says that Henderson “can score from anywhere” and “has first round NFL draft potential.”

I don’t think that the same can be said for Teague — or any of the other Buckeye backs — and that’s why I’m excited to see what Henderson can bring to the Ohio State running game and help out his young quarterback and somewhat suspect defense.