I might as well come out say it, Jim McElwain may have more top-to-bottom talent at running back than the Florida Gators have, potentially, had at the position in the last few decades.
Sure, the Gators have had first-team All-Americans and All-SEC selections and right now, they don’t have any of those accolades.
But, if you look at the skillsets of the running back quintet, you have a group that is strong, quick, agile, powerful, and different. Jordan Scarlett is your power back, Mark Thompson is your potential out of the backfield passing threat, Lamical Perine brings well-roundedness, Adarius Lemons brings force, and Malik Davis brings speed.
It was last season when we saw that Jordan Scarlett can be all-SEC type running back. He averaged 4.97 yards per carry, which was the most by a Gators running back since 2011, and his six touchdowns on 179 rushes was the best percentage of rushes per touchdown since Jeff Demps, also in 2011. Scarlett showed an ability to break tackles and get yards when the Gators needed them, including in big wins against Iowa, LSU, and South Carolina. Scarlett’s deficiencies running the ball, often came at the hands of less than average offensive line play. We also saw a drastic improvement in Scarlett’s ability to pass block in 2016.
Along with Scarlett, the Gators will have sophomore Lamical Perine and senior Mark Thompson also coming out of the backfield – although in new, different roles. Perine will still be the first off the bench to relieve Scarlett and offer a similar skillset, sans the pass blocking, and should be bigger, stronger, and faster to continue to build on his 4.63 yard per carry average (the most by a Gators freshman since Matt Jones in 2012). Thompson showed that his flashes can come in pass catching, and not between the tackles. Thompson was the weak link the second half of the season, but has apparently matured and if he can hold on to the football, break a tackle or two, and run forward Thompson can have a solid season year that provides necessary size and an ability to pass catch a bit better than the other four.
However, to add to the mix from last season, the Gators add two four-star running backs who are both quite different, but fit the mold perfectly. Adarius Lemons is a big, bruiser of a back who has speed and ability to break big plays, while Malik Davis is your speedster that is a homerun threat– something the Gators desperately needed finishing last in the SEC in big play (10+ yards) runs.
Lemons, at 6-foot-1, 195-pounds, is built like an SEC running back and should immediately contribute, even if it is just for three-to-five carries a game. He can play at the goal line or on first down with anticipated success. He has solid vision, agility for his size, and is a north-south runner. Antithetically, Davis is your specialty running back – likely best served (for now) on sweeps, pitches, or in passes out of the backfield. He is measured at 5-foot-11 and 180-pounds, but both seem a bit on the high-end when you look at him. Davis will likely add weight when he gets to UF and probably will be used more on special teams and sporadically on offense, but he is a dynamic playmaker that is putting in a ton of work at ASPI in Tampa, Florida (the same place yours truly works out) to make it on the field and contribute early.
All of this hedges on the Gators offensive line play – an entity that returns four starters that finally started to come around toward the second half of the season. Should they perform they way they are anticipated to play, along with some improved quarterback play, the Gators could have one of the most dynamic running back backfields in the country.