On Friday afternoon, it was dropped by Georgia Tech writer Kelly Quinlan that star Georgia Tech running back Dedrick Mills had been dismissed from the team. But how does Mills departure affect the Yellow Jackets depth in 2017 and beyond?
It was safe to say that the news of Dedrick Mills being dismissed from the team was a bombshell development in the Jackets fall camp. Coming into the season, Mills was being hyped up as one of the best running backs in the ACC and in the country. He was on the watch lists for both the Doak Walker and Maxwell Award lists. He appeared on track to be going national in 2017 if he played his cards right. Now, Mills is left looking in from the outside and now Paul Johnson and his staff must groom one of the backup b-backs to become a starting running back for the program with just over two weeks till game day.
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To understand the full extent of the impact left by Mills departure, you have to take a look back to last fall to the departure of b-back Marcus Marshall.
Following the regular season last year it was announced that b-back Marcus Marshall was transferring from Tech despite being the starting running back to start the season. Marshall, who according to Quinlan was never happy at Tech rushed for 624-yards on 94 carries last year after rushing for 649-yards on 85 carries in 2015. It was safe to say that while Mills was a great running back, Marshall had just as much talent as Mills if not more. The ability for Marshall to average 7.0 yards a carry on almost 200 carries is phenomenal and now with Mills departure, the hole left by Marshall will be much more prevalent in 2017.
With Marshall and Mills out of the picture now, the Jackets have lost a combined 1,395-yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. No matter who steps up for the Jackets this upcoming season, it will be hard for to put up similar numbers.
Before getting further, it should be noted that the Yellow Jackets do have a strong contingent of b-backs on the roster. At this point in the fall camp, it appears as though KirVonte Benson is the default starting running back and will most likely be the starter come to Labor Day. The two b-backs that will be fighting for the starting job and looking to replace Benson is redshirt sophomore Quaide Weimerskirch and true freshman Jerry Howard. Just earlier this week, Howard was mentioned as a true-freshman who could make an impact in 2017.
Now, while Benson, Weimerskirch, and Howard are all viable options for the starting job, it leaves the Jackets with a lack of depth. With Mills departure, the Jackets have just five B-backs’s on the roster. When you add up all the carries those five have had at the college level, it comes to a total of 14 carries, 67-yards, and one touchdown. Take out recently the recently awarded Brady Swilling, and you’re left with four players who have only a single carry among them at the college level.
While each player is respectively talented, the departure of Mills leaves the Jackets with a lack of solid experience and solid depth at overall. With all things considered the Jackets have unknown quantities when it comes to KirVonte Benson, Quade Weimerskirch, Jerry Howard and Jordan Ponchez-Mason. If one of them goes down with an injury, the position group becomes even thinner and what appeared to be a strength a week ago has quickly become a soft spot for the Yellow Jackets.
In a perfect world, Paul Johnson and staff would have loved to redshirt Jordan Ponchez-Mason and even potentially Jordan Howard. Now, it is almost all but certain that Howard will see plenty of playing time in 2017. Ponchez-Mason is also just one injury away from seeing his own fair share of playing time this upcoming season. If the Jackets have to burn a redshirt on Ponchez-Mason, it thins out the Jackets depth at the position going forward.
That means that the Yellow Jackets recruiting plan for the 2018 class and 2019 class may have to change in order for the Jackets to have solid depth at the position in 2018 and beyond.
While head coach Paul Johnson verbally expressed on Friday that he expects whomever the starter is to have a 1,000+ yard season, at this point it seems unrealistic. It’s been a long time since a running back in the Johnson era rushed for 1,000-yards, and since then there has been a few strong running backs to come through The Flats and all have failed to get to 1,000. The idea that one of the three running backs fighting for the starting spot will be able to rush for 1,000-yards is a tad unrealistic when considering history with such cases.
The one thing that is for certain is that the Yellow Jackets will have to throw several of their b-backs into the fire for the first time on Labor Day. Luckily for them, the Tennessee Volunteers are returning a defense that was one of the worst at defending the run in 2016 and have a weak group at linebacker. But only time will tell how big of an impact Mills departure will have long term for Tech.