A month ago, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley announced that running back Kennedy Brooks would return to the team after opting out in 2020.
So this week, Pro Football Focus ranked Brooks No. 3 among the nation’s top returning running backs in 2021.
“Brooks decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns,” PFF wrote, “but he will be back for the 2021 campaign — very good news for the Sooners.
“Brooks was the third-highest-graded ball carrier in the FBS from 2018 to 2019 and established himself as one of the top breakaway threats at the position. No FBS running back churned out 10 or more yards on a higher rate of their carries over that period than Brooks (23.4%). He doesn’t have electrifying speed, but he is elusive and fights through contact as well as anyone.”
On PFF’s list, Brooks is behind only Auburn’s Tank Bigsby (834 yards, five touchdowns) and Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn (642 yards, seven TDs).
Iowa State's Breece Hall, who led the nation with 1,572 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns last season, graded out at No. 6, giving the Big 12 three of the top-six graded running backs in the nation.
Brooks ran for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman and nearly led the nation at 8.9 yards per carry. Then as a sophomore in 2019, Brooks rushed for 1,011 yards and six TDs and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. His career average of 7.5 yards per carry ranks. No. 1 in school history.
In his two seasons in Norman, Brooks has nine 100-yard games, which ranks 14th all-time at OU, and his 2,067 career rushing yards ranks No. 30 in school history.
Riley said the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Brooks was not with the team during the 2020 season, “but was up here separate times throughout the year, training with our strength and conditioning staff, working.”
OU must replace senior Rhamondre Stevenson, who led the team over the final six games last season after his return from NCAA suspension, as well as top backup T.J. Pledger, who transferred to Utah. But Brooks has plenty of company in the OU backfield.
Seth McGowan rushed for 371 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns as a true freshman while also catching 13 passes for 201 yards and a score. In the 55-20 victory over Florida in the Cotton Bowl, McGowan took his only rushing attempt 73 yards, and caught three passes for 70 yards.
Marcus Major scored touchdowns against Texas and Kansas as a sophomore last season, but came on strong late with 110 yards and a TD on just nine carries in the Cotton Bowl victory over Florida.
OU also added former Tennessee starter Eric Gray from the transfer portal for 2021. Gray rushed for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns in his two seasons in Knoxville, including a career-high 246 yards and three TDs against Vanderbilt in 2019 and four 100-yard games against SEC competition in 2020.
“We’ll be excited to get Kennedy back involved,” Riley said in January. “We’ll see what happens with any potential departures or additions, but I would say — in every year it would be, but especially this year — I would say everything’s on the table. But I’m confident we’ve got a chance to have a pretty good group, regardless of how it shakes out.”