In recent years, the Colorado football team has produced several talented individual running backs.

Rodney Stewart, Phillip Lindsay and Travon McMillian all hit the 1,000-yard mark at least once from 2010-18. Then, last year, Jarek Broussard was third in the country in rushing (149.2 yards per game) and earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season.

It’s been a long time since the Buffaloes had multiple weapons in the backfield at once, however.

“I think last year it was a depth issue from the injury with Alex (Fontenot) and Ashaad (Clayton) being a young player,” Buffs offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. “I think we have a lot of depth right now.”

Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 5, Buffzone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the running backs.

Many of the best teams in CU history have featured multi-back attacks, such as Chris Brown and Bobby Purify in 2000-01. Cortlen Johnson (in 2000) and Brian Calhoun (2001) were talented third options, as well.

In 1994, Rashaan Salaam won the Heisman Trophy, but his backup, Herchell Troutman, chipped in with 244 yards and eight touchdowns (CU also had a great running quarterback in Kordell Stewart).

As Chiaverini looks ahead to this season, he knows the Buffs can’t simply rely on Broussard as they did a year ago.

“I think it’s very important,” Chiaverini said. “Last year, I think Jarek did a heck of a job, but in a 12-game season, he probably would have got too many touches.”

Broussard finished with 895 yards in six games, but also racked up 156 carries — which put him on pace for 312 in a full season. The CU record is 301, by Lindsay in 2017.

Broussard ranked second nationally in carries per game (26.0), while the rest of the Buffs’ running backs averaged 8.0 per game.

That could change dramatically this year.

While Broussard is coming off a stellar season, the Buffs might have their deepest backfield since the days that Brown and Purify dominated.

Fontenot missed the 2020 season with a hip injury but led the Buffs in rushing in 2019. Clayton was a four-star recruit in the 2020 class and after getting his feet wet last season, he’s primed for a bigger role.

Deion Smith, who missed the 2020 season with a knee injury, Joe Davis and Jayle Stacks give the Buffs some exceptional depth.

“Hopefully that doesn’t change with injuries or anything in the summer, but I feel we have a strong group coming back,” Chiaverini said. “That’s a really solid room, and now they’ve got to stay healthy and perform.”

Broussard, who battled back from two ACL tears before his breakout 2020 season, missed some time in spring but is expected to be ready for fall camp. Fontenot and Clayton both had exceptional springs.

“It’s important for us to develop that depth,” Chiaverini said. “We’re gonna have that with Alex and Ashaad and Josiah and some of those other guys. They’ll get touches because I think we have a stronger group now that they’re healthy and that they’re more mature.”

Position: Running backs

Returners (2020 statistics)

  • Alex Fontenot, Jr., 6-feet, 205 pounds (Missed 2020 with hip injury)
  • Jarek Broussard, So., 5-9, 185 (156 att., 895 yards, 5 TD; 9 catches, 65 yards)
  • Joe Davis, So., 5-11, 205 (18 att., 34 yards; 1 catch, 4 yards)
  • Deion Smith, So., 6-0, 190 (Missed 2020 with knee injury)
  • Ashaad Clayton, Fr., 6-0, 200 (7 att., 31 yards, 2 TD)
  • Jayle Stacks, Fr., 5-11, 230

Additions

  • Charlie Offerdahl, Fr., 5-11, 185 (walk-on)
  • Noah Wagner, Fr., 6-4, 220 (walk-on)

Losses

  • Jaren Mangham, 6-2, 215 (Transferred to South  Florida; 23 att., 35 yards, 2 TD; 1 catch, 10 yards)

2021 outlook: CU has arguably its deepest and most talented pool of running backs in 20 years. Fontenot finished with 874 yards in 2019 and might have hit the 1,000-yard mark had he not missed a game because of a concussion (he also caught 27 passes). Broussard did things in 2020 that no CU back has ever done, and he was on pace for one of the best single-season rushing totals in CU history had the Buffs played a full schedule. Although both have battled some injuries, they are proven players who could form an impressive 1-2 punch. Clayton, however, is talented enough to break into that top two and give the Buffs one of the better trios in the Pac-12. Stacks is a big back that could make an impact in short-yardage situations. Smith and Davis are talented, too, and while they might find carries hard to come by, they are capable of filling in if injuries become an issue. CU finished third in the Pac-12 in rushing last year (212.33 yards per game), but has the talent to finish at the top this year.

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