Welcome to our newest series “10 for 10,” which will help us countdown to kick off. The Ducks are just four days away from opening day vs Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium. For the next 10 days, we will be posting our projections for the upcoming season.
Let’s get started, here is the No. 5 projection of the 2017 season:
#5 - TONY BROOKS-JAMES AND KANI BENOIT HIGHLIGHT AN ELITE BACK-UP UNIT
One item nobody is questioning heading into the season is the depth at running back for Oregon. Known as the elite position at the program, the Ducks are blessed with quite possibly the best running back group in the nation yet again. Senior Royce Freeman has the top insurance in college football.
Last season, TBJ and Benoit combined for 13 touchdowns during an injury-plagued campaign for Freeman. Benoit rushed for three scores as a junior, while Brooks-James amassed 10 total TDs of his own as a sophomore. This duo could start for most programs.
Brooks-James rushed for 771 yards and nine scores on 101 attempts last year. TBJ averaged an insane 7.6 yards per carry. Additionally, he caught 17 passes for 155 yards (9.1) and one touchdown.
The junior tailback from Gainesville was a member of the 2016 Pac-12 All-Conference 2nd Team after his outstanding campaign. He was also voted Oregon’s Most Outstanding Player by his teammates and coaches. He was one of the lone highlights last year.
For Benoit, his consistency has been remarkable for a No. 3 running back on the depth chart. In 10 games, he tallied 300 rushing yards and three TDs on 51 carries (5.9) last season. Benoit added five catches for 33 yards (6.6).
It was a season of first occasions for Benoit in 2016. His first 100-yard rushing game came against Nebraska in Lincoln. A week later, he made his first collegiate start against Colorado and Jim Leavitt’s defense from Autzen Stadium in the Pac-12 opener.
The Phoenix product rushed for a 95-yard score in the 2017 Spring Game, as well.
After totaling 13 TDs last season, 15 should be no problem (sarcasm). Clearly, a huge reason for their success was Freeman’s health. However, I believe Willie Taggart is going to find a ton of ways to use all three RB regularly. The wide receiver depth is shallow, so look for TBJ to be used regularly in the passing game.
These aren’t your average “back-ups” and I would refrain from using that word entirely when referring to these Duck backs.
They provide stability and game-changing traits. Not only does it help manage Freeman’s reps, but it keeps the defense honest, especially when they’re used as receivers out of the backfield.
“All of them I want to play. You can only give so many of them the ball,” said Taggart. “It’s great to have that many running backs. I went through a season where we used six running backs. You can never have enough. We’ll probably play three at times. You’ll see a little bit of everything with us.”
THE AARON JUDGE RULING
Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit will combine for 15 touchdowns this season. Brooks-James will amass 11 touchdowns overall with five coming on the ground and six through the air from quarterback Justin Herbert. He will rush for 881 yards, but his impact will be felt more in the passing game. TBJ will record 59 grabs for 478 yards. That would give TBJ a grand total of 1,359 yards from scrimmage this year. Benoit will amass 300 rushing yards for a third straight year with 549 on the ground, including three rushing scores and one receiving tally. They will help lead the Ducks to the No. 1 rushing rank in the Pac-12 Conference. TBJ will be named a 2nd Team All-Conference member once again, while Benoit will receive honorable mention. The dimension these two bring to an offense will be immeasurable. This is a luxury for a new head coach and that’s why Coach T doesn’t have any gray hair yet. Look for the one-two-three punch of Freeman/Brooks-James/Benoit throughout 2017 with the run-loving Taggart.
Part 6 of 10 for 10 will be published on Tuesday, right here at ATQ!