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Trey Ragas, Coming for the Crown

By Jim Johnson
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For a couple of years now, App State’s Jalin Moore has had a stranglehold on the title of Sun Belt’s best running back, but Trey Ragas is coming.

For a couple of years now, App State’s Jalin Moore has had a stranglehold on the title of Sun Belt’s best running back.

He was the Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2017, and followed that up with his second consecutive first team all-conference selection, as a junior. He led the league in rushing each of those season, and finished second in touchdowns both times, as well. There was no dispute as to who sat on the throne.

That’s no longer the case.

Moore has hardly resigned himself to giving up the crown. He’s in the midst of yet another top flight campaign, averaging 92 yards per game, second among SBC RBs, with five touchdowns, tied for fourth.

Meanwhile, however, Louisiana’s Trey Ragas has followed up a stellar freshman season, in which he showed all the signs of an elite ball carrier, with an even more impressive start -- and against stronger competition.

Moore had a nice day against Penn State to start the season, but as good as that performance looks on paper, PSU actually ranks in the 60’s in both rushing marginal efficiency and explosiveness allowed.

Beyond that, he sputtered versus one of the worst run defenses in the country, in Charlotte, before regaining his form against FCS Gardner-Webb, and a porous South Alabama run defense.

Ragas, on the other hand, dominated FCS Grambling, as he should have, but then went on to average seven yards a pop at Mississippi State, who ranks 58th and 41st in rushing marginal efficiency and explosiveness allowed, and 8th in percentage of carries stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. A week later, he once more did what was expected of him, facing a terrible Coastal Carolina rush D. Then, last time out, he did the unexpected.

He became just the 13th running back to break the century mark against Alabama during the Saban-era, joining the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb, Darren McFadden, and Todd Gurley, among others. It’s not like had fifty carries, either. In fact, the only four of the thirteen to get there as efficiently as Ragas were Jordan Wilkins, Tauren Poole, Chubb, and Elliott.

Altogether, the sophomore currently leads the league in yards per carry with 104, is fifth in yards per carry behind four guys of whom only one has even half as many rushes, and his three touchdowns are also in the top ten.

The advanced metrics look increasingly favorable upon Ragas, as well. Here’s how the 15 Sun Belt running backs with at least eight carries per game stack up against one another:

From SB Nation writer Bill Connelly’s team profiles, highlight yards per opportunity measures how many extra yards per carry a ball carrier gains upon reaching the second level. Opportunity rate is the percentage of carries that gain at least five yards. Marginal efficiency and explosiveness are the relative difference between the success rate or IsoPPP of a given play as compared to the expected outcome based on down, distance, and field position.

The top three performers in each category are bolded. The only one bolded in all four: Trey Ragas.

Ranking third in highlight yards, first in percentage of 5+ yard carries, and second in both marginal efficiency and explosiveness.

At least through his first four games, there’s not a more well-rounded runner in the Sun Belt.

There are a few other noteworthy takeaways from the above chart.

Coastal Carolina’s Torrance Marable has been fantastic on a somewhat limited sample size. It will be interesting to see if he starts to garner more carries, as his teammate Marcus Outlow has run more than anyone in the league so far.

This argument is obviously not a slight at Jalin Moore. He’s a stud. Factoring in his efficacy as a pass catcher, it’s still a very close call between he and Ragas.

And speaking of pass catching, while not included in the above table, Georgia Southern’s Wesley Fields and Arkansas State’s Marcel Murray were the only two that ranked in the top three in yards per target, receiving marginal efficiency, and receiving marginal explosiveness. Fields’ abilities are well respected throughout the league, but Murray, a freshman, is a name to know going forward.

Anyways, in fairness to Moore, Ragas does play behind a better offensive line, at least as a run blocking unit. App State’s front five have been far better in pass protection, but as it pertains to this argument, Louisiana’s O-Line has done a better job of getting a push and keeping opposing defenders out of the backfield.

It’s a nuanced debate, and one that’s nowhere near done yet. Still, based on what we’ve seen so far, Trey Ragas is the best running back in the Sun Belt.

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