2017’s RBs; Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw

(This is the second of a longer series looking at our individual positions that need to be re-filled in 2017 and whether we will meet the PRODUCTION we had in those positions. We will not factor in true freshman at this point as we have no idea what they can and cannot do).

Much like in 2016 when we were faced with the prospect of having to put out a passing game without Tyler Boyd, we are revisiting that situation with this season’s loss of James Conner at running back.

At the risk of being unpopular (again) I’ll say this.  As I wrote many times during last year’s offseason that we wouldn’t miss Boyd much at all – and I took major heat, some of it from the more mainstream media, for saying that I’ll repeat that thought for this year’s running backs.

We won’t miss James Conner’s 2016 production as much as fans think. I love Conner, have had great personal conversations with him and feel that as a human being he’s one of the finest men I have ever met – and that is saying a lot given my professional career. Pitt and his peer players will miss his wonderful human traits and his friendship no doubt. Those are the intangibles James Conner brought to the Pitt football program and will continue to bring to any organization he is affiliated with for the rest of his life.

Unlike Tyler Boyd’s leaving, Conner’s departure is going to cost us big time in the leadership and role model areas. 

I truly wish he’d have stayed at Pitt for his 4th year of eligibility but understand completely why he declared – and what a grand decision that was given the relatively high round in which he was picked and by the Steelers to boot. Pittsburgh fans will have a lot more time to watch Conner play football I’m sure, just not in a Panther uniform.

But as a running back on our team last year, and the production he had out on the field, he’s replaceable and it will most likely be by committee.  Again I’m speaking of what he did out on the field production wise.

We’ll make up for Conner’s statistical production, especially rushing yards and TDs by this year’s batch of RBs, although his 20 TDs all told last season won’t be met by one player, that’s (maybe) for sure.

czih8nausaahr6lAnd I’ll also say there are other aspects of his play at RB he did very well at that will be missed such as situational short yardage plays,  those short 1st down and red zone TD attempts will have to be given elsewhere and that might present a problem.

If we were coming off Conner’s 2014 season then my opinion on this would be 180° different than now, but we aren’t.  We are coming off his 2016 year where he did this:

Conner 2

That is all pretty good so don’t get me wrong – Conner was a fine running back for us last year and contributed in both rushing and receiving.

Now here is the rub. Our returning backs other than Conner didn’t do hardly anything eye-catching last season.  Our halfbacks that is, rsJR George Aston at fullback is the  starter there again.  The HBs combined for this production:

Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
4 Chawntez Moss 42 227 5.4 1 2 18 9.0 0 44 245 5.6 1
5 Darrin Hall 36 160 4.4 0 2 14 7.0 0 38 174 4.6 0
6 Qadree Ollison 33 127 3.8 2 2 38 19.0 0 35 165 4.7 2

Here you see that they combined for only 111 carries – about half of what Conner had last year and their combined yards per carry was only 4.6.  Now that ain’t great on its own but shows only a separation of .5 yards between them and what Conner did.  That is certainly able to be bettered given that two of them will get a ton more carries… even factoring in WR Quadree Henderson’s carries from scrimmage that he’ll get. 

I do think Henderson’s passing game presence is going to rise and he may not get the number of rushes he had last season.  We’ll see on that.

Personally I want to see rsJR Qadree Ollison kpv7y8q-_400x400get his starting job back and be given an even-steven chance to build on his very good 2015 season.  That year he rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns on 212 carries (5.3 avg) and also caught 14 receptions for 77 yards (5.5 avg) and a TD.

Stack that ’15 year Ollison had against Conner’s ’16 season and Ollison’s is actually statistically better save for the TDs.  5.3 yards per carry over full 212 carries is a darn good bit of work and regardless of why he didn’t get much playing time last year I think he could, and will, rebound in a big way. 

Honestly, handing a RB like Ollison the ball a few times a game isn’t going to get you the results you want, especially if he’s more muscular and stronger than he was last year as the staff has been saying.  Make him the featured back, give him carries to build his in-game and season momentums and let him prove he belongs in the starting lineup.  If he fails you have the two other guys waiting to pick up the slack.

I think the fan’s favorite is SO Chawntez Moss because he’s the biggest breakaway threat we have existing on the roster today and fans love the big runs. 12121508Actually he had a total of one play over 21 yards and that was the 41 yarder against Marshall… but given his small number of carries that will change if he becomes a more featured back this season.  He is the fastest pure RB we have on roster.

Here is his game-by-game breakdown of last season:


As far as JR Darrin Hall goes  he may have been recruited over and since watching him in Paul Chryst’s 2014 spring and fall camp open practices I  have never been all that impressed with him.  Ollison has always shown more to me but the staff seems to like Hall and Hall has had had some flashes of being able to play well. He did have a 4* ranking coming out of high school, but that and $2.00 will get you a cup of coffee somewhere.


In 2015 he had a career-high 103 yards on 12 carries (8.6 avg.) against Miami, including a 35-yard touchdown run. Here is a nice interview with him after that game.Pitt running back Darrin Hall scores

So, who knows? That might mean he’ll be the guy this season. I’d bet on Moss and Ollison getting more carries before him though.

So that’s who we have returning – and since these articles are about returning players only I have purposefully left out any incoming true freshman because that truly is pure speculation at this point.  Come mid-August we may be talking about Todd Sibley and A. J. Davis but for now the three guys mentioned above are who will most likely fill James Conner’s big, bronzed, football cleats.


45 thoughts on “2017’s RBs; Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw

  1. If Pitt was smart, they would be more ball control this year with an occasional big strike or play action. These jet sweeps wont work as well and must be used for the right moment. The D and special teams will be the keys this year. The O will regress but the D will progress. We’ll be talking about how much of a genius Nard Dog is for his D by years end.


  2. Sorry Reed, can’t agree with you on the “draw” rating at running back. Why? Like you said, “leadership”! Conner’s presence will be sorely missed in that department. Can his numbers be duplicated? Yes. Can his leadership be, probably not.

    What a nice problem to have for this season, three solid RBs to begin with two other talented guys in Henderson & Whitehead to throw into the mix for jet sweeps and other trick plays plus two highly rated true freshmen showing up during the summer trying to burn their RS with meaningful playing time.

    Finding leaders on both sides of the ball will be the difference between a run at the ACC Coastal Crown and a 9-5 like season or a slow start and a long bumpy ride to 7-6 for the Panthers in 2017.

    I think that Browne will surprise us with his leadership potential. Thank goodness he got here for Spring ball, that will help a lot.


    1. Doc – I agree with your leadership points on both Conner and Browne. I believe we will see the rise of another Pitt team leader this year with JR George Aston, who will be called upon to make the tough yards in Conner’s absence.

      We have two more years to enjoy George’s rough, tough play in a Pitt uniform.



  3. I have to agree with Reed on this one and also rate it a DRAW.
    Why? Well last season James Conner was coming back from cancer, chemo, and a knee operation. So naturally his 2016 stats couldn’t compare with his earlier states as the ACC Player of the Year. However, please remember that J.C. is now the #2 All Time Pitt RB behind the one and only legend Tony Dorsett.
    I believe and hope Ollison is again the featured back. You don’t become the ACC Rookie of the Year by being chopped liver. So let Ollie run and run some more and if he doesn’t produce go with Moss or one of the freshman (Hall has shown very little up to this point).


  4. For now Reed, I think I can agree with your call on the draw. Although you’re way off in everything else. JUST KIDDING, a little.

    While I can understand your feelings on Ollison for the reason of his great rs-freshman year, being regulated last year seems to leave you undaunted. Why? You and many had figured Qadree Ollison would be gonzo after last season. That didn’t happen, like I called.

    Whats’ that mean? Ollison knew exactly what he did to deserve the demotion. He must have felt the treatment was justified? I believe he said so himself. Has he done enough to be the premier and featured back this coming season? I see a running back committee at least for the start of the season though.

    Most do like Moss and he will get his chance for sure. He hits the hole quick and seems to have some straight ahead power with a little cutting ability. imo

    As much as you think of Ollison you think the opposite of Hall. He hasn’t done much but he is PITT’s home run threat this coming year and I believe the coaches feel the same way. Powell was still talking about Hall and how PITT needs him back healthy this coming season after the spring game. Hall will get his chance and yards

    PITT will get yards out of one of the two freshmen as well. That’s why I don’t think PITT gets a one thousand yard rusher this year. Oh and I agree with Dr Tom with Browne getting to PITT early, very important!

    We All We Got
    We All We Need
    H2P!! …….ike


  5. You guys crack me up – you all skipped right over the fact that I wrote about 50 times that these comparisons are only about production on the field.

    I’m beginning to think you misread these articles on purpose.

    I addressed Conner’s leadership, etc… in a few paragraphs but the “Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw” is scored ONLY on production.


    1. Then I humbly retract my previous statement directed to the honorable commentator from the community of Columbia, Maryland.


  6. Ike – I believe in the evidence of high level success against D1 competition. Ollison has it – the other two backs do not.

    It was easy to bench Ollison when we had a healthy Conner carrying the ball. It was no secret who was going to get the lion’s share of the carries and he did. Conner had 65% of the RB carries. Most of the other carries were by the QB (2nd overall in carries with 70) and the WRs.

    Browne will not get anywhere near 70 carries unless he has about 60 sacks and that won’t happen, so the WRs will still get their share (if Watson holds onto Canada’s offense).

    But now we don’t have Conner getting the ball all the time so some other RB will be the leading carrier. RB by committee isn’t going to mean three guys get 33.3% of the RB rushes – it means one guy will get the most but two others will contribute.

    And I think it will take a real leap of faith to sit down an established successful RB and give the ball to those who have played average ball at best in real live competition. I think Ollison gets it early and often – and if he falters then it will be more of a committee effort… and that committee may have a true FR in it.


    1. Reed – nicely written article. QO will be the main RB early and often. Let’s not forget that he ran for over 200 yards in 1/2 a game vs YSU just two short years ago. No surprises to start the season – ram it and jam it, while showing the farmers from central PA absolutely nothing.

      In creepy valley, the psu D will key on stopping QO and Browne will torch their secondary like the other USC QB did in the Rose Bowl.



  7. I look at the RB’s differently. To me, Hall has the most straight ahead speed and there is a place for that on any roster. If he tries to dance, he struggles. I like his game and so does his hometown head coach. That does factor into things. Secondly, Ollison I like a lot. However, I don’t like how he carries the ball. We are not good enough to overcome turnovers. I like his power game. With Moss, i like his quickness, but most importantly, his vision.

    Vision and quickness to me are more important than speed and power. For that reason, I give Moss the slight nod if he is healthy.

    The overlooked areas in this “production analysis” is the ability to catch a pass out of the backfield and I think Hall and Moss beat Ollison. Finally, what might prove to be most important for the coaching staff, will be the ability to pick up the blitzers. Blocking by the running back is critical to the downfield passing game. Find us the backs who block well and our downfield passing game gets a lot more dangerous.

    If Hall had better vision, he would be a stud! Maybe he gets that (anticipation) as it can be learned. Harness the speed until you need it. It is a quite diverse skill set with all of our backs. We have strength, speed, quickness and vison. Unfortunately one back doesn’t have all of those attributes.


  8. I can’t believe it, Reed – for once I agree with you! I think QO has a really good year – something akin to 2 years ago. I have to think his blocking will be a huge upgrade from 2 years ago. I actually look forward to him blocking for George Alston – what a backfield that would be! As always, offense depends on the OL!


  9. Now here you go skipping over a couple things.

    Ollison wasn’t actually benched at all. According to my handy dandy spring game guide, Ollison played in all 13 games and started two.

    You guys remember thinking that Ollison was going to transfer out? He didn’t, I speculated, because he understood the reasons why, including Conner being the featured back. However, Moss still carried the ball more 42-33 for an average of 5.4 @ 42-227 to Ollison’s for 3.8 @ 33-127.

    Hall had more carries as well. 36 carries for 160 yards for an average of 4.4. Now I realize with the little amount of carries these stats don’t carry much weight but it may be an indication that we may see much the same thing with PITT spreading the carries out of all 3 and maybe 4?

    My point here is that there were 78 carries that didn’t go to Conner or Ollison as running backs go and 78 additional carries that Ollison didn’t get. For a reason. I just don’t see him as the featured back.


  10. providing we don’t see a couple injuries on OL,I see no lack of production in the rushing area. I see Moss or Ollison carrying the load early with Davis eventually taking over. It’s possible that none of our RBs will get > 1000 yds but that doesn’t mean the overall production will fall


    1. wwb, someone on here made the prediction that there wouldn’t a one thousand yard rusher this year on the prediction card and Reed was in disbelief.


  11. I want like add, that Qadree Ollison is not in my doghouse and if comes out and is unstoppable? Woo Hoo! I like the young man a lot.


  12. Look to the D for answers. All Browne needs to do is not take stupid sacks, on occasion be asked to lead the team down the field, protect the ball and manage the game. The D will win games this year.

    Our running backs will do just fine. Our line will be fine. Nothing great.

    8 wins if Pitt catches some breaks.

    All I care about is Pedo State. It will come down to turnovers, possession and a break here and there.

    Pitt 17, Pedos 13


  13. I’m tired of winning 70 to 60 against the likes of Syracuse when all it gets Pitt is a lousy bowl game in cold New York.


  14. In 2015 Ollison was the 4th leading receiver on the team with 14 catches, Last year the other two, Hall and Moss had 4 total.Conner had 21.

    Start QO and he’ll be fine as a receiver.


  15. Ollison could be a decent receiver. One reason he may have caught more passes last year is he played way more snaps. I’ll say he played as many snaps as Moss and Hall combined.


  16. My buddy buzz won Bookers whiskey at pov golf. Just had a shot when pens tied. Mighty good sippin whiskey. Two thumbs up from the He Mens Women Haters Club.


  17. Tx – PSU will
    Have 13 in first quarter against our defense. To win that one we better school 45+

    Go Pens.

    Baseball loses again.

    All while Heather checks compliance. Narduzzi is only coach worth keeping.


    1. I’ll take the bait on the backend of that prediction Upitt!
      penn state will not score 45 points.
      And the stakes are????


  18. I don’t think enough people realize how hard a runner Moss is. That power per pound is what made him the early pick of his teammates for the 2016 spring game.


    1. No “Moss” grows on a 1000+ yard RB.

      That’s my half assed, no basis, BS opinion.

      Moss comes on strong in 2017💪.


  19. TxPanther,
    “Look to the D for answers”???
    I really and truly hope you’re right Tex, but I fear if we have to rely on our D this year we are in a world of hurt for this upcoming season. Did I miss that Conklin was fired or something else transpired to suddenly make a pathetic D great over night?
    I’m sorry – just not seeing it personally.


    1. Not “over night” by a long shot. More like over a season & over a successful recruiting class.
      Hendrix, Whitehead, Hamlin & Zeise, all back from injury. New guy’s names that you’ll have to learn who will be making waves this season on defense, Carter, Watts, Camp, Weaver, Wheeler, Pugh, Pine, Coleman, the “other” Henderson & if Paris Ford is as talented as advertised, who knows what may transpire with that true Freshman? Whitehead version 2.0 maybe?

      This season’s Panther defense will look like a totally different team by mid season from last year’s.

      By 2018, we will be relying on our defense to win games for us. You heard it here first.


  20. Not sure who the #1 RB will be but I’m pulling for QO to have a bounceback successful season!


  21. Hall, Moss and Ollison, as a group make up the strongest and most experienced part of the offense, even more so than the wide receivers. Based on the relative inexperience of Browne and Dinucci, more production should be expected from the rb’s in 2017.


  22. — He’s hit the weights for the last two years and is what now —- *still 6’2” and tall —- now maybe 210 hopefully?** — After his RS Freshman year what could have gone wrong for him not to be #1???


    1. He got fat & happy.
      Narduzzi gave him a wake up call because of it too. This year we’ll see.


    2. Enjoyed the highlights of QO’s ACC rookie of the year season. A few nice catches mixed in with a lot af really nice runs.

      Remember who Pitt out recruited for QO’s commitment? Yes, psu.



  23. Pitt would have a great RB if we could blend the best of Moss, Hall and Ollison. And I’m not sure either of the 2 freshman RB’s coming in will get much of a chance unless one of the two really lights it up in our preseason practices. The best chance for an outstanding year of the current 3 IMO is Moss. Staying healthy might be his biggest problem, and thus an inability to be a feature back carrying much beyond 15 carries per game.—-Right now I’ll have to vote that our combined RB’s will be a downgrade from last years performance.


    1. The flip side of that RB by committee is that you’ve always got a fresh stud on deck waiting to get lathered up for a series or two.
      With these three, we’ve got quite an arsenal.

      In the 4th Q I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be a LB trying to stop a fresh RB out of that threesome after the best guy in the pack gets a breather on the sideline. I can hear the voices in their heads now.

      “Oh great Ollison gets a rest now I gotta chase down this fresh legged Moss guy or Hall guy. Then out of nowhere this frickin bullet wearing #10 gets the edge on me for a quick 20 yards, seriously”!?!?

      Gentlemen, Pitt is going to be just fine without Mr. Conner this season.


  24. OC Watson is the key “player” when it comes to our RB success this season. Canada pushed the right mix of buttons and the O fired on all cylinders.

    Watson needs to get the right front five first, the best of them is currently hurt (shoulder). Then, Max and Watson need to be on the same page to distribute the ball where Pitt can score TD’s. I believe Q.Henderson, J.Whitehead, Ffrench and Lopez need their share of touches to keep the D off balance. TE Clark and J.Weah will be double teamed until Watson opens things up.

    QO is the right back due to his experience and past performances. If QO is an effective blocker, he will have a very productive year and may even leave early for the NFL, which would be good for Pitt, Narduzzi and QO.

    But again, the key will be OC Watson.



  25. I’m thinking Conklin has been stripped of power and/or is on a short leash. Partridge is back. Plus I think Narduzzi has more attention on the D this year. The D will improve with more experienced players, better talent and more attention from the head coach himself.

    The O just needs a QB that manages the game. I dont think Pitt will be quick strike like last year. It will be more ball control and thats probably a good thing especially for our D.

    The Pitt D will surprise the Nitters this year as well as other teams. Our weakness will become our strength.


  26. I agree with Huff, the RB with the best pass catching ability will be the one that gets the most playing time. Watson is a West Coast devotee and catching passes in the flat will be a regular staple. I frankly don’t have confidence in the pass catching abilities any of the RBs on the team right now so not sure which one will break out.


  27. I think I remember Reed speculating a while back about Q. Henderson lining up in the backfield. QH doesn’t have the size to carry the ball 20 times per game, but his shiftiness and speed would be a huge weapon.

    Perhaps this will be Coach Duzz’s surprise for PSU this season…🤔

    I wish we had a RB with Henderson’s speed and shiftiness…

    Go Pitt


    1. MM – but we do. His name is Jordan Whitehead. Could some of the young safeties help spell JW enough for him to have a 2-way impact?



  28. I’m thinking there may be more situational football for the RBs. Inside the Red Zone may be the best spot for Ollison, as a power runner that provides a change up vs. the other backs. Deep in Pitt territory there is no tolerance for fumbles, and the back that protects the football most may be used there. In the open field, speed and getting to the outside may be most important.


  29. Im actually not much a fan of Ollison, if you look at his 2015 year those numbers are skewed because of the YSU game where he went for 207 averaging 13ypc on 16 attempts.

    @Iowa L 27-24 21carries 81yds 3.9
    @Virginia Tech W 17-13 19carries 122yds 6.4
    Virginia W 26-19 13carries 49yds 3.8
    @Georgia Tech W 31-28 22carries 83yds 3.8
    @Syracuse W 23-20 23carries 103yds 4.5
    North Carolina L 26-19 10carries 54yds 5.4
    Notre Dame L 42-30 12carries 32yds 2.7
    @Duke W 31-13 26carries 111yds 4.3
    Louisville W 45-34 28carries 152yds 5.4
    Miami L 29-24 10carries 37yds 3.7

    Taking out the YSU game he averaged 4.39 per carry which isnt horrible, but against any decent defense on the schedule other than VT the numbers werent great.

    To me he is a straight ahead runner with OK speed, OK vision, No wiggle and not much of a bruiser for a bigger back.

    I reserve judgement on Hall until he can get some more carries, and Moss has at least shown flashes of speed and ability to make a guy miss.


  30. More proof on stats lie Ryno. btw. Louisville’s defense has been horrible for years and about the average yards per rush against UNC he only had 10 carries. That chart right there doesn’t paint the same picture most Oillson fans have in their heads.


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