Last summer, with the early signing period still months away, the Colorado Buffaloes weren’t sure if they’d add any running backs for the class of 2020.
After all, the Buffs had five running backs on scholarship and the oldest, Alex Fontenot, was just a sophomore.
Throughout the fall, however, the position became more of a priority. On Wednesday, CU signed two running backs to its 2020 class: Ashaad Clayton from New Orleans and Jayle Stacks from Cherry Creek High School.
With the two newcomers, the Buffs are now projected to have seven scholarship backs next season, putting them in better position to play the style of offense they desire.
“The way we play in our conference, you don’t want to have just an every down back like we had with Phillip (Lindsay, in 2016-17),” CU running backs coach Darian Hagan said. “We want to have multiple guys who can get multiple carries.”
Last season, the Buffs leaned on the duo of Fontenot (185 att., 874 yards) and freshman Jaren Mangham (107 att., 441 yards), while just 29 other carries went to running backs.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Jarek Broussard missed the season with a knee injury and Fontenot missed a game with a concussion, testing the Buffs’ depth at times.
“We realized at that position, with the numbers that we had, it was fragile and we didn’t want to get caught not having enough depth,” Hagan said.
The 2019 season was CU’s first under head coach Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson and there was a more balanced workload among the top two backs than in previous years, but the Buffs want even more players involved.
“I want to play more (backs) because I think we have enough talent and guys that deserve to play,” Hagan said. “I like the group of kids I have in the room and I’m going to work my butt off this spring and try to get them all ready to play. You can see when we beat Stanford and when we beat Washington, we pounded the ball. That’s what I’m looking for, guys that can do that.”
From the time he was hired in December of 2018, Tucker has talked about his desire to have as many backs as possible rotating in to wear down a defense.
While he’s been a long-time defensive coach, Tucker came to CU after three years at Georgia, where the offense was powered by multiple 1,000-yard backs and several others who contributed.
In 2006, when he was the coordinator at Minnesota, Johnson used two main backs, but also a third who had 242 yards.
“Realistically I don’t think you can play five or six, but I think we have enough depth now to where if you’re playing three guys and one of the three or two of the three get hurt, you’ve got enough talent and enough depth that you can go in and won’t miss a beat,” Hagan said.
Fontenot and Mangham formed a good one-two punch last season, while Smith showed a spark off the bench, but they’ll have plenty of competition this season.
Clayton is a four-star recruit who figures to compete right away for playing time. Stacks is a three-star recruit who, at 230 pounds, could provide a change of pace and help the Buffs pound the ball in short-yardage or clock-eating situations. A healthy Broussard and Joe Davis will factor in, as well.
Hagan said CU’s backs are embracing the competition and that depth is now attractive to young players.
“Now the selling point with kids is they want to be able to play in the NFL and they don’t want to be beat up and worn out,” Hagan said. “We tell them that if you come play for us you’re going to have tread on your tires when you go to the next level.”
Hagan is hoping the Buffs’ depth and talent at running back can take the offense to the new level, especially as CU breaks in a new quarterback.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do (at running back),” Hagan said, “I think that we can have a very special year.”
The projected roster of running backs for the Colorado Buffaloes for the 2020 season:
Alex Fontenot, 6-feet, 195 pounds
Jarek Broussard, 5-9, 180
Joe Davis, 5-11, 210
Jaren Mangham, 6-2, 215
Deion Smith, 6-0, 190
Ashaad Clayton, 6-0, 200
Jayle Stacks, 5-11, 230