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Oregon's Most Underrated: Kenjon Barner

July 24, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner talks to the media during PAC-12 Media Day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
July 24, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner talks to the media during PAC-12 Media Day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

LaMichael James has left for the NFL, vacating the running back position at the University of Oregon. For the first time in three years someone else will be announced in the starting lineup on Duck Vision. Kenjon Barner will be taking the lions share of the carries this coming season after being James' backup the past three seasons.

Barner is an interesting case in that he was converted from a defensive back to running back during a spring practice where injuries decimated the running back position. In the spring game he zigged and zagged through small holes for good chunks of yards, sometimes outperforming the players who played running back full time. As is the case with most amazing athletes at Oregon, they get switched to the offensive side of the football.

In his freshman season he had 61 carries for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. He got even more carries the next year when LaMichael James was suspended for the home opener, a game in which he scored five touchdowns. Junior year saw 91 carries, 551 yards rushing, and 6 touchdowns. Last season Oregon almost had two running backs with over 1,000 yards rushing as Barner had 939 yards on 152 attempts and 11 touchdowns. Most impressive is the yards per carry; the more carries in a season Barner had the more yards a carry he got. He never averaged less than six yards a carry. His junior year and senior year he averaged 9.3 and 10.8 yards a reception out of the backfield, respectively.

To me it seems that Kenjon Barner is grossly undervalued by Duck fans at large. While it may be a smaller sample size not indicative of the larger population Kenjon Barner seems to be overlooked. He's caught somewhere in the middle between debatably the greatest Oregon Duck football player ever and the young superstar who has the chance to take it to the end zone every time he touches the ball.

I'm sure if any Trojans are reading this they will disagree with this analogy but I believe it to be true. Kenjon Barner is to Lendale White as De'Anthony Thomas is to Reggie Bush. In the book Saturday Rules the dynamic of the USC backfield is profiled in depth. While Reggie Bush was the physical mismatch that burned whoever, whenever, White was the player that was the consistent pile pusher. Lendale White was "The Law." We see a similar relationship now in the Oregon backfield. Thomas isn't a legitimate Heisman contender this year (although next year he is) but he causes problems to any defense simply because he is the fastest person on the field, and his greatest weapon is his change of direction without losing speed, something that Reggie Bush is best known for. Kenjon Barner could be the Lendale White of the spread offense at Oregon as he can fight for extra yards and will get the majority of the carries, especially inside. While De'Anthony Thomas is on the outside making moves and highlights, Kenjon will be the workhorse of the offense.

Football Study Hall has a stat they use called POE, which stands for points over expected. It helps determine how many points a given running back is over the baseline player based on production and then adjusted for levels of competition. LaMichael James, not surprisingly, was top ten in the country last year with a score of 34.4. De'Anthony Thomas was in the teens with a score of 17.5. Not far behind was Kenjon Barner who had a score of 15. I think with the way that De'Anthony Thomas was used last year, along with a smaller sample size and situations, could have led to an inflated score, although still impressive nonetheless. My point is that Kenjon Barner is the starting running back and will get maybe 60-65% of the carries this next season. He still has top 25 advanced stats to back him up since his traditional stats are not indicative of how good he really is due to being in a backup role.

In conclusion, Barner last year still seemed to possess some of the slasher mentality that LaMichael James had when he first started and is really good at simply making a move and cutting up field. His stop and go speed is still enough to pull away from linebackers after remaining patient, waiting for a hole to open. Yet with all the positives he isn't a fan favorite, nor is he even present on Heisman odds in many of the most popular locations in Vegas for sports betting. De'Anthony Thomas on the other hand generally has 20/1 odds.
He has the tools to be successful and is in the right offense. He's patiently waited for his turn to be "the guy" carrying the football. The only thing he's done wrong is not being as good as LaMichael James (which is really hard to do), so please, lets give him some more respect.