2019 Penn State Football Preview: Running Backs

By Matthew Filipovits on August 13, 2019 at 8:00 am
Jan 1, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Ricky Slade (4) carries the ball during the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2019 Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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No position has seen as much success under James Franklin as running back. Now, with a room stacked with talented underclassmen, the Nittany Lions are searching for their next star.

The starter

No. 3 Ricky Slade (So./So., 5'9, 198 lbs)

Ricky Slade (who will ditch his No. 4 jersey for No. 3 this fall) showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman last season, rushing for 257 yards and six scores on just 45 carries. We've seen what talented, young backs can do in this offense once they become the starter, so it's not unreasonable to think Slade could pick up where Sanders left off.

Slade was the No. 1 all-purpose back in his class for a reason. The former five-star prospect has terrific hands, which makes the fact that he had just one catch last season all the more surprising. That number should skyrocket in 2019.

Going forward though, Slade isn't going to be the bell cow back we've grown used to seeing in Happy Valley. The position room is loaded with young talent, a luxury that will allow Slade to take a few more breathers than we've seen for the starter in the past. Regardless, his skill set should put him in position to have a breakout year and be that dual-threat back that gives defenses nightmares.

The backup

No. 4 Journey Brown (Jr./So., 5'11, 206 lbs) OR 

No. 21 Noah Cain (Fr./Fr., 5'10, 206 lbs)

When Miles Sanders declared for the NFL Draft it looked like Journey Brown was a lock for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. One of the fastest high schoolers to ever come out of Pennsylvania, the former three-star prospect has the type of game-changing speed that can keep defenses on their toes. He could be the perfect change of pace option to pair with Slade.

Brown started being pushed for his spot when Noah Cain enrolled early and started turning heads all the way back in January. Cain's bruising, downhill style of running is unlike any other back's on the roster and at 206 lbs, the true freshman already looks ready to contribute.

A summer suspension kept Brown away from the program over the past few months. That time should have allowed Cain to close the gap a bit and prove he deserves a good chunk of carries. Regardless, both of them should factor heavily into the offense and their differing skill sets should give each plenty of opportunities in the right situations. 

The reserves

No. 28 Devyn Ford (Fr./Fr., 5'11, 194 lbs)

No. 40 Nick Eury (Sr./Jr., 5'9, 212 lbs)

Devyn Ford is going to be a very productive back in the near future but unfortunately, there's just not enough carries to go around. The No. 5 running back in the 2019 class will find his way onto the field and may get the green light at some point, but with three guys ahead of him, it's hard to see him making all that big of a splash right away. He'll be an important depth piece at a position that could get banged up quickly, however, and if he shows that he belongs on the field, he'll play. Walk-on and human bowling ball Nick Eury rounds out the position group.

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