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2020 Vanderbilt Football Position Previews: Running Back

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There are a bunch of candidates on hand to replace Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

Mississippi v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

It goes without saying that about the only thing keeping Ke’Shawn Vaughn from owning every rushing record at Vanderbilt is the fact that he spent the first two years of his career at Illinois.

Now, Vaughn is gone, the third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after a season in which he rushed for 1028 yards and 9 touchdowns on 198 carries. Arguably, Vaughn was even better as a junior, when he rushed 157 times for 1244 yards and 12 touchdowns; his reduced production as a senior frankly came down to Vanderbilt having a retooled offensive line and little threat from the passing game.

And Vanderbilt as a result is back at square one at the position. There’s no proven option here — there are a couple of guys who have gotten playing time, but neither has impressed to date, and as a result we know about as much about who the new quarterback will be handing off to as we do about who the new quarterback will be. It’s hardly ideal.

Last Year’s Backups

Keyon Brooks, sophomore: A late addition in the 2019 recruiting class, Brooks got on the field right away as a freshman thanks to an injury to Jamauri Wakefield (more on him in a minute.) And Brooks had to deal with roughly the same offensive line and passing game problems as Vaughn; his 4.5 yards per carry average isn’t great and looks even worse when you realize that 61 of his 252 yards came on a single play, a touchdown run early in the Northern Illinois game. Take that away, and Brooks averaged 3.5 yards on his other 55 carries. On the other hand, his best performance came at the end of the season, when he ran for 70 yards on 13 carries, in addition to 5 catches for 34 yards against Tennessee. He showed enough in limited action as a freshman to think he could be the starter, but he certainly doesn’t have much of a lead on the field.

Jamauri Wakefield, redshirt senior: Initially slated to be Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s backup in 2019, Wakefield got one carry in the Georgia game before being lost for the season. For his career, Wakefield has 107 carries for 475 yards — a 4.4 yards per carry average — and he also hasn’t done much as a pass catcher out of the backfield, with just 10 career receptions (for comparison, Brooks had 16 just last season.) In his most significant action to date, he got 19 carries for 74 yards against Kentucky in 2018.

The Other Contenders

Ja’Veon Marlow, redshirt sophomore: Marlow showed good explosiveness in flashes as a true freshman in 2018 (when he played in four games, which counted as a redshirt year under the new rules), but seemed tentative after coming back from injury in 2019, carrying the ball 10 times for 42 yards. With less size than Brooks or Wakefield at 5’11” and 190 pounds, Marlow seems slated to be more of a change-of-pace option than an every-down back.

JR Tran-Reno, redshirt freshman: Tran-Reno didn’t play last year as he took a redshirt year, and figures to be an X-factor in the backfield as a redshirt freshman. He has a good build (6’1”, 206 pounds) and also good speed, but we haven’t seen anything from him since he’s been on campus.

Rocko Griffin, freshman: The lone signee in the 2020 class, Griffin is probably slated for a redshirt year simply by virtue of Vanderbilt already having four running backs on the roster — but with no clear frontrunner for the starting job, there’s every opportunity for the 5’9”, 190-pound speedster to earn playing time early.