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CFF Discussion - VP's thoughts on Michigan's backfield
The Wolverines have been killing it on the ground lately, will the CFF value be there once more in 2023?
Mowing the lawn is one of the great feelings I have in life
- Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Head coach
When Harbaugh gave that quote he was referring to the literal activity of cutting grass. But one could be mistaken in thinking that he was discussing his football philosophy when looking at his run-heavy track record over his career.
There is an illustrious list of names to have played RB under Harbaugh dating back to 2008. While he was the head coach at Stanford, in three straight seasons between 2008 and 2010 he had a 1000-yard rusher: Toby Gerhart had two monster seasons in 08’ (210 carries, 1,136 yards, 15 touchdowns) and 09’ (343 carries, 1,871 yards, 28 touchdowns), and Stepfan Taylor in 10’ (223 carries, 1,137 yards, 15 touchdowns). Harbaugh also had a 1000-yard rusher every season with the 49ers in the NFL between 2011 and 2014 (Frank Gore). His 1K-yard streak would end in 2015 with the Wolverines, however, as the lead rusher accumulated only 753 yards and 6 TDs on 180 carries. The following two seasons were similar as the UM RB1 rushed for 846 yards and 10 TDs on 181 carries, and 994 yards and 11 TDs on 164 carries, respectively. Harbaugh got back to his lawn-mowing ways in 2018 with Karan Higdon pounding the rock 224 times for 1178 yards and 10 TDs.
The 2019 season was back to a committee with Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet splitting reps. The 2020 season was a wash with COVID, so we’ll skip those numbers.
Now, Harbaugh and his latest OC — Sherrone Moore, appear intent on facilitating a volume pig at the RB position each season; in 2021 Hassan Haskins finished with a 270-1327-20 stat line. In 2022, Blake Corum torched the Big-10 to the tune of 1463 yards and 18 TDs on 247 carries.
Moore joined the Wolverines as the TEs coach in 2018, and took over as co-OC in 2021. As mentioned, since Moore’s been involved with calling plays, UM has had back to back 1000-yard RBs.
All that is to say, this is a run-first program with a staff that has a penchant for leaning on bellcows. Great! So we should just draft their guys at RB and call it a day, right? Not so fast. I have some thoughts on this room for you to consider.
Blake Corum - 5’8, 210
Blake Corum is one of many DMV standouts to be recruited in high school to the powerhouse program known as St. Francis Academy in Baltimore. During his stint at SFA, Corum played under coaching legend Biff Poggi — who made millions as an investment manager on wall street before pouring funds into SFA to create a juggernaut.
Seeking to establish a pipeline to the powerhouse B’More program, Harbaugh wisely hired Poggi to his staff in 2020. He had already signed RB Blake Corum at that point, and the Wolverines were after another SFA alum in Eyabi Anoma via the portal. Poggi is now the head coach of the Charlotte 49ers, but his old workhorse tailback returns for his senior season.
Corum split carries with Haskins in 2021, but still managed to accumulate 952 yards and 11 TDs on 144 carries as RB2 (16.9 FPG). In 2022, he took on the RB1 role, and his numbers correspondingly took a nice leap. He rushed for 1463 yards and 18 TDs on 247 carries (23.1 FPG).
Corum is drafted at a high price currently, and will likely cost a late first or early second to acquire him this summer. The rational makes sense, as he has already proven that he can be a 20+ FPG back last season, and the set up he had is mostly the same headed into 2023.
Donovan Edwards - 6’1, 204
Donovan Edwards might be the best runner and receiver on the Wolverines in 2023 — that’s crazy to think about. He would have a been a smash play for a first round or early second round pick this summer in CFF had Corum not messed with the natural order of things and returned for another season. I mean seriously, Corum might have not only screwed over himself, but also Edwards’ CFF profile — what a selfish individual!
The former five-star Edwards rushed 140 times in 2022 for 991 yards and 7 TDs, and caught 18 passes (27 targets) for 200 yards and 2 more scores (17.4 FPG).
Now, I know UM has managed to have fantasy relevant RB2s two seasons in a row (Corum with 16.9 FPG in 2021, Edwards with 17.4 FPG in 2022), but I am extremely adverse to drafting RBs that I know are in committees. And when I mentioned “the natural order of things” earlier, I meant the pattern of the older UM RB taking the majority of carries for one season while the understudy plays RB2; the old head moves on after the season and the RB2 takes over, and so on. Unfortunately, we don’t have that happening here. What does that mean for the share of carries?
I don’t think it’s wise to assume the split will be a repeat of last season. Edwards is older and stronger now, and it’s a contract year — so to speak — with his draft eligibility turning on at the end of this season. I think Edwards sees an increased role in the backfield, and could even prove to be the better fantasy option due to his passing upside. What’s crazy is he’s taken much later in drafts, going as far as the eighth round in some that I’ve seen.
To me, Edwards and Corum are level going into 2023. In 2022, the two RBs carried the ball a total of 414 times. Edwards’ 140 comes out to about a 34% share. I do not foresee Corum taking a pretty 65/35 split on carries in 2023. I would suspect the split will be closer to 50/50. In fact, Edwards is on record saying he wants ‘even’ carries next season. That’s bad news for both RBs if you ask me, but in particular Corum.
VP’s Final Thoughts
Blake Corum shouldn’t be drafted several rounds ahead of Edwards. There’s an outside chance that he gets more goal-line work, but the difference in TDs could also be offset by pass-game usage. Overall, I don’t think that Corum’s profile is dramatically better.
While I still think Corum is a good CFF asset due to the system and his ability, I will draft Edwards if I have to choose between the two, as I believe he is just as likely to be the CFF RB1 of this team and can be acquired at a cheaper price.
It’s easy to overlook the lean years because of how much rushing success there’s been under Harbaugh, but this season feels more like a 2019 UM backfield than the previous two.
While ultimately each runner may finish the season with a solid FPG average, I think on a game-by-game basis there will be massive fluctuations in who scores points. I don’t like that in my RBs, but you might be different.
In the end, the draft order might not matter that much if UM runs the ball often and effectively enough for both RBs to consistently score around 20 FPs a game. Something to keep in mind though is that JJ McCarthy returns and is a dual-threat QB who will score his fair share of TDs too this season. He should also take a step forward in passing.
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