Florida's starting running back is headed to the NFL after rushing for 1,000 yards in the 2015 season, and threatening school records for rushing touchdowns. And yet the Gators may be better at the position in the post-Kelvin Taylor future, thanks in part to a recruiting class brimming in potential.
Florida nabbed commitments from Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine in May of 2015, then spent much of the rest of the cycle defending them from interest from high-profile schools, most notably Alabama. But with Thompson enrolled and Perine seemingly locked in, the Gators have had their future at the position in place since then.
Either or both could be pressed into service this fall, though Thompson comes in as the clubhouse leader of the two thanks to his earlier enrollment and physical maturity. Thompson, in fact, could position himself as Florida's starter by the end of the spring, if he can prove to be the truck that complements the midsize compacts that are Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett.
At least, Thompson seems like a shoo-in to be Florida's best short-yardage back, as he outweighs both Jordans by 15 or 20 pounds, and has a frame more akin to Derrick Henry or Matt Jones. Thompson possesses both power and agility, too, and if what we've seen on highlights from his junior college days translates to the SEC, there's a chance we think of him as Florida's most talented runner in a decade or more.
Perine, though, is no slouch.
He runs with great balance and pad level, and strikes me as the sort of smallish running back who is more capable of thumping defenders than said defenders realize. Perine is the cousin of Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine, who holds the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single game after rushing for 427 yards less than a month after a record-setting performance from Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, and you can see the power both run with if you compare highlight reels.
I could see him flashing or stealing carries this fall.
The more likely outcome, though, is Perine ending up behind both Cronkrite and Scarlett because he lacks their elusiveness, and behind the more bruising Thompson. Redshirting him probably won't be the plan coming into the fall, but it seems somewhat unlikely that Florida would need or want to have more than three running backs in a rotation if all players are healthy.
Thompson is a mortal lock to play in some way, though, and with him and both Jordans available, Florida should have a stable with three four-star running backs — something the Gators haven't had since the "Speed Kills" heyday, when Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody all split carries, and Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin added their own talents to one of the all-time great run games in college football.
There's no question that Florida has a long way to go to get even to that point. But given that Jim McElwain, Doug Nussmeier, and Tim Skipper have done quite well with running backs in their own right: McElwain made Mark Ingram a Heisman winner, and helped make Trent Richardson the No. 3 pick, while Nussmeier helped recruit and develop Henry, another Heisman winner, and also coached T.J. Yeldon at Alabama.
So there's also ample reason to be more optimistic about running back than any other spot on Florida's roster, especially if Nussmeier remains with the Gators despite overtures from other schools.
2016 Florida Gators Recruiting Class: Running Back
|Name||Hometown / High School / College||247 Composite Rank/Rating||Measurements||Commitment Date||Highlights|
|Lamical Perine||Theodore, Alabama / Theodore High School||No. 492, .8699 (3*)||5'11", 210 pounds||May 29, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|
|Mark Thompson||Wyncote, Pennsylvania / Cheltenham High School / Dodge City Community College||No. 5 (JUCO), .9315 (4*)||6'2", 230 pounds||May 14, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|