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Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

Against all odds, one of the most exciting tailbacks in Washington history is back for his senior season.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

In a parallel universe, Washington Huskies fans are right now wringing their hands and sweating bullets over the state of their team’s running game. After all, Myles Gaskin did what virtually every running back with three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt does: declare for the NFL Draft. And while Salvon Ahmed showed flashes of potential during his true freshman campaign, it’s a tall order to expect a player in his second year to assume the role of featured back on a team with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations.

Fortunately, that is not the universe in which we live.

There is almost no sane reason why any Washington fan would have expected Gaskin to return for his senior season following last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions. As UW’s featured back since his true freshman season in 2015, he has utterly proven himself: 4,055 career rushing yards (he needs just 52 more to own Washington’s career record) and 45 rushing touchdowns on 686 carries. His presence in the Husky backfield, along with four returning upperclassmen starters along the offensive line (senior tackles Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary, senior guard Jesse Sosebee and junior center Nick Harris), figures to provide the Huskies with one of the nation’s most formidable ground attacks.

Returning Production (2017 Stats)

Name Year Pos Games Attempts Yards Avg TDs Att/G Yards/G
Name Year Pos Games Attempts Yards Avg TDs Att/G Yards/G
Myles Gaskin Sr RB 13 222 1,380 6.2 21 17.1 106.2
Salvon Ahmed Soph RB 13 61 388 6.4 3 4.7 29.9
Sean McGrew Soph RB 7 17 59 3.5 2 2.4 8.4
Jake Browning Sr QB 13 56 25 0.5 7 4.3 1.9
Kamari Pleasant Soph RB 4 5 19 3.8 0 1.3 4.8
Andre Baccellia Jr WR 8 2 18 9.0 0 0.3 2.3
Chico McClatcher Jr WR 3 2 9 4.5 0 0.7 3.0
Quinten Pounds Jr WR 8 1 0 0.0 0 0.1 0.0

Fresh Faces

Name Year Pos Height Weight 247 composite rating
Name Year Pos Height Weight 247 composite rating
Richard Newton Fr RB 6-0 183 0.8767
Jamyn Patu* Fr RB 5-11 205 Not rated
*Denotes walk-on

If there is any one word to describe Gaskin, it’s “dependable.” No player on Washington’s offense has embodied steadfast reliability as much as Myles; after all, we’re talking about a running back who didn’t fumble the ball until three seasons and 488 attempts into his career. If 2018 is anything like his previous three years, we will spend this season watching Gaskin carry the ball about 17 times per game, picking up something on the order of six yards or so per carry, and scoring multiple touchdowns in eight or nine games. Dawg fans have been ridiculously spoiled by their running backs for a decade now, going back to Huskies greats such as Chris Polk, Bishop Sankey, and Lavon Coleman. 2018 could realistically end up being the biggest treat out of that entire run.

Of course, no running back does it all by himself, and Gaskin is certainly no exception. Enter Salvon Ahmed, the lightning-quick sophomore from Kirkland, Wash., who ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the Husky Combine in March. Ahmed’s ability to turn on a dime and change direction was on full display during his true freshman season in 2017, and his ability to make defenders look silly trying to track him down proved the wisdom of Chris Petersen’s decision to burn his redshirt. With Lavon Coleman off to the NFL, Ahmed has a clear shot at earning the lion’s share of backup carries, and with it the inside track to becoming UW’s starting tailback in 2019.

Meanwhile, sophomores Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew should each have an opportunity to fight their way up the pecking order in fall camp. In particular, the 207-lb. Pleasant now owns the running back’s room largest physique, and could carve out a niche for himself if he is able to run with a physicality that his fellow tailbacks simply cannot bring to the table. And while neither of the 2018 signees should necessarily be forced into service this season, Richard Newton and Jamyn Patu might both get some end-game carries throughout the season in contests that are already well decided, particularly in light of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule that allows athletes to compete in up to four games while still retaining their extra year of eligibility.