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It’s going to be the Akrum Wadley show this year for the Hawkyes.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first of our position previews for the upcoming football season. There are more question marks on the roster than usual this year compared to those in recent memory, and we’ll address all those question marks later, but for now we start with one of, if not the, greatest commodity for the Hawkeyes right now: running back.

Running back scholarship distribution

POS SR JR SO RS FR Incoming FR Total 2018 COMMITS 2019 COMMITS
POS SR JR SO RS FR Incoming FR Total 2018 COMMITS 2019 COMMITS
RB Akrum Wadley Marcel Joly Toks Akrinibabe Toren Young Kyshaun Bryan; Ivory Kelly-Martin 6 Henry Geil

Judge. Jury. Executioner.

You probably know by now Iowa’s offense this year will go only so far as Akrum Wadley can carry it. He is the undisputed best (only?) playmaker on this Iowa roster, and after him, the backfield is full of largely unknown commodities.

I can tell you about how Wadley is smaller and more dynamic than most backs we’ve seen in the Black and Gold as of late (save for Jordan Canzeri) but that doesn’t mean he plays small. At 5-11, 195 lbs (we all know the coaches want that to get closer to 205 by the time the season rolls around) he’s a far cry from the Mark Weisman’s, Marcus Coker’s and Adam Robinson’s of the world.

I’m of the belief that Wadley should play at the weight he’s most comfortable, but I also believe Kirk Ferentz and Chris Doyle and the rest of the staff know what’s best for their running backs to keep them healthy for an entire Big Ten season, so who really knows anything?

And that health thing is important. Keeping Wadley fresh for 12 13 14 15 games this season is going to be paramount to the Hawkeyes’ success. He’s Iowa’s best player on offense, and defenses sure as shit know that, especially since Iowa’s receiving situation is basically Matt VandeBerg and a bunch of guys from the Keokuk YMCA.

Iowa has four starters returning on the offensive line and a very capable fullback in Drake Kulick (more on him shortly) to give Wadley much of the supporting cast he needs to succeed. But a lot depends on how he’s used, and who’s around to fill in when he needs a breather.

The pace-changers

The only other running back currently on the roster to get any touches besides Wadley last year is Toks Akinribade. He carried the ball 16 times last year as a true freshman, which is a pretty good indicator that the coaches like what he brings to the table. He jumped over Marcel Joly on the depth chart, who saw a handful of touches in 2015.

Sure, Akinribade’s carries came mostly in garbage time, and he still only averaged 2 yards a pop, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at his high school game tape and try to analyze what he brings to the table two years after being out of high school!

Look at those cuts! At 6-0 and over two bills, he should prove to be a good complement to Wadley. If guys like Damon Bullock and Weisman can contribute at the running back position for Iowa, I see no reason why Akinribade can’t either. Or any of the other guys below, for that matter.

The Young and the restless

Toren Young is largely believed to take over the third running back spot, even though Joly is more seasoned. At 5-11 and 220 lbs, he just screams short yardage back. He will definitely be a change of pace compared to the above guys. Young turned some heads in high school in Madison, but never officially received an offer from the Badgers. Michigan State, Nebraska and Minnesota reportedly showed interest, but the Hawkeyes were the only ones to extend an offer. That’s the kind of story where guys like to make other schools pay.

Marcel the shell

There have been whispers of moving Joly to receiver, given Iowa’s, uh, troubles, at the position. He initially came to Iowa as a defensive back, so he’s used to moving around. He hasn’t had a carry since the North Texas game in 2015, and that probably won’t change.

And the rest!

Kyshaun Bryan and Ivory Kelly-Martin could see redshirts next year, while Sam Cook used his as a walk-on in 2016. Cook is going to be an interesting player to keep an eye on, as Iowa has a rich history of turning in-state walk-ons into important pieces of its team, and I feel like it’s still waiting for that kind of success story at the running back position.

Kyshaun Bryan is another interesting player to pay attention to. He comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, a great football school in Florida, the same one Jake Rudock attended. He also had offers from friggin’ South Carolina, Clemson, LSU, Florida State, Michigan and Ohio State. Sooooooo yeah, he should be pretty good down the road.

The slobberknockers

Drake Kulick started at fullback all of last year for Iowa, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the starter again this year. I don’t have to tell you Iowa had two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time ever last season, and Kulick deserves as much credit as anyone for that sort of production. He also seems to be a guy the team rally arounds. Take for example the aftermath of his broken leg in the Nebraska game:

We’ll let you do the lip reading there, but I like to believe he had something to do with Iowa’s beatdown of Nebraska last year even though he missed the majority of the game.

Brady Ross and Austin Kelly are the other fullbacks who could see some playing time, and Ross filled in when Kulick was hurt for the remainder of the Nebraska game and the Outback Bowl. They’ll both have time to contribute once Kulick graduates after this season.