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OAYP: 2019 Sun Belt Running Back Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the Sun Belt's returning running backs.

In case you missed it, earlier this week I started releasing the Sun Belt marginal OAYP player rankings. Click the link for the quarterback rankings and a basic explanation of the formula.

As we did with the QB’s and will do with all of the other position groups, let’s tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

Thus far, for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with how the formula has ranked players. That said, there are some absolute stunners here. I’ll preface them by saying that I believe the formula to have substantially underrated Darrynton Evans, Marcel Murray, BJ Smith, and especially Trey Ragas. However, the numbers are the numbers and this is the first time, out of the entire SEC, ACC, and Sun Belt rankings, that I vehemently disagree with the math, so maybe it deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe it’s simply a sample size issue. Fewer teams equals fewer returnees, which means big numbers from one player hurt everyone else more. Perhaps when calculated relative to the entire nation, those guys will get the credit they deserve. As a thought experiment, I went ahead and compared them to the entire SEC and ACC as well, and all of their numbers increased incrementally, which is encouraging.

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*

Superstar

-Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana (1.8)

According to CFB Reference, only 30 players since the turn of the century have had at least 13 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns in the same season, while averaging 6 or more yards per carry. Of that group -- which includes the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Mark Ingram, Larry Johnson, Melvin Gordon, and Chris Johnson -- Elijah Mitchell did so with the fewest touches. Mitchell gained at least five yards on 52.4% of his carries, and had more runs of 20+ yards than all but three players in the conference, despite ranking ninth in carries. Plus, when you factor in his receiving production, he had the most gains of 30+ yards from scrimmage in the league. A dynamic open field threat and pass catcher out of the backfield, Mitchell is one of the premier home run hitters in the Sun Belt.

Second Tier

-CJ Marable, Coastal Carolina (0.61)

That’s right, by the definition we’ve been using, there’s only one running back in the conference that fits into the “second tier” threshold. Shockingly, it’s not Evans, Murray, Smith, or Ragas, rather Coastal Carolina’s CJ Marable. Perhaps due to the Chanticleers lackluster season, Marable largely flew under the radar, not even getting an honorable mention all-conference nod. However, he helped CCU to what was actually one of the more efficient offenses in college football. A multi-purpose threat, Marable average over six yards per carry, gained at least five yards more than 50% of the time, finished second on the team in catch rate, and also helped out on special teams. With the departure of Marcus Outlow, Marable could certainly join the ranks of the elite in 2019.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Raymond Calais, Louisiana (2.45)
-Wesley Kennedy, Georgia Southern (1.47)
-Jabir Daughtry-Frye, Troy (1.15)

Three absolute game breakers, those guys actually finished tops in the league in yards per carry last season. It will be interesting to see how much, if at all, Calais and Daughtry-Frye’s roles grow as both Mitchell and Trey Ragas are back for the Ragin’ Cajuns, as is B.J. Smith for Troy.

Because of that, and Georgia Southern’s loss of Wesley Fields, Kennedy might actually be the best bet for a breakout season, but all three are already well known headaches for defensive coordinators around the league, despite the relative lack of touches.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Sun Belt Running Backs

1. Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana (1.8)
2. CJ Marable, Coastal Carolina (0.61)
3. Darrynton Evans, App State (0.34)
4. Marcel Murray, Arkansas State (0.07)
5. Trey Ragas, Louisiana (0.0)
6. BJ Smith, Troy (-0.08)
7. Tra Barnett, Georgia State (-0.45)
8. Marcus Williams, App State (-0.64)
9. Anthony Taylor, Texas State (-0.77)
10. Tra Minter, South Alabama (-0.89)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP