Position Breakdown: Running Backs — 2021 Syracuse Football preview

Jarveon Howard
Syracuse running back Jarveon Howard breaks free during Syracuse's 51-21 win over UCONN. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re discussing three major storylines around the running backs.

Syracuse has depth again

Syracuse was a little thin at running back last year.

Initially stocked full of talent, the Orange quickly lost Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard prior to the season, when the two opted out because of COVID-19.

That left third-string RB Jawhar Jordan as the starter, who struggled amassing only 72 yards in three games before suffering a season ending injury.

Dino Babers was forced to turn to his fourth string running back, freshman Sean Tucker, who finished with 626 yards and four touchdowns despite a leaky offensive line and an overall inept offense.

Though Jordan entered the transfer portal in January, Syracuse got great news in February, when Adams and Howard opted to return to SU for the fall.

Jordan, Tucker and Howard join returning backup Cooper Lutz, who moved from wide receiver to running back in 2020, and finished second in rushing with 246 yards and a touchdown.

That gives Syracuse four rushers with experience heading into the fall as opposed to last year, when they had zero.

Where’s the beef?

Syracuse rushed for just 92.0 yards per game on the ground last year, which was 121st in the NCAA. Part of the reason for that was because of the Orange’s offensive line, which was rated among the worst units by Pro Football Focus.

Another reason is because Chris Elmore, a fullback/tight end for his first three years at Syracuse, was forced into playing interior line with the lack of depth up front.

The Orange went out of its way to address that in the offseason, and with more than 15 scholarship players at offensive line, Elmore can now revert back to his more natural role at fullback. The impact Elmore had on the rushing attack was evident in SU’s finale against Notre Dame, where Syracuse rushed for 229 yards against the Fighting Irish with Elmore lined up in the backfield.

Syracuse also added one running back in its 2021 class, Josh Hough. The three-star running back from Pennsylvania is listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, giving him the ideal build of a short-yardage, downhill rusher.

The two should be welcome contributors to a unit that didn’t have anything like them last year.

» Related: A look at Syracuse’s wide receivers heading into 2021

There’s nowhere to go but up, right?

There’s definitely room for optimism with Syracuse’s rushing attack.

Everything that could have went wrong for this unit, did. Its top three backs were off the depth chart by the end of September, and its fullback wasn’t actually a fullback until the final two games.

With an improved offensive line, four rushers with college experience, and two bruisers to compliment them, Syracuse should be able to improve on its 121st place finish.

The pieces are certainly there. Tucker averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and demonstrated breakout speed, having at least one rush of double digits in 10 of Syracuse’s 11 games, with a high of 40. Adams and Howard have both proven capable in short yardage situations in 2019 and will certainly be in the mix to start.

And the Orange should have a competent short yardage package as well.

SU should at the very least vie for the middle ground in the ACC, which would be a drastic improvement.

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.