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WSU is loaded at running back in 2016, and that's a great problem to have

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In part three of an eight-part look at the past, present and future of each of the Cougars' units, we assess the running back situation, which is awesome -- and crowded.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With signing day in the rearview mirror and spring football coming up, now's a great time to take stock of each of the eight position groups on WSU's roster. Let's go back over to the offense for a unit that is perhaps the deepest of any on the roster for the third installment of our series: The running backs.

Other Installments: Quarterbacks Defensive Line

Looking Back at 2015

End of Season Depth Chart
Starter Backup 3rd
Gerard Wicks, RS-So Jamal Morrow, RS-So Keith Harrington, RS-Fr
Stats
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
Gerard Wicks 107 610 5.7 3 38 128 3.4 0 145 738 5.1 3
Jamal Morrow 53 347 6.5 0 33 294 8.9 4 86 641 7.5 4
Keith Harrington 37 238 6.4 2 43 312 7.3 3 80 550 6.9 5

In Brief: The running backs were right up there with the defensive backs in terms of units that took the biggest step forward in 2015. Not only did their touches increase for the third consecutive season, their production soared (running backs are "F" in the Leach offense):

2015_yardage2

In 2015, Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington ripped off 6.22 yards every time one of them touched the ball -- an increase of more than a yard (nearly 25 percent). It was a group that we were excited about heading into the season after what Wicks and Morrow showed as redshirt freshmen; both were improved, and the incorporation of Keith Harrington was just about everything it was promised to be.

Wicks was the bell cow, slashing and battering his way to 610 yards on the ground at 5.7 yards per carry. Morrow, meanwhile, complemented him by proving to be a tough runner who was incredibly dangerous when catching the ball out of the backfield -- his yards rushing (347) and receiving (294) were nearly equal, and he led the trio in yards per touch (7.5). Harrington proved to be a home run threat defense had to account for when he was on the field.

About the only negative I can come up with is that Harrington had a propensity to put the ball on the ground -- his disastrous fumble at Washington being perhaps the most high profile and memorable.

But if we were grading this unit in 2015? We'd give them a solid "A" and not even think twice.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Who departs: Nobody.

Projected Depth Chart
Starter Backup 3rd 4th
Gerard Wicks, RS-Jr Jamal Morrow, RS-Jr Keith Harrington, RS-So James Williams, RS-Fr

Everyone's back, and that's amazing. Even better? The Cougars will add Thursday Night Football superstar James Williams to the mix.

You might wonder what you're getting in Williams, and whether he'll be able to force his way into the lineup with such a talented trio in front of him. After all, dominating those buried on the depth chart in a simulated game isn't that impressive ... until you remember the list of TNF superstars from the past few years includes Morrow, Wicks, Harrington and Hercules Mata'afa. Not a bad list.

When Williams committed, I said he reminded me of (don't hate me) Bishop Sankey, with his balance and ability to move in and out of cuts without losing speed. I stand by that assessment, and I absolutely believe he's going to be a star for WSU and force his way into touches.

How that works out has been a popular topic of conversation in our comments -- it's just not feasible to get four different running backs significant touches out of the backfield. Yet, all are talented and (presumably, in Williams' case) able to impose their will on a game. You don't want talent like that standing on the sidelines. The most popular theory is that Harrington moves back to receiver -- the position for which he was recruited until he was shredding defenses as a running back in TNF -- or into a hybrid RB/WR role.

It's a great problem to have -- I get giddy just thinking about that fact that we're able to have this kind of conversation after so many challenging years -- and it's going to be interesting to see how they're used once spring practices roll around. I have no idea if Williams will actually be "4th" in the depth chart (I have a strong feeling he won't), but if he is, it will be because the veterans in front of him have continued to be incredible.

There is a fifth scholarship running back on the roster: True freshman Romello Harris. He's also an exciting talent who appears to be a great fit for the Air Raid, but unless a string of injuries hits the quartet in front of him, he'll be redshirting. (And hopefully lighting up TNF himself.)

2017 Recruiting Outlook

With no seniors on the roster in 2016 and none of the four appearing to be candidates to declare early for the NFL Draft, it's likely the Cougars take one running back this cycle as they've done each of the past two classes.

From Britton Ransford's recruiting notebook, here are a couple of guys in which WSU is taking an early interest:

One of the top running backs in the country, Stephen Carr, picked up an offer from Washington State today. The 6-foot, 180-pound all-purpose back is rated four-stars byRivals.com and the No. 2 all-purpose back in the country. The Fontana, Calif., product is currently committed to USC, but also holds offers from Arizona, Cal, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame, UCLA, Washington and several others. ...

Washington State is the second program to offer Cyrus Habibi-Likio, a running back prospect out of Palo Alto, Calif. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder also picked up an offer from Hawaii today. This guy is a freak athlete that could do a lot of things.

Scout.com also reports offers out to a pair of prospects they've rated three stars, Otis Anderson (Jacksonville, Florida) and C.J. Verdell (Chula Vista, California), as well as Chuba Hubbard, whom 247Sports rates as four stars.