2022 WVU Spring Running Back Preview
We continue our Spring preview series of the West Virginia Mountaineers football team. We started by looking at the quarterbacks on the roster for Spring Camp. Now, we provide our 2022 WVU Spring running back preview.
Replacing Leddie Brown
The biggest question concerning the Mountaineer running back room going into 2022 is the most obvious. How do the Mountaineers replace Leddie Brown? Simply, that task looms large. In his final two seasons, Brown carried the ball 422 times for 2,075 yards. Averaging just under five yards per carry, he also rumbled for 22 rushing touchdowns. Brown added 67 receptions for 419 yards and three additional touchdowns through the air.
Over those two years, he averaged 1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns. Overall, Brown finished his career sixth on WVU’s all-time rushing yards list and seventh on its all-time rushing touchdowns list. That production, simply, will be hard to replace. Can it be done? Maybe, but it will likely be accomplished by committee.
A Full Stable of Running Backs
Good thing, then, that West Virginia enters Spring camp with a full stable of running backs.
First, Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon enters the fray. Dixon joins the Mountaineers with two years of eligibility. He accumulated over 500 snaps over four seasons for the Tigers. In that time, he accumulated 1,610 all-purpose yards and racked up 14 touchdowns. He touched the ball 238 times, meaning his usage rate was well over 40%. For his career, he averages six-and-a-half yards per carry. Looking at his career highlight reel shows that Dixon, at his best, is one of the shiftiest running backs in the country.
The coaching staff will certainly rely on Dixon to carry a significant portion of the load during the 2022 season.
One of the issues we expressed often during the last two seasons was this. Head Coach Neal Brown relied too heavily on Leddie in the backfield. We thought so for two reasons. First, Brown saw increased wear-and-tear as each season marched on. Second, the younger running backs on the roster gained less experience.
Despite those questions, Tony Mathis saw increased action in the second half of last season (after shaking off injuries in the first part of the season). In 127 snaps, he touched the ball 79 times (a usage rate above 60%). Over his career, he piled up 426 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Mathis looks most like Brown in terms of size. Both backs measure five feet, eleven inches, and Mathis weighs in just ten pounds lighter. Mathis also flexes a downhill running style and can explode through contact.
Indeed, Mathis and Dixon may well provide a lightning and thunder combination that could make the Mountaineers backfield more dangerous on the whole.
Behind the veteran leadership, the Mountaineers also feature two four-star underclassmen. Justin Johnson saw 67 snaps of actions as a true freshman last season. He showed promise after ripping off several big-time runs. In our recruiting profile for Johnson, we wrote that he “looks the part of a versatile speedy back with plus receiving skills.” Indeed, in his high school film, we immediately saw a poised and balanced runner who maintained good pad level at the point of contact to gain extra yards.
In limited time last season, Johnson flashed some of those same skills. Not surprisingly, Johnson showed some of the inconsistency one would expect with a true freshman. We expect he will take another step forward this season.
Finally, West Virginia fans should see their first glimpses of Jaylen Anderson this season. Anderson arrived in Fall camp late, so he was featured on the practice squad and developmental program last season. That said, the coaching staff regularly commended his work effort in getting in shape and helping on the scout team after his arrival.
Out of high school, Anderson ranked as the sixth-best all-purpose back in the country according to 247Sports. From his high school film, we noticed that Anderson displayed the blue-collar, team-first mentality that Coach Brown seeks to build in Morgantown. Indeed, Anderson split time between tailback, slot receiver, and h-back in his senior film. He added something tangible at each spot. Quietly, then, Anderson might prove the most versatile body in the room. For fans looking for more split-back formations with an extra blocker, Anderson may well be a key cog in such formations.