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2021 Rutgers Football Position Preview: Running Backs

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The Scarlet Knights running backs could be candidates for a breakout year.

Rutgers v Maryland Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Rutgers’ Football is winding down training camp and it is beginning to feel like a normal year. The Scarlet Knights were able to get through Spring ball and into late summer practices for the first time since 2019. This is a good sign for a team looking to continue to improve upon a 2020 season that saw them finish with three victories in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights will open the season against Temple on Sept. 2.

This preview series will take you through each position group and examine strengths and weaknesses of the team heading into the season.

We continue here with the running backs.

Position coach: Augie Hoffman

Key players returning: Isaih Pacheco, Aaron Young, Kyle Monangai, Jamier Wright-Collins

Key players lost: Kay’Ron Adams (Massachusetts transfer)

What they did well in 2020: Versatility

Isaih Pacheco has been a key contributor in this offense for three years now in the run game but he evolved last season into a dual threat. In 2020, he finished fourth on the team in receiving yards with 130 and Aaron Young was right behind him with 100. Even Kay’Ron Adams made some plays in the receiving game in Sean Gleeson’s offense. With Adams now with UMass, Rutgers will need other backs to step up and take on a bigger role.

This is a chance for Kyle Monangai or Jamier Wright-Collins to make an impact. Both opened eyes during the spring game and can be interesting fits within the offense. Wright-Collins played in every game as a true-freshman last season on special teams. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back could be seen more in the backfield. He has a big frame and is a physical runner. Once he learns the position a bit more, the Scarlet Knights could have a contributor for years to come. Monangai also impressed with 11 carries for 36 yards in the spring game. He has a chance to be slated third on the depth chart behind Pacheco and Young.

Pacheco and Young combined for 42 catches last season — 23 from Young and 19 from Pacheco. With a full spring and set of practices, Gleeson could implement more into his offense and get the backs even more involved. They have a wide skillset and could be difference makers within the offense.

Needs Improvement: Explosive plays

After Pacheco, a lot of the rushing work was done by quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Johnny Langan. Pacheco led the team with 116 carries for 515 yards. This came out to an average of 4.4 yards per carry but just 57.2 yards per game.

The Scarlet Knights finished 10th in the Big Ten last season with 140.3 rushing yards per game. This could have been a product of being behind in games. The offense did not feature that breakaway aspect where you felt like a running back could get in the open field at any given time. Will that change in 2021? There is hope that the offensive line will be improved this season with Raiqwon O’Neal and Nick Krimin leading the way for returning players.

If this happens, it takes pressure off everyone else. An explosive or even consistent run game will help Vedral and make the game easier to call for Gleeson. There are high hopes for Pacheco this season and if he can achieve them, it will be a boost on the offensive side of the ball.

Also keep an eye out for true freshman Al-Shadee Saleem, the speedster from East Orange. He could work his way into the mix due to his breakaway ability.

What to Expect in 2021

“Aaron (Young) and Pop (Pacheco) are going to be the first two to go in games,” Greg Schiano said recently in training camp. “I think Kyle (Monangai) has had a really good camp. That’s one of those things we really need to study and make some tough decisions on. Because you can’t get everybody carries. But all of those guys will play, whether it be at running back or on special teams. They’re all good football players.”

The pecking order is clear in Piscataway. Pacheco and Young will lead the way with either Monangai or Wright-Collins making a push for that third spot. Either way, Wright-Collins will have a chance to continue to shine on special teams.

The big storyline entering the season will be whether Pacheco will be able to get to that 1,000-yard mark. There are many that believe he can with non-conference games back on the schedule. This would be the first time that the Scarlet Knights had a rusher reach this mark since Jawan Jamison totaled 1,075 yards back in 2012.

Final Thoughts

The Big Ten is a conference where games can be won and lost in the trenches. This has been mentioned several times in other previews, such as the offensive and defensive line. It is the same with running backs. A strong running game can add a new dynamic offensively, shorten the game, and keep the opposing team’s offense on the sideline. In this conference, that is not the worst thing in the world. The Scarlet Knights feature a fast-paced style of play but if they are running the ball well, it will allow Gleeson to open the playbook further. With games against Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware to begin the year, Pacheco and company will be able to get their feet wet and establish a strong ground attack.

Other Position Groups

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Tight Ends

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Secondary