Demarco Murray’s running back room keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Kennedy Brooks will return in 2021 after opting out of the past season, handing the Sooners their leading rusher at running back from 2018 and 2019. Brooks, who has totaled 2,067 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in his career, will be joined by Cotton Bowl standouts Seth McGowan and Marcus Major as OU’s current projected backfield.
Recruiting misses on elite prospects Jase McClellan and Camar Wheaton mean the Sooners may need to dip into the transfer portal or return to the junior college ranks to bolster the depth at running back.
Here are a few names to keep an eye on as potential targets for the Sooners:
Nakia Watson, Wisconsin
Austin, TX native Nakia Watson has never really gotten it going for the Badgers. Formerly a 4-star recruit per 247 sports, Rivals and ESPN, Watson picked the Badgers over North Texas, Nevada, Ohio and Bowling Green.
After rushing for 331 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries in 2019, Watson was expected to take the mantle as Wisconsin’s next great running back, but he was passed over by Badgers freshman Jalen Berger.
Watson is a hard-nosed back who makes his money picking up the tough yards between the tackles, and he would be well suited to compliment for Brooks and McGowan.
Though the Sooners weren’t heavily involved with his recruitment out of high school, his connections back to Texas high school football could make Oklahoma an attractive destination for Watson.
Ty Chandler, Tennessee
If the Sooners are looking for more of a short-term fix, they could look the direction of senior Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler.
Chandler is a versatile back who can make plays in both the running game and the passing game.
After leading the Volunteers in rushing in both 2018 and 2019, he played second fiddle to Eric Gray in Tennessee’s 2020 campaign.
Over his four years in Knoxville, Chandler tallied 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, adding 465 receiving yards and three touchdown receptions.
The Nashville native ultimately picked the Volunteers, but Chandler also had offers from USC, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and LSU coming out of high school.
Markese Stepp, USC
Markese Stepp is a 6-foot, 191-pound bruising runner who didn’t fit into Graham Harrell’s offense at USC.
The redshirt sophomore has rushed for 505 yards and six touchdowns on 100 career carries for the Trojans.
Another candidate to fill the role of Stevenson, Stepp became known for his strong runs and carrying defenders after contact during his career in Los Angeles.
Playing his high school ball in Indianapolis, Stepp falls outside of Oklahoma’s typical realm of influence, but the Sooners could be enticed to pursue the former 4-star recruit. Stepp also held offers from Notre Dame, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin out of high school.
While the Sooners will hope Brooks can return to form, they may need to look to the portal for some depth just in case as they gear up for their 2021 title run.