2016 Spring Preview: Running Backs

,Mario Pender (r-Sr),Amir Rasul
,Freddie Stevenson (Sr),Gabe Nabers
,Dalvin Cook (Jr),
,Jonathan Vickers (Jr),
,Jacques Patrick (So),
Bold indicates a returning starter

Ever since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, Florida State has seen some fantastic running backs come through the program. First it was Chris Thompson, now with the Washington Redskins, who helped pave the way for Florida State’s first ACC Championship under Fisher. Then it was Devonta Freeman, now a Pro-Bowler for the Atlanta Falcons, who was the first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. Then came Karlos Williams, who moved from safety and teamed up with Freeman and James Wilder Jr. to form a three-headed monster that helped Florida State win a National Championship in 2013. But, last year, Florida State witnessed the best season ever by a running back not just under Jimbo Fisher, but also in program history.

An argument can be made that Dalvin Cook (#4) is the best running back in Florida State history. In two seasons, the former five-star recruit has racked up 2,699 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Last season, Cook finished seventh in Heisman voting after rushing for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns (good for 7.4 a carry) and adding 244 receiving yards and a score while dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. Simply put, he is the best player on Florida State’s roster at the moment. He’s electric, dynamic, and a threat to score every time he touches the ball. If he’s fully healthy in 2016 and behind a more experienced offensive line, Cook will make another run at the Heisman again.

Behind Cook, Florida State has several talented backup options. Jacques Patrick (#9), another former five-star prospect, brings a different element to Florida State’s run game at 6-2, 235 lbs. He started off the season slow, but responded fantastically with a 162 yard, three-touchdown performance versus Syracuse when Cook was injured. It will be hard for Patrick to steal carries from Cook, but with another year under his belt Patrick will be a great option for Florida State in short-yardage situations and in the red zone.

Perhaps the forgotten man here is Mario Pender (#7), who suffered a collapsed lung that prematurely ended his season. He has battled injuries throughout his career at Florida State but has proved to be a great backup when on the field. He is a smaller back at 5-10, 196 lbs., but runs with some power and is shifty between the tackles as well. If healthy, Pender will definitely see more carries in his senior season.

Another forgotten player is Jonathan Vickers (#26). Vickers stepped into the backup role early when Pender went down with injuries and Patrick was struggling and proved to be a solid option. While he was thought to be a larger back, perhaps more in the fullback mold, Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly raved about Vickers in practice. However, with Cook still on the roster, the opportunities for Vickers will be few and far between.

Speaking of fullbacks, Florida State will return Freddie Stevenson (#23) in 2016 as well. A former linebacker, Stevenson has fully embraced the fullback role and had a breakout season in 2015. While it won’t show up on the stat sheet, Stevenson’s development as a blocker was clear in 2015 and it is an encouraging sign moving forward for the running game. With another solid year under his belt, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Stevenson to get drafted next year either.

Florida State signed two running backs this offseason, but the two couldn’t be more different. Amir Rasul (#TBA) is a smaller back at 5-10, 200 lbs., and is an electric playmaker who works well in space. Meanwhile, Gabe Nabers (#TBA) at 6-3, 243 lbs. will likely move to a fullback role behind Stevenson and will become the full-time starter at fullback in 2017. While Rasul and Nabers will be down on the depth charts, Fisher doesn’t usually redshirt skill players so it is likely they will both see the field in 2016.

With Dalvin Cook returning for another year, Florida State’s ground game will be phenomenal again in 2016. Behind a more experienced offensive line, Cook will again contend for Heisman honors and it wouldn’t be out of the question for Patrick or Pender put up some impressive numbers as well. However, 2016 will likely be Cook’s last year in a Seminoles uniform, so enjoy it while you can folks. He’s a special player.

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