Closer look: Running backs

In the coming weeks, the Osceola staff will take a look at each Florida State position group. Next up: Running backs.

2021 stats: Jashaun Corbin (887 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6.2 yards per carry), Jordan Travis (530 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4 yards per carry, Treshaun Ward (533 yards, 4 touchdowns, 6.4 yards per carry), Lawrance Toafili (163 yards, 1 touchdown, 5.1 yards per carry), D.J. Williams (47 yards, 4.7 yards per carry).

2022 projected running backs: Ward, Toafili, Williams and Rodney Hill. FSU also has a walk-on in C.J. Campbell.

Departures: Corbin (entering NFL Draft early). He will participate in the East-West Shrine Game in January. Deonte Sheffield has transferred and landed at West Florida.

State of the RB room: A number of positives but plenty of room to improve. FSU’s offensive identity was often to run the ball and it was a definite strength with Travis at quarterback. Corbin’s improvement from 2020 to 2021 was a reflection of his recovery from the Sept. 2019 torn hamstring but also his improved decisiveness in the open field, which in part allowed him to have some breakaway runs early in the year. He was well on pace to being FSU’s next 1,000-yard rusher before some difficult days against Clemson (nine carries, 31 yards) and NC State (14 carries, 33 yards) and a rough finish at Florida (six carries, 10 yards). Ward was a breakout star in the preseason and first half of 2021 but his production also dipped in the last five games (combined for 24 carries and 96 yards). How much of it was a lack of continuity on the offensive line? How much of it was wear and tear on the running backs? (Yes and yes, perhaps.) In part due to injury, Toafili had a carry in just seven games and he needs to be a bigger part of the offense as a runner and receiver in 2022.

The new guy: Hill ran for 344 yards on 38 carries with three touchdowns as a senior. He also caught 12 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. Coach Mike Norvell called Hill one of the “hidden gems” of the 2022 class, and it’s easy to see why when the focus has very much been on the offensive line as well as defensive backs and quarterback A.J. Duffy. Running backs can contribute in year 1 in college football and Hill plans to enroll early.

Shopping in the transfer portal: Possibly. Running backs coach (and recruiting coordinator) David Johnson hedged it but said he felt good with Ward, Toafili, Williams and Hill. He added that he really wanted to push Toafili, who is the type of back that is dangerous in space — whether by running or grabbing a short pass. But purely from a numbers standpoint FSU is an injury away from being in a tough spot. Ja’Khi Douglas could be used in a hybrid role and coaches take a long look at Campbell, who had 2,210 all-purpose yards as a senior in eight games at Panama City (Fla.) Bay High. And coach Mike Norvell already has shown confidence in rewarding Ward from a walk-on to a scholarship player. But the bottom line is if the right back enters the transfer portal, the coaches should invite him in for a visit in January.

Final thoughts: With a combination of an improved offensive line, Travis’ experience, Corbin’s persistence and Ward’s emergence, the running game delivered often and sparked the offense in 2021. It’s obvious the Seminoles are lacking a true No. 1 back — in the vein of a Dalvin Cook, Cam Akers or Devonta Freeman, all of them 1,000-yard backs of the last decade — but it appears the coaches think highly enough of Ward and are projecting he as well as Toafili, Williams and Hill can make the offense go in 2022.

Closer look series