Losing a running back early to the NFL draft. It is becoming a tradition for Boise State. Every time it happens, pundits say that the position will be a question mark for the Broncos. This season will be no different, but the Broncos have no shortage of talent in the stable. This season will likely have the most depth at the position since Jeremy Avery, DJ Harper, and Doug Martin carried the load for Boise State. The running game will also have the added dimension of a mobile quarterback and some wide receivers that will get occasional carries. Let’s take a look at who the Broncos will feature at the running back position and their likelihood of being the starter next season.
Mahone is the most experienced of the returning backs. The redshirt junior has had some solid carries the past few seasons but was caught in the shadow of Alexander Mattison. Mahone has done a great job of consistently breaking off four and five yards runs but has not shown breakaway speed. Last year, Mahone gained 128 yards on 32 carries and appeared to lose the backup spot to true freshman Andrew Van Buren.
Chances of starting: 15%
I think it is very possible that Mahone will be listed as the starter for the first game, but his academic issues are a cause for concern, as he was forced to sit out of the bowl game.
Andrew Van Buren
Van Buren seems poised to be the next great Bronco running back. He was a four star recruit with an impressive high school career. As a true freshman, he received the majority of the second string carries and looked excellent in mop up duty. Van Buren rushed for over 2,000 yards in his high school career and averaged nearly six yards per carry. In 2018, Van Buren carried the ball 34 time for 163 yards. At most positions, inexperience would be a factor, but Van Buren should have fresh legs and be able to carry the load if needed. His size (6’0”, 227 lbs) will also help him absorb hits. AVB is poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Chances of Starting: 60%
Smith might be the biggest unknown at the position. He was a late add to the 2018 recruiting class but has great size and was a solid three star recruit with offers from most Mountain West schools. As a senior in high school, Smith averaged over nine yards per carry. If he can provide a boost in the running game, it might give BSU the luxury of redshirting both of the true freshman.
Chances of Starting: 10%
Holani is another example of what an amazing recruiter Lee Marks is. A four star recruit according to 247, Holani committed to the Broncos over Oregon, Cal, and Arizona State, among others. Holani played at St. John Bosco, a high school powerhouse. He played against some great competition that should help him in the college ranks. While I think it is unlikely he starts, I expect Holani to get some carries as a true freshman.
Chances of Starting: 10%
Duncan will be a fan favorite from day one. He attended Declo, a small, Idaho high school. Duncan looks like a linebacker with running back speed. A lot of fans questioned what position he would play, but he is currently slotted as a running back. After signing in December, running backs coach Lee Marks hinted at using Duncan in the wildcat. I could see Duncan becoming a Mitch Burroughs or Chris Potter-like player for the Broncos with more size. He could line up in the slot, play some quarterback in wildcat formations like he did in high school, or be an intriguing option in short-yard situations. Duncan will have to get used to playing at a much higher level of football. I think he will likely redshirt.
Chances of starting: Less than 5%.
The running back room is loaded heading into the 2019 season. The depth of talent is a luxury that the Broncos have not had in recent seasons. While I do think that Andrew Van Buren will be the leading rusher for the Broncos, I think they will have more of a running back by committee than they have in recent years. Stay tuned, as I will be previewing the wide receiver position next week.