In what seems to be a recurring theme for recent Notre Dame football teams, the running back position next year is once again a bit uncertain.
This is the second article in a series of previewing position groups as we look forward to next season. Next up: The running backs. Notre Dame football has had its fair share of quality running backs over the years and we have seen two of the best in program history in just the last couple years with Josh Adams and Dexter Williams.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Irish fans will be forced to reluctantly wave goodbye to their home-run hitter — Dexter Williams — at the end of this season.
Looking past Williams, what is left in Notre Dame’s running back committee as we look forward to next season? Let’s find out.
Let’s be honest, losing Dexter is going to suck. He is a true star of this Notre Dame team and is nearly irreplaceable. Be that as it may, Brian Kelly & Co. need someone back there and it looks like it will be Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr.
Kelly will be glad to return two experienced running backs to his offense. Both Armstrong and Jones know the offense well and each one does things individually that make them very valuable to the Irish rushing attack.
Armstrong — a former wide receiver — is much more of a shifty, “make you miss” type of player. He is very dangerous in the open field and may be one of the fastest players on the current squad. He can be used in a variety of schemes and looks in Chip Long’s offense, and his value can not be understated.
It’s truly rare to have a running back that is just as comfortable carrying the ball through the tackles as he is catching passes from the slot, and that is exactly what Notre Dame has in Jafar Armstrong.
Tony Jones Jr. is your typical smash-mouth type of running back who is not afraid to run anyone over. He is very different from Armstrong, but they compliment each other well in a Notre Dame backfield that will likely see both running backs on the field quite a bit.
Jones is the power running back that every team needs, the guy you can rely on to get you 2-3 yards on a tough 3rd down or punch it in from the goal-line.
Once you get past Armstrong and Jones, the running back position becomes a bit less clear. It’s tough to tell exactly where various guys will fall on the depth chart. You have quarterback-turned-running back Avery Davis, who has yet to see extended playing time in his young career at Notre Dame. There is last year’s class of Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, who we have seen sparingly. Lastly, there is new-commit Kyren Williams. Williams is a player I am very excited about, and someone I expect to earn playing time next season. He is a freak athlete and a player Brian Kelly will have a hard time keeping off the field.
Notre Dame will have to deal with the loss of star running back Dexter Williams just one year after losing another star in Josh Adams. Those are two tough players to replace, both from an athletic and production standpoint. However, the Irish will welcome back two experienced players in senior Tony Jones Jr. and red-shirt sophomore Jafar Armstrong.
During the first four games of the season, Armstrong and Jones did an admirable job in place of the suspended Williams, and should be expected to carry the load in a similar fashion in 2019.
Armstrong, specifically, has the athletic ability to be an outstanding weapon out of the backfield and in the slot for Notre Dame. It will be his second season as full-time running back, and the arrow is pointing way up. As for Jones, his in-between the tackles running style is a welcomed addition and should be counted upon a ton. He is also a very talented receiver out of the backfield.
Behind these two it is a tad murky. Avery Davis also made the transition to running back in his second year with the program, and should continue to grow as a player. He’s a dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands. Incoming freshman Kyren Williams comes to South Bend after an extremely productive senior season in the Missouri HS ranks, which he topped off with a State Title. His versatility as a runner and receiver will fit in nicely in the running back room. As an early enrollee, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him establish a role in the offense for 2019.
We can’t forget about the 2-man class from 2018; Jahmir Smith and C’bo Flemister. Both players saw limited action as freshman, and were able to reserve a year of eligibility. With that said, unless injuries occur, I’m not sure either will see significant playing time as running backs next year.
Predictions and Expectations for 2019
Mason: Of course losing Dex will hurt, but I feel good about the running backs next season. I am a huge fan of Jafar Armstrong and what he can bring to the offense. The looks Chip Long can use with the versatility of Armstrong and Jones should be deadly. I see Kyren Williams earning the No. 3 spot on the depth chart and possibly getting some good time against teams like New Mexico, Bowling Green and Duke. 2019 should be another good year overall for the running back position.
Nathan: While some are worried about Notre Dame’s running back situation next season, I am cautiously optimistic. Armstrong oozes potential, and his second year at the position should only show vast improvement. Keep an eye on Williams as a freshman contributor. The coaching staff seems to really love his abilities. I don’t think fans should be stressing the position group in 2019.