The Tech Lunch Pail is excited to announce the launch of the new TLP Insider subscription. Sign up for an account and get the best news, inside scoops, and analysis on the Hokies! Learn more

2022 Virginia Tech Football Fall Camp Preview: Running Back

Thomas 1516

Our-position-by-position preview for Virginia Tech football ahead of fall camp continues as we stay in the backfield shifting over to the running back position. While the starter is clear for the Hokies,

With that said, here's our breakdown of the running back position for the Hokies plus our other position breakdowns.

Current Projected RB Depth Chart Entering Fall Camp

  1. Malachi Thomas
  2. Keshawn King OR Jalen Holston OR Chance Black
  3. Keshawn King OR Jalen Holston OR Chance Black
  4. Keshawn King OR Jalen Holston OR Chance Black
  5. Bryce Duke OR Kenji Christian

Entering fall camp, Malachi Thomas is well on his way to being the starter for the Hokies at running back. Outside of that, there isn't much clarity as the backup RB spots seem more than up for the grabs from veteran power back Jalen Holston to versatile, speedy RBs Keshawn King and Chance Black. True freshman Bryce Duke may be behind those guys on this projection, but that's purely a starting spot with Duke clearly being in the hunt to earn playing time alongside those guys.

Let's take a look at the major storylines at the running back position.

The Malachi Thomas Era

Malachi Thomas was a surprise breakout playmaker as a true freshman last season beginning midseason with a surprise start against Syracuse where he turned 21 carries into 152 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns after only having 11 carries all season prior to that. Thomas continued that the next two weeks averaging 4+ yards per carry for two more consecutive weeks with 103 yards on 25 carries against Georgia Tech followed by 70 yards on 13 carries against Boston College.

Though Raheem Blackshear took over from there as Tech's lead running back, Thomas showed that he can be the next big time bellcow back continuing on what Khalil Herbert and Blackshear brought to the table after a long gap without a star RB post-David Wilson outside of Travon McMillon's 1,000-yard rushing season.

Thomas could be Tech's first non-transfer RB to 1,000 rushing yards for a multitude of reasons starting with his clear talent as he had good speed and vision to go with great hustle earning extra yards even as a freshman who wasn't fully built out. Now, add in an offseason where he was able to put on more strength to improve both his power and durability, and he should be ready to take on a bellcow role this upcoming season.

On a roster that lost Blackshear, James Mitchell, Tre Turner, and Tayvion Robinson; Tech's offense is desperate for star talent that can consistently produce big plays and Thomas is the one player who's shown the fulfillment of that already in his VT career.

Tech's staff around the running game also has the coaches and playcallers built to produce a big time 1,000 yard rusher with a proven track record of doing so at their previous stops.

While Bowen was on staff at Penn State from 2018-20, the Nittany Lions had a 1,000 yard rusher in Miles Sanders plus Bowen oversaw Chase Edmonds run for well over 1,000 yards when he was the offensive coordinator at Fordham. Run game coordinator Joe Rudolph had multiple 1,000 yard rushers at Wisconsin in Corey Clement (2016), Jonathan Taylor (2017-19), and Braelon Allen (2021) plus Ray Graham (2012) and James Connor (2014) at Pittsburgh.

When Stu Holt was the RBs coach at App State (was TEs coach at Louisville), he had multiple 1,000 yard rushers Marcus Cox (2015-16), Jalin Moore (2016-17), and Darrynton Evans (2018).

That type of coaching and playcalling combined with Thomas' talent is a dynamic combination that has a great chance at producing Tech's first non-transfer 1,000 yard rusher since Travon McMillon and the best non-transfer RB to play for the Hokies since David Wilson.


The Backup RB Competition

Behind Malachi Thomas, the competition is wide open for the backup running back spot with plenty of potential options.

All of this starts with Jalen Holston who may be the new Tyrell Smith for the Hokies as the guy who has been around for a long time as he prepares for his sixth season of college football. Just a reminder that he still is able to play college football because of a medical redshirt he received early in his career plus the free 2020 COVID year giving him an extra season that he has decided to use at Virginia Tech instead of transferring elsewhere.

Holston gives Tech a power back backup who should fit in regardless of whether he is the #2 guy or as a short-yardage back at minimum to give Thomas a breather in those situations. Kenji Christian is a younger power back who could also be someone to watch though he seems behind the eight ball relative to the rest of the non-true freshman competition at RB behind Thomas.

Keshawn King showed loads of potential as a freshman with great speed and explosiveness, but has struggled to build on his strong debut in 2019. Meanwhile, Chance Black also fits the King-mold as more of a speed back who can be moved all over the field with receiving upside as well.

Both King and Black are competing for the same role with true freshman Bryce Duke having the potential to get involved as well (more on him shortly). King and Black are also likely competing for the kick return role in what should be a fascinating competition for the backup speed back role while also battling Holston for the #2 RB spot behind Thomas.

If I had to take a guess, I would see King as the #2 back given the upside he's shown along with his pairing alongside Holston in the Spring Game with Holston as the power back behind Thomas. However, this battle is one that should be intriguing to watch especially between Black and King as they jockey for playing time in 2022 and beyond.

Bryce Duke and Early Playing Time

Bryce Duke is the wild card factor in all this as though he was only a three-star recruit by the services, his high school production is undeniable and makes you scratch your head as to why he was so lowly regarded by the recruiting services.

He was a star at Northern Virginia's Tuscarora HS as he earned the Washington Post's All-Met Player of the Year honors running for 2,852 yards and 36 touchdowns while averaging 9 yards per carry. That's the type of big play potential and proven production that you want in your RB recruit for a recruiting cycle, and is the type of production that rightly has you ignoring recruiting rankings and seeing the high floor at minimum that is likely there.

Duke has the benefit of the fact that he arrived in Blacksburg this spring and has had just as much time to learn the new offense as all of the veteran running backs that surround him. He didn't get a lot of carries in the Spring Game only running for 8 yards on 2 carries, but there's no doubt that the potential is there.

The question that still remains is whether Duke can breakthrough the wall of experience that's ahead of him and put himself in the rotation of backs behind Malachi Thomas? Though the odds are not the highest, Duke definitely has the talent to get in the hunt for important playing time behind Thomas from day 1, and seems certain to play a big role for the Hokies in the future even if it doesn't come till 2023.

You must login in order to comment on this post.
Loading Indicator