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CFF Discussion: VP's (unpopular) thoughts on 2023 Utah RBs
Ja'Quinden Jackson, Jaylon Glover, Micah Bernard, and Chris Curry
I find my self writing about the program from Salt Lake City once again. As I mentioned in a previous article highlighting the Utes TEs, this is a program that has produced its share of CFF assets at RB and TE over the years. Today I want to focus on the backfield, which — despite being a crowded room headed into 2023 — features some intriguing players.
When people talk about CFF systems, there are few that rival Kyle Whittingham’s RB production at Utah. In 12 of his 16 full seasons (excluding the COVID year) as head coach, the Utes have had a 1000-yard rusher. They likely would have had another in 2020, when freshman Ty Jordan broke out to the tune of 597 yards and 6 TDs in 5 games. Jordan was well on his way to 1000+ yards. The Utes staff fed him 18.8 touches per game that year as a freshman, and that number grows to 21.5 per game if you exclude the opener.
In 2022, many believed Tavion Thomas would continue to carry the torch as he ran for 1000 yards the year prior. Things didn’t go exactly to plan for Thomas, and the Utes would eventually go with a committee approach; they also leaned heavier on the pass game. This benefited the TEs but lowered the stock of the RBs considerably.
As we head into the 2023 season, CFF managers are rightfully circling the Utes backfield as one to watch for their teams.
So what are my thoughts on the matter? I’m glad you asked. Make yourself comfortable, maybe throw on a banger to listen to in the background, and join me as I dive into this backfield.
The first thing that stands out is that this is a crowded room. There are four players on the roster that could see significant snaps if they remain with the program for the 2023 season: Ja’Quinden Jackson (JJ), Jaylon Glover, Micah Bernard and Chris Curry.
Bernard’s the elder statesman of the room, and some of you may recognize him as the guy that got torched during the Rose Bowl by JSN.
Micah Bernard - 6’0, 200
Bernard has typically been used as the third down/pass catching back in this backfield, but his rushing volume did increase steadily in 2022 while Thomas was out, as he rushed 106 times for 533 yards and 4 TDs. His ability as a receiver will likely keep him in the mix in 2023, and at 6’0, 200 pounds, he has the size to take on a large workload if required. I find that currently in the CFF community, you have one crowd that has attached themselves to JJ, and another that is aligned with team Glover, however, Bernard seems to be the thorn in everyone’s side that no-one wants to talk about. It doesn’t appear that he is going anywhere, and so I expect he will be a factor on this team next season.
Chris Curry - 5’11, 220
Chris Curry is sort of an afterthought in the room. After the disappointing 2020 season at LSU, Curry transferred to Salt Lake City in what should be categorized as an odd move. It seemed at the time that he was transferring in hopes of more carries, and the Utes’ backfield headed into 2021 had plenty of able-bodies. Still, he is a 5’11, 220 pound RB with SEC experience and will likely see a role as a short yardage and goal-line back should he still be with the team in 2023.
Ja’Quinden Jackson - 6’2, 225
Jackson had an illustrious career at Dallas powerhouse Duncanville High as a dual threat QB — drawing comparisons to near-by NFL superstar Dak Prescott. Upon finishing his senior year he entered the Texas Longhorn program as part of the class of 2020, and battled for the starting QB role in Austin. He would fail to succeed in this pursuit, however, and would later transfer to Utah. During his time with the Utes, JJ had a change of heart, and decided that his chances at the NFL were brighter with him lining up in the backfield as a runner instead.
JJ is getting a lot of buzz this offseason in the CFF community. There is good reason, as he finished the 2022 season with 29.7, 22.5 and 15.9 fantasy points. It’s impressive that he was able to do that while never receiving more than 13 carries (or 14 touches total) — but also slightly concerning if you’re interested in investing in him for 2023. Generally, while I like the efficiency of JJ, I seek to follow the volume in CFF. If the staff gives 20+ carries to a player, that’s a sign of how they feel about him, and usually means the runner will be hitting around the 20 point threshold more consistently. When getting less than 15 touches regularly, it requires an elite level of efficiency to clear 20 FPG, which is generally not sustainable over a long period of time. The wise man seeks volume pigs. The pre-approval signal I’m looking for with the Utes runners is the carry volume, and JJ was unable to monopolize enough of this in 2022, despite there being a clear opening with Thomas out.
Yet, that doesn’t mean that JJ can’t see heavier volume next season (truthfully, nobody knows with 100% certainty at this point), but, it is my opinion that with Bernard and Glover in particular still on the roster, it seems likely that JJ may be splitting carries, and it’s not even a forgone conclusion that he’ll be RB1.
Jaylon Glover - 5’7, 207
Glover was something of a CFF darling last offseason as the thought of a freshman stud coming in out of Florida is a tantalizing prospect for CFF managers. Of course, Tavion Thomas was returning, as was the above mentioned RBs, and so it seemed it would have required a herculean effort from Glover to secure RB1 bell-cow status on this team. However, this room actually opened up for Glover as Thomas struggled off the field, and Whittingham went with the committee approach. Glover, as with the other RBs, failed to take a stranglehold of the room, leaving us as CFF managers in the dark as to what to make of the rotation in 2023.
Glover is the smallest RB of the bunch, and also the youngest. The staff gave him a chance at lead back vs. Washington State last season where they fed him 20 carries, he paid that off with 76 yards and a score (3.8 ypc). Not exactly the breakout performance some might have expected. His best game of the season came against Southern Utah when he hit 17.3 fantasy points, he amassed 53 yards and two scores on 9 carries. He finished 2022 with 78 carries, 360 yards and 4 TDs. It seems likely he will be a factor, but I don’t see evidence to point to him being the undisputed bell-cow either.
Overall, while it seems most likely (and is what the CFF community apparently anticipates) that JJ will be the RB1 of this team in 2023, it is not obvious (to me at least) that there will be a bell-cow amongst this group. Given the track record, it seems a wise bet that one will emerge at some point, though even amongst Whittingham’s stellar RB history there have been lean years.
I’m happy to be wrong on this room by not paying the price to acquire JJ. Or rather, I prefer that to potentially getting burned on paying the third-fifth round price just to end up with a committee approach, which appears likely, at least early in the season.
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