The Daily Nole

FSU Football: RB by Committee Will Be a Theme Again in 2017

Damon Herota/FSU athletics

Expectations will be high again for Florida State in 2017, but the biggest question the Seminoles may have to wrestle with is how to replace running back Dalvin Cook.

On Saturday — one day after FSU’s thrilling 33-32 Orange Bowl victory over Michigan — Cook made his intentions known that he will forego his senior year and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. The decision came as no surprise as the 2016 Unanimous All-American and FSU’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns had nothing left to prove.

The question in 2017 for head coach Jimbo Fisher and company probably isn’t which player will fill the void left by Cook, but rather which players will fill that void. Assuming no one transfers and none of the three running backs currently committed for 2017 head elsewhere, FSU will have seven scholarship tailbacks on board.

Prior to Cook’s arrival in Tallahassee in 2014, the FSU offense was typically predicated on using multiple backs. Cook took over as the starter in the middle of his freshman season after sitting behind Karlos Williams early on and became a real workhorse over his last two years on campus, which included a school-record 288 carries this season. Cook was just too good to keep off the field.

Prior to Cook last season, the Seminoles never had a single back under Fisher get as much as 40 percent of the carries. In four of Fisher’s first five seasons, at least two running backs got at least 80 carries. Three times, three different running backs got at least 80 carries. Here’s a chart showing the team’s leader in carries since 2010 by number and percentage:


The heir-apparent to Cook looks to be soon-to-be junior Jacques Patrick. Patrick has been the second-leading rusher for the Seminoles in each of the last two years, finishing with 314 yards as a freshman in 2015 and 350 this season. Patrick had the look of legitimate No. 2 behind Cook to start the year, but saw his role decrease substantially as the season went on.

Although Patrick, who stands 6-2 and 230 pounds, is quick for a guy his size and has good hands, he’s seen as more of an in-between-the-tackles back. Under Fisher, those types have gotten significant time like James Wilder Jr., who finished with more than 1,200 total yards rushing and 19 touchdowns over his final two seasons in Tallahassee. Fisher however, has been more prone to use backs that are a bit more versatile like Cook, Devonta Freeman or Chris Thompson.

With that said, Patrick is likely to share time in 2017 and perhaps the young man he’s most likely to share it with is incoming freshman Cam Akers. A 5-star from Mississippi, Akers has the makings of a complete back with All-American potential. Few programs are blessed enough to have a talent like Cook followed by one with as much potential as Akers.

Akers will enroll early. If Akers is as good as advertised and can take advantage of playing in the spring, he could make an impact for Florida State immediately. It’s possible that Akers’ case with Patrick could also mirrors Cook’s from 2014 where his role increases throughout the course of the season.

Akers won’t be the only incoming freshman competing for playing time in the backfield however. Khalan Laborn, a 4-star back from Virginia, at 5-10 and 200 pounds also has the potential to be a complete back. Laborn shined during the Under Armour All-America game and isn’t shying away from competition. Fort Myers product Zaquandre White also has a wealth of potential.

When it comes to returning players outside of Patrick, Amir Rasul stands the best chance to make a splash. A 5-10, 200-pound back, Rasul is a burner who has put on muscle and really impressed coaches as a freshman in 2016.

The other two for Florida State at tailback are Ryan Green and Johnathan Vickers who will each be seniors in 2017. Green and Vickers are well-liked by the coaching staff, but it’s unusual for Fisher to play unproven upperclassmen over underclassmen if the competition is close. There is some speculation that Vickers could move to fullback and become a candidate to replace graduating Freddie Stevenson.

Replacing Cook obviously won’t be easy. Cook is a once in a generation type player who put his name all over the Florida State record books. Cook holds the best two rushing seasons in FSU history and four of the seven best individual games. In three years, Cook obliterated school-records for yards and rushing touchdowns that it took FSU legends like Warrick Dunn and Greg Allen four years to attain.

As much talent as Florida State’s three incoming freshmen have, it may be a long time before another Dalvin Cook comes through Tallahassee, if ever. Still, the Seminoles have plenty of capable bodies to be very good — maybe even great — on the ground next season. Having so many at the position will force the deep corps of backs to be at their best to earn meaningful reps. A stiff internal competition is almost always a good thing.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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