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April 30, 2013

Texas backs a good mix of speed, size

1. Kevin Shorter, Newton

2. Samaje Perine, Pflugerville Hendrickson (committed to Oklahoma)

3. Donald Catalon, Houston Eisenhower (committed to Texas)

4. Varshaun Nixon, Lake Travis (committed to Texas A&M)

5. Terence Williams, Ennis (committed to Baylor)

6. Daniel Gresham, Fort Worth All-Saints (committed to Texas)

7. Auston Anderson, Plano West

8. Vic Enwere, Fort Bend Austin

9. Justin Stockton, Cibolo Steele (committed to Texas Tech)

The 2014 class of running backs represents a nice class with a balance between bigger backs who could carry the ball 20 times a game and smaller backs who may well be a better fit in a spread offense. In addition, you won't find a consensus on who is the number one back in the class and that because there's a lack of a dominant, do it all type such as Jonathan Gray or Adrian Peterson that has put up big numbers consistently throughout their career. In addition, some the state's top backs have battled injuries through at least one season which has kept their numbers down.

Shorter is not ranked as such but he is an elite back on numbers alone: he averaged 12 yards a carry and scored a touchdown once every five times he touches the ball. He's an explosive prospect who is one of the state's top sprinters in track and so no one else is going to match him in top end speed. Shorter plays in a wing T offense with two tight ends and because of this defenses have a tendency to bunch up around the line of scrimmage. That means that if he breaks through the first level, oftentimes there is not be anyone in front of him which facilitates his long gainers. However, the quick feet and elusiveness are there on film which enables him to get to the second level and into open space (he had 11 games with a run of 44 yards or longer). In addition, Shorter has the best offer list in the state (he's the only back with offers from both Texas A&M and Texas and has 13 offers in all).

Perine is probably the best combination of size and speed that the class has to offer and despite suffering an injury at the end of his sophomore campaign, he came back to rush for over 2,000 yards as a junior. He also comes from a program in Pfulgerville Hendrickson that has seen its share of top notch runners during the past few years (Daje Johnson and Kenny Williams were both four stars) and was good enough as a sophomore to take carries away from Johnson. He's very strong and has very good balance; people with solid shots at him simply slide off of him. He also reads his blocks well, has fluid cuts, and is a natural pass catcher who can run routes like a receiver and looks the ball into his hands. Like a lot of big young backs, he has a tendency to run upright and relies on his balance to do the work for him.

Catalon was slowed by turf toe last year but has a great change of direction and is much more elusive than Perine. He hits top gear very quickly. Catalon can be a physical guy who lowers his shoulder but he can also line up at receiver and go up and get the ball like a wideout.

Nixon is the smallest of the state's top three backs and piled up an 8.7 yard per carry average as a sophomore on a state champion before being slowed by a knee injury last season. He can also line up in the slot and has the quick feet to get separation from linebackers and safeties and get open. He has exceptional balance and can take shots around his feet and keep going. In fact, he has the quickest feet of the big three and can bounce things to the outside if need be or make people miss between the tackles. Even though he is the smallest of the top four, he has a nasty stiff arm that he can not once but multiple times on a single play. By far, he is the most versatile of the top four backs.

Overall, you can't go wrong with any of the big four and who you do offer depends almost entirely on what kind of offense you run. However, Shorter is probably the best combination of size, speed, and elusiveness which is why he gets top billing.

Williams is a tall runner who glides through holes and has exceptional balance for a guy his height. He's not a physical runner and uses his balance to keep going after first contact. In addition, because of his height, once he gets going in the open field few people are going to catch him. He splits time and so his overall statistics (1,368 yards rushing) aren't up there with those of some of the backs in the state. However, his size and length translate well to the next level and like Catalon and Nixon he can line up as a receiver and looks the ball into his hands.

Gresham is a powerful back who plays at a private school and may project as a fullback at the next level. He's got the measureables and his level of competition certainly hasn't hurt him in terms of offers. Enwere is a physical specimen who runs a lot like Williams. Stockton and Anderson are smaller, make you miss guys who work very well in spread offenses.

A&M Specific

The Aggies already have a commitment from Nixon but started using more two back sets in the spring. As a result, they've also extended offers to Shorter and Williams in state. Out of state, they've also gone after two of the most highly sought after prospects in the country in New Orleans, St. Augustine's Leonard Fournette and Oakley (Calif.) Freedom's Joe Mixon. Fournette is the best back in the country, on the level of an Adrian Peterson in terms of his ability. However, the Aggies trail far behind LSU and Alabama for him. Mixon is more open in his choice of schools right now. Where Fournette brings the thunder, Mixon is more like lightning -- he's elusive with a fluid running style and is a great pass receiver, not just in terms of running routes but also catching the ball itself. Either of them would be considered the top running back in the state of Texas.




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