The Georgia Tech football team certainly has a lot of positions that have question marks entering the 2021 season, one position not among those questions is the running backs. The running back group is by far the deepest part of the Jackets roster entering 2021 and could prove to be one of the best in the nation by the time it’s all said and done.
Last season, the Yellow Jackets running backs likely did better than you would’ve previously thought. Overall, the group totaled 1,405 yards on 271 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. They also brought in 488 receiving yards on 42 carries while totaling 14 touchdowns on the season. For the workload the group received, it would be hard to argue with the production received especially 6.0 yards per touch.
This upcoming season the Jackets, the group once again should be a very good group. The Jackets return most of their production at the position from last season, the only departures being Spencer Massey and Jerry Howard who combined for six carries and 64-yards last season, meaning the Jackets return over 96% of their production at the position from last year. It would be hard to find many other programs in the country returning such high of production from last season. It also means the Jackets are entering this season with quite a bit of experience, something that surely never hurts a position group at the college level. Then from a pure talent standpoint, the Jackets running back room is full of talent there is no denying that. All that should make them quite the group to watch this season, but let’s now break down the individual players inside the position room.
Projected Depth Chart:
Yes, we know the Yellow Jackets use the “Above the Line” but this is how we would project the running backs to fall in a traditional depth chart. We project four scholarship running backs will see a majority, if not all the carries.
- FR Jahmyr Gibbs
- JR Jordan Mason
- SO Jamious Griffin OR SO Dontae Smith
FR RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Easily the most talented player on the Yellow Jackets roster regardless of position, Gibbs showed all the traits and tools that made him one of the nation’s top running backs coming out of high school. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound tailback rushed for 5.2 yards per carry last season, picking up 460 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 89 carries. He also was a threat in the receiving game with 303 receiving yards and three more touchdowns on 24 receptions. Gibbs has everything you look for in an elite running back, the size, the speed, elusiveness, he’s the complete package. Add in the fact that he is a threat to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball on offense or special teams and he enters 2021 as not just the Jackets’ top running backs but one of the top running backs in the entire conference. He enters this spring as the locked-in starter at running back and will look to post his first 1,000+ yard season this fall as the Jackets’ biggest weapon on offense. Also notable is the fact that Gibbs has been awarded the No.1 jersey this offseason, a high honor for the second-year freshman as the Jackets under Collins reserve the single-digit jerseys for the players who have earned them in the eyes of the coaching staff.
JR Jordan Mason
While Jahmyr Gibbs will get the spotlight, Jordan Mason is pretty talented in his own right and will return for his second, junior season in 2021. Mason battled some injuries last season which limited his playing time to six games but when health was the Jackets’ No.2 running back behind Gibbs. . When he was on the field, Mason averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per reception, picking up 424 total yards on 89 touches last season. It was his toughest season on The Flats yet his 4.3 yards per carry was a career-low but there shouldn’t be too many worries about him entering this season.
A strong downhill runner who also has some quality speed, Mason showed a great deal of promise before last season. Over his freshman and sophomore seasons, Mason totaled 1,251-yards and 14 touchdowns on 254 career carries, an average of 4.9 yards per carry. For his carer, Mason has averaged at least five yards per carry or more in 15 of his 31 career games and six or more yards in 10 games. Expect the Tennessee native to bounce back in 2021 when he does get carries as he should be a good change of pace back for the Jackets.
SO Jamious Griffin
Griffin was once a highly regarded recruit and was a huge get for the Jackets late in the 2019 recruiting cycle when they flipped him from NC State. Through his first two years on campus, Griffin has shown flashes of being that player but is still working to put it all together, as would be expected. This past season, the Rome (GA) native was third on the team in carries with 47 and totaled 229-yards on those carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That was a sizeable increase over his 3.9 yards per carry as a freshman in 2019, though that was over a limited sample size of 12 carries in two games.
As a ball carrier, Griffin presents a similar style of play to Jahmyr Gibbs. He’s got good size at 5-foot-10 and 218-pounds with a good combination of strength, speed, and elusiveness. He’s shown the ability in his opportunities so far to create big plays in both the running and pass games and has a ton of potential. Right now, we still have him slotted behind Jordan Mason on the roster but the two are very much different backs that present different skillsets so it wouldn’t be shocking if their usage rates were nearly the same.
RS FR Dontae Smith
Smith saw a marginal role in 2020 with the Yellow Jackets totaling 43 carries for 296-yards and three touchdowns. A sophomore out of Spring Hill, Tennessee, Smith was a member of the 2018 recruiting class, Paul Johnson’s last class at Georgia Tech. He’s a lot like Gibbs and Griffin in that he’s got good size at 5-foot-11, 195-pounds and he’s a strong runner, but also is shifty and is able to break tackles quite a bit despite not being the biggest of ball carriers. He’s an impressive back based off his limited snaps on The Flats so far but in a deep backfield, his role will be mitigated quite a bit barring a departure or injury.
The former four-star recruit out of Brother Martin in New Orleans, LA enters his last year with the program and his second as a running back for the Yellow Jackets. He spent his first three seasons on The Flats as a linebacker before making the move back to his natural position coming out of high school last season. He saw playing time in four games last season, collecting four yards on four carries. His role in 2021 will once again likely be limited though he may see a few more carries than he did in 2020, if he does it will be in short yardage situations.
The redshirt freshman has yet to see playing time as a running back for Georgia Tech and only appeared in one game in 2020 on special teams. Ellison is on the smaller side at 5-foot-9 but is a stocky 200-pounds for his frame. Coming out of high school, he showed good speed and a quality skill set though quite a bit of development was needed. We knew Ellison would see minimal if any playing time over his first two years on The Flats and that proved to be true but it will be interesting to see if he pushes for any playing time in 2021.
Amerson like Ellison saw playing time in 2020 but on special teams and not in the backfield. Also like Ellison, his chances of seeing playing time on offense this upcoming season seems slim especially if the Jackets running back group can stay healthy this season and there are no unexpected departures above him. Amerson coming out of high school didn’t possess top notch speed but was a strong runner and could break tackles. With that likely remaining the case, he’d likely be used in short yardage situations if he does see the field.
There is no doubt that Georgia Tech fans love their backfield heading into the 2021 season and this spring should be a big one for this position group. While it seem Gibbs and Mason are pretty locked into being the Jackets one-two punch at running back, the rest of the group is still pretty fluid. It is likely that Griffin and Smith will be fighting for being that third guy in the rotation though unless one really takes a big step forward this spring and heading into next season, as of now they’ll probably see similar workloads. The back end of the rotation with Jordan-Swilling, Ellison, and Amerson at this point is a crapshoot. Jordan-Swilling won’t be a major part of the rotation but could gather some carries here and there. Ellison and Amerson, however, are in a tough situation. While one or both of them could jump Jordan-Swilling and both could provide some value neither appear to have the skill set that would allow them to garner bigger roles in the rotation this upcoming season.
To conclude, Georgia Tech’s running back grip will certainly have high expectations following them into next season. After all, not many programs have two future NFL caliber running backs as their starter and primary backup as the Jackets do in Gibbs and Mason. Griffin and Smith both have great potential as well even if their not necessarily NFL prospects and could provide tremendous value in their roles in 2021. With those four most likely garnering 99% of the snaps this season, the group is in good hands and gives running backs coach Tashard Choice a ton to work with. Expect the running backs to be a big part of the Jackets plans this season offensively, trying to take a bit of the load off quarterback Jeff Sims. As long as the offensive line takes a step forward in 2021, the running backs really should be the major focus of the offense in our opinion. They also have plenty of talent at the position which could allow for them to not have to put as big of a workload on Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason which could be pivotal down the home stretch of the season as the Jackets look to fight for a bowl berth in 2021.