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We’re continuing our way-too-early look at the Northwestern depth chart with a group that could break out in a big way in 2021: the running backs. If you would like to read the previous depth charts for the QB, LB, and DB groups, click on the links embedded within the positions.

Despite finishing eighth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (and 65th overall), there is a large amount of optimism surrounding the Wildcat rushing attack going into 2021. Northwestern ran for over 100 yards in its last three games of the season, including a 411-yard performance against Illinois, and a 166-yard performance against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. The offense has to create more explosive plays in 2021, and the rushing attack could be the key to unlocking that aspect for offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.

Luckily for the Wildcats, the top two backs from last year are returning. Sophomore Cam Porter is the star of the group and led the team in rushing last year. His vision, acceleration and burst became a mainstay in the Wildcat, and Bajakian would lean on Porter when the offense became stagnant, evidenced by his 33 rushing attempts in the Citrus Bowl. His late season emergence landed him a spot on Athlon’s preseason Second-Team All Big Ten as an all-purpose back, and Bajakian should look to use Porter more in the receiving game (nine receptions last year) to aid the new QB.

Behind Porter is redshirt sophomore Evan Hull, who could be one of the largest big-play threats on the team, along with Porter. Hull has a career average of seven yards per rush, and his speed out of the backfield is a great counter to Porter. Both guys should see time as runners and receivers in the offense in 2021.

Behind Porter and Hull there’s only one back with 2020 rushing experience: redshirt sophomore Marcus Cisco had six yards on three carries last year, but should be next up on the depth chart in the event of a Porter or Hull injury. Connor Newhouse didn’t play last year due to a redshirt season, but the sophomore has the 4.4 speed and pedigree (father Butch was a Northwestern FB) to be a player in 2021 and beyond. Junior Raymond Niro is predominantly a special teams ace, but the former wide receiver has the chops in the passing game to be used as a versatile chess piece in the offense.

The final two backs on the roster haven’t seen any playing time, but have the talent to be factors in the future. Sophomore Jake Arthurs walked onto the team, but could be another depth chip for the team in the future. Freshman Anthony Tyus III is a former three-star recruit from Michigan who offers a different feature from the backs on the roster. He’s one of the taller backs on the roster, and his power and toughness is a perfect fit for the Big Ten.

This running back group has two of the more experienced guys remaining on the offensive roster, and with all of the turnover at the QB and WR position, they’ll be expected to carry the load for the early part of the season. Porter and Hull could prove themselves to be one of the better 1-2 punches in the conference, and Mike Bajakian will find ways to get them involved in the rushing and passing game.

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