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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Running Back

February 5, 2021

Running back was the position with the most uncertainty heading into the 2020 season. By the time the season was over, it was one of the strongest units on the team.

The Irish are three deep at running back with quality players. It’s been a long time since that sentence could be typed without some sarcasm involved. It’s true, though. The talent is there and it starts with an outstanding RB1 in Kyren Williams.

There may not be a more complete back that Brian Kelly has coached at Notre Dame. He can make defenders miss in space. He can finish runs and get yards after contact. He showed he can be awesome in blitz pickup and only Theo Riddick has caught more passes as a running back in a single season during the Kelly era.

If it’s 3rd and short, fans want to see the ball in his hands. If the offense is looking for a big play, he can provide that too.

The scary part is that he should only get better. He had some issues protecting the football while fighting for extra yards and his play in pass protection was up and down. Some of that is expected for a young player and the latter should definitely be better in his second season as a starter.

The bar will be high for him in 2021 and there is no reason to believe he won’t reach it provided he stays healthy.

The good news for Notre Dame is that they might not have to rely on Williams as much this fall. That’s because Chris Tyree is likely going to play a bigger role in the offense after an exciting freshman campaign.

He finished with 496 yards (6.8 yards per carry) on only six carries per game. He only had eight receptions over the course of the whole season as well. That number should go up.

The explosive ability was evident with him. He was a better inside runner than expected as well. More time in the weight room and more touches could equal to a breakout year.

It’s easy to forget that C’Bo Flemister proved that he can be a yards after the contact stud when given the opportunity. He averaged 5.2 YPC and can step in in short yardage situations at any point. He’s a quality back who had two games of over 100-yards rushing and could start at a good number of Power 5 programs.

WIth Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith transferring out of the program, it may mean that a move to running back becomes permanent for Kendall Abdur-Rahman. He showed big play ability as a running quarterback in high school and is an intriguing option if he plays in the backfield.

Notre Dame is also bringing in two freshmen in this class who won’t be counted on, but are both tough runners who broke a ton of tackles as prep players.

It would be surprising if Logan Diggs and Audric Estime were needed as instant impact players, but if Williams has another monster season and opts to leave for the NFL, at least one should be ready for a bigger role a year from now.

Things looked bleak at running back to the point where fans were disappointed to see Tony Jones elect not to use a fifth year in ‘20. That feels like much longer than a year ago. Loaded might not be the right word to describe Notre Dame’s backfield, but it may be correct if the top three backs all improve on the players they were last season.

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