Notre Dame added Stanford graduate transfer running back Trevor Speights, adding another player to a questionable depth chart. It is an interesting pick up that on the surface seems highly questionable, but there is some potential upside to the pick up as well. Speights was recruited to Stanford by current Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor.
Let’s take a look at this pickup and what it means.
SPEIGHTS AT STANFORD
A consensus three-star recruit, Speights never got higher than the third spot on the depth chart. Speights didn’t play as a freshman and then got a little bit of action as a sophomore, rushing for 142 yards on 36 carries (3.94 YPC). He had one of his best career games that season when he rushed for 61 yards on eight attempts. The rest of the season he rushed for just 81 yards on 28 attempts (2.9 YPC).
In 2018 he rushed for 221 yards on 59 attempts (3.75 YPC) and a touchdown. Speights also caught six passes for 52 yards. He set a career high by rushing for 87 yards on 11 carries (7.91 YPC) against UC-Davis. Speights rushed for just 134 yards on 48 carries the rest of the season, averaging just 2.79 yards per carry.
The Texas native rushed for 363 yards on 95 carries (3.82 YPC) during his Stanford career.
Speights missed the entire 2019 season and struggled to consistently stay on the field in the seasons prior, which raises questions about his ability to stay healthy and in the lineup.
WHY THIS MOVE COULD BACKFIRE
Notre Dame’s depth chart is filled with unproven players, but it’s a group of unproven players that need reps to get better. The fact is adding a sixth running back to the depth chart means fewer practice reps for the entire depth chart, especially when that running back is every bit as unproven as the players already on the roster.
Speights has unimpressive production as a college back, so Notre Dame is banking on him doing in his fifth year in college what he failed to do the first four, and something he hasn’t done in high school, and that is produce. Unless that happens, which would be an incredibly rare feat, this move doesn’t seem to move the needle at all.
The rest of the Notre Dame running back depth chart is also unproven, and it’s a group filled with players that need reps and need the work. This is especially true after Notre Dame had to cancel all but one spring practice. With Speights now added to the roster those players will each get fewer reps, and some will get far fewer reps.
This also will take snaps away from freshman Chris Tyree, who absolutely needs to play this season. Barring injury, there is no excuse that can justify Tyree not getting on the field. Not his lack of ideal size, not his inexperience, not his grasp of the playbook. Tyree needs to play.
If Speights stays healthy then he’ll get every chance to crack the lineup, but if he gets injured - again - then Notre Dame will have to play a younger player that is now going to have far fewer reps.
While this move could be a benefit, there’s also an equally good chance that adding Speights actually hinders the development and production at the position.
WHY THIS COULD BE A GREAT MOVE
Speights was a three-star back according to the three major recruiting services, but he had impressive prep film and a dominant senior season. Speights rushed for 3,180 yards (14.0 YPC) and 50 touchdowns as a senior for McAllen (Texas) Memorial. Speights rushed for over 2,000 yards and over 20 touchdowns as a junior and sophomore as well, finishing his career with 9,868 yards (10.2 YPC) and 116 touchdowns.
Those are incredible numbers and it doesn’t matter what level of football you play.
The film showed a back with a strong set of skills. Speights possessed top-notch agility and vision, and his balance was outstanding, which made him hard to bring down. Speights wasn’t overly elusive and his speed was average, but his overall game reminded me a great deal of former Irish standout Tarean Folston before his knee injury.
Speights isn’t a back that is going to hit a lot of home runs, but his ability to make good reads, his second-level anticipation and then the ability to put his foot in the ground and explode vertically could allow him to hammer defenses.
If the Notre Dame line plays to its talent and potential then there will be creases for a back with the quickness and vision that Speights possesses to thrive. That means if Speights gets back to his prep days, this could be a strong comb behind a line like the one Notre Dame should put on the field next season. If that happens this will look like a brilliant move by the Irish coaching staff.
Some might view this is a low-risk/high-reward move, but I don’t agree with that. I view the decision not add Speights to the roster a high-risk/high-reward move. As I just stated, if Speights gets back to his prep days he’ll give the Irish offense a shot in the arm in the run game.
It would seem the staff is banking on Speights getting back to being the player he was in high school when Taylor recruited him. They are banking on him staying healthy in his fifth season, something he failed to do his first four seasons in college.
They need to be right, because if they are wrong this could end up actually hurting the backfield. If Speights takes reps away from the younger backs, backs who need the work, and he either doesn’t get back to form or gets hurt again the backfield could then be less productive than it would have been had the staff shown more faith in the five players already on the roster.
Notre Dame fans need to cross their fingers that this risk is worth it, because if the staff is right this only increases the odds that Notre Dame has an elite offense in 2020.
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