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Revisiting the Boise State 2018 Class Part 2: Running Backs

Boise State v UCF Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Welcome to a fun off-season series that Drew (of OBNUG), Zach, and Mike (both of MWCConnection) are rolling out for your viewing enjoyment (hopefully). Back in February, excitement was at an all time high for fans and coaches alike as the 2022 class was officially signed. Like every year, fans often tout a class as potentially one of the best on paper. However, once players get on campus and actually on the field, the true story begins to reveal itself. It can often take years for a class to truly be judged as the impact of many players won’t be seen for a few seasons. That being said, this series will aim to revisit and evaluate Boise State’s 2018 class. There has now been enough time that many members of the class have either left or are entering their final seasons, which means players are able to be looked at for their production (or lack thereof) rather than projection and hype.

Anyway, each week, Drew, Zach, and Mike will look at a different position group from the class. While we will contribute two posts each week over the next month, the location of the posts will change. The start of the week will feature a post on OBNUG while the end of the week will see a post up on MWCConnection, that way readers of both sites can follow along. Each post will have all of us weighing in on the same talking points for each season: our expectations of the player from when they signed, the production they gave each season on the team, and their overall impact. The impact will fit into one of 3 categories (exceeded expectations, met expectations, or below expectations). We will each keep a running tally of our totals and then at the end we can each determine the over impact the 2018 class had. It should be a fun and interesting study to see what kind of careers each player had and revisit some names that may have been forgotten.

The 2018 recruiting class was a noticeable step up in their recruiting efforts. It saw the return of a few four-star recruits, as well as other promising three-star players with some big offers to their name. To hear our thoughts on specific players from the class, read below.

Part 2: Running Backs.

In this edition, we examine the running backs. Like quarterbacks, the Broncos took two in this class. One looked primed to have a productive college career at Boise State, while the other figured to slot in as a reliable backup. At this point, only one is still on the roster. Read on to find out more.

Drew

Andrew Van Buren

Expectations when he signed - High to quite high. Van Buren was listed as a 4 star back…already possessed a “D1 frame” and if I recall correctly, had at least one open-field hurdle on his Hudl tape. The wheels were spinning.

2018 Season: Played in 12 games as a freshman, with a big game against UConn (who didn’t have a big game against UConn?).

2019 Season: Appeared in every game as a sophomore, with a respectable 4.2 YPC average

2020 Season: Played in all seven games (remember that COVID thing) with five starts. Had first 100+ yard game against Hawaii.

2021 Season: Played in 11 games with 73 attempts, but the YPC has fallen to 2.9

Overall Impact: I really like AVB, and using the Van Buren Boyz gif is the highlight of every game manning Twitter, but with the Broncos’ struggles on the O-line, he just wasn’t RB1 material, IMO when Holani was out with injury. He produced some good highlights and memories, but when you sign a 4-star guy, you expect 4-star production…from that standpoint, he failed to meet expectations.

Danny Smith

Expectations when he signed: As kind of a late addition to the class, it was hard for me to ramp up expectations too much, but he certainly had the look of a bruiser and I’ll admit I wondered what a “thunder and thunder” RB attack might look like in practice.

2018 Season: Redshirted

2019 Season: Played in 3 games…modest gains.

2020 Season: Two games of action.

2021 Season: 6 attempts for 17 yards.

Overall Impact: A career rushing average of 3.3 yards isn’t abysmal…but he just didn’t have the requisite carries to really see what he could do. With a crowded backfield, I can’t say I ever expected him to be RB1, but I also thought he might be a tad more impactful and during the Holani injury-plagued season he just didn’t seem like the most viable option. I’d say he failed to meet expectations overall…but hey, he’s got one more year to turn the tide!

Zach

Andrew Van Buren

Expectations when he signed: Very high. Most fans expected Van Buren to be the next great Boise State running back.

2018 Season: Saw limited action as a true freshman. But appeared poised to take a more active role with Alexander Mattison headed to the NFL.

2019 Season: Van Buren struggled with fumbles and finished his sophomore year with only 62 carries. He ultimately became the third stringer running back behind George Holani and Robert Mahone.

2020 Season: After an injury to George Holani, Van Buren became the primary ball carrier. It was a struggle, Boise State had a poor offensive line and Van Buren isn’t a shifty enough back to overcome those deficiencies.

2021 Season: Van Buren was primarily a short yardage back behind George Holani and Cyrus Habibi-Likio. He only rushed for 218 yards, but he had nine touchdowns.

Overall Impact: Van Buren was regularly featured in the offense during his four years in Boise. But he was expected to be an NFL running back. Now he is in the transfer portal. Unfortunately, he failed to meet expectations.

Danny Smith

Expectations when he signed: Hopeful. I was surprised that the Broncos signed two running backs with similar builds and running styles. But Smith had some decent offers out of high school and it seemed like the potential was there.

2018 Season: Redshirted.

2019 Season: Appeared in only three games. Seeing the field primarily during garbage time.

2020 Season: Played in only two games. Smith did battle some injuries over the course of the season.

2021 Season: Appeared in only two games, carrying the ball six times.

Overall Impact: Smith has not had the opportunity to make an impact. Some of that is due to injury, some of it is because of the emergence of George Holani. Smith has failed to meet expectations.

Mike

Andrew Van Buren

Expectations when he signed: I thought it was great that Boise State was able to secure a four-star running back in their class. While I did not see him as an instant starter, I saw him as someone who would take the mantle of RB1 early in his career and continue the work other backs had done before him.

2018 Season: AVB got some carries and more or less did what was expected of him, learning the ropes and not making any costly mistakes in his first season.

2019 Season: Speaking of costly mistakes, those appeared in his second season, with a few too many fumbles. Also, he was passed over by true freshman George Holani.

2020 Season: The idea was for AVB to be the bruising complementary running back to Holani, a role he looked suited for. However, Holani got injured and Van Buren struggled as the primary running back. He could get 3 yards pretty much at will, but had a hard time getting more than that consistently and the run game left much to be desired.

2021 Season: AVB carved out a role as the short-yardage/goal-line running back and it was one that he seemed best at. He scored an impressive 9 touchdowns while averaging only 3 yards a carry. Still, he did exactly what was asked of him. He entered the transfer portal at the end of the season.

Overall Impact: Expectations were high for AVB when he entered the fold and he didn’t come close to living up to those. He functioned best as a backup or highly involved #2 who did a few things well but was far from well-rounded. Van Buren demonstrated he could excel in this role in 2021. With that being said, he still failed to meet his original expectations.

Danny Smith

Expectations when he signed: I envisioned him being a depth recruit at running back, especially with a four-star coming in with him. Smith put up good high school numbers and I thought his ceiling was a solid #2 running back.

2018 Season: He predictably redshirted.

2019 Season: He played in a few games in garbage time.

2020 Season: He again appeared sparingly and there were rumors of an injury.

2021 Season: More of the same, he saw some carries later in the season and didn’t look good or bad when he had the ball in his hands. If you told me he didn’t play, I’d believe you because they were forgettable snaps.

Overall Impact: Smith has had pretty much no impact during the majority of his Bronco career. Part of that is due to injuries and part of that is due to not separating himself from the rest of the backup running backs. He has one more season to find a role and make a positive impact. But at this point, he fails to meet expectations.

Running Totals:

Drew: 1 exceeded expectations, met expectations, 3 failed to meet expectations

Zach: 2 exceeded expectations, met expectations, 2 failed to meet expectations.

Mike: 2 exceeded expectations, met expectations, 2 failed to meet expectations.