One of the ongoing recruiting storylines in Texas regarding the 2015 class has been the historic depth at the running back position. The 2015 crop features what many have said could be the deepest group of legitimate running back prospects the state has ever seen. For comparison, the Rivals database lists 34 running backs in the state from the class of 2014 who signed with Division I-FBS programs and three who received four-star grades, while the 2015 class (which is still four weeks from kicking off its senior season) has seven running backs who have already received four-star grades, and 48 who have reported Division I offers (albeit a few only have FCS offers).
Much has been written about the top names in the 2015 group, such as current and former Texas targets Chris Warren III (Rockwall), Ronald Jones (McKinney North), Soso Jamabo (Plano West), Jordan Stevenson (South Oak Cliff), Tristian Houston (Galena Park North Shore), Jay Bradford (Splendora), JaMycal Hasty (Longview), and Rodney Anderson (Katy). As will happen in any recruiting class, especially one with such a stacked group of talents at one position, there are a number of talented running backs who have had comparably little written about them, and some with D1 talent and ability who have been ignored by the recruiting services entirely.
Here, I'll discuss ten senior athletes who I would rate among the most underrated running backs in the state, based on my having watched highlights for well over 120 of the best ones. Rather than spend a paragraph or two outlining a complicated formula for "underratedness" and ranking the ten players, I'll simply list them in alphabetical order by last name. They may not be big names now, but there's a good chance you could see some of them in the coming years suiting up for one of the Longhorns' Big 12 opponents, or some of the other prominent in-state schools. An analyst many readers of this site have probably heard of compared one of the following ten with a recent All-Big 12 First Team running back, while another was compared by his coach to an honest-to-goodness future NFL Hall-of-Famer who that coach worked with years ago. Read on to discover who these ten are.
Kris Barnes (North Crowley)
6' 220 pounds
2013 stats: 173 carries, 860 yards (5.0 yards/carry), 2 TDs
North Crowley made an improbable playoff run to win the 2003 Class 4A Division I state championship. The school was realigned to the 5A level the following year, and its football team has largely struggled in the years since while frequently competing against district foes with far larger enrollments. In the past six seasons the Panthers have won a total of 13 games. Despite the lack of recent success, the program still sends its share of athletes to the Division I ranks, and Barnes could be next in line. His top end speed appears to be decent but not exceptional, but he has good initial quickness that helps him avoid defenders in the backfield and pick up yards after contact. In the first clip in his junior highlight video, he makes a quick juke to avoid five-star defensive end Myles Garrett (Texas A&M signee), cuts back inside to avoid a linebacker, and runs for a 60-yard gain before being chased down by a DB. The combination of size, quickness, and power that he shows on film suggests he's a much better running back than his statistics show. 247 is the only site with a profile on him, and he has not been graded or featured in any articles so far.
Update: Barnes tells me that he was offered by Iowa State earlier this year.
Dominique Daniels (San Antonio Madison)
6' 204 pounds
2013 stats: 160 carries, 1,132 yards (7.1 yards/carry), 11 TDs
With all Daniels has going for him, it's a mystery to me how he has no reported offers. He plays for a traditional San Antonio powerhouse (Madison), his older brother Byron Daniels (a 2014 wide receiver) signed with Texas Tech in February, he had a productive junior season in his first year as the team's starting running back, and he has great size for the position (he measured 5'11.5" and 204 pounds at the Dallas NFTC in April). And that's before you even get to his highlights, which show him to be a fluid athlete, a natural runner with the ball in his hands, and potentially capable of playing on defense in college as well (he started at safety for Madison as a sophomore). All of the recruiting sites have a profile on Daniels, but only Scout has done any stories about him, and none have graded him as of yet. His 247Sports profile gives him a laughably outdated listing of 5'10" and 180 pounds, and Rivals believes he's 6'1" and 172 pounds. Has nobody watched his film? Again, how does he not have offers? In my view he's one of the top 20 running backs in the state for the 2015 class.
Nahshon Ellerbe (Addison Trinity Christian) - committed to Rice
5'9" 196 pounds
2013 stats: 281 carries, 1,821 yards (6.5 yards/carry), 30 TDs; 58 receptions, 665 yards, 8 TDs
If you consider Ellerbe's stats from the 2013 season and watch his highlight video a couple of times, the most surprising thing about his recruitment isn't that he is committed to Rice, but that the Owls only had to beat out Army, Navy, Harvard, Cornell, and Liberty to gain his verbal pledge. His team competes in a pretty strong TAPPS district, so competition level shouldn't be as much of a factor as it's often considered to be for private school athletes. He measured 5'8.5" and 182 pounds in March of 2013 at the Houston NFSC, at which he posted a SPARQ score of 98.37 (the third-best score of all the 2015 prospects at the event) and recorded a 39.1" vertical jump. He's powerful in his lower body and has good balance to run through or spin away from tackles while staying on his feet, and he accelerates well once he gets the ball. 247 and ESPN both grade him as a low three-star recruit, while Rivals and Scout have him as a two-star. Some may think I'm crazy, but I would actually rank Ellerbe among the top fifteen running backs in the state for 2015.
Cornelio Garcia (Georgetown East View)
5'10" 190 pounds
2013 stats: 1,832 rushing yards, 26 TDs
Garcia had a great junior season and was voted an honorable mention all-state running back for Class 4A, but I've seen nothing written about him on any of the major recruiting sites, though most do have profiles on him. He has decent size (variously listed as 5'9"-5'11" and 190 pounds), good but not great speed, makes pretty good cuts in the open field, and has the hands to be a receiving threat coming out of the backfield. East View is a new school that will be playing just its third varsity football season this fall, which may partially explain Garcia's apparent lack of exposure thus far. He'll have his chances to shine as a senior, as East View's district includes two schools that played for state championships as recently as two years ago (Cedar Park and Georgetown). I'd rate him among the state's top 30 running backs in the class.
Rico Henderson (Rockwall-Heath)
5'10" 190 pounds
2013 stats: 81 carries, 531 yards (6.6 yards/carry), 3 TDs
2014 will be Henderson's fourth year to suit up for Rockwall-Heath's varsity squad. He put himself firmly on the "2015 players to watch" list in 2011 when he rushed for 810 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman. His rushing numbers dipped slightly in 2012 but he was a bigger receiving threat, making 32 receptions after recording only four the previous season. In 2013, Henderson rushed for 438 yards in Rockwall-Heath's first four games, all convincing wins, but he missed much of the season's second half and rushed for less than 100 yards over his team's last six games. Though he doesn't have true breakaway speed, Henderson possesses a good-looking frame, shows the quickness to make defenders miss and pick up tough yards when running between the tackles, and the balance to stay upright and gain yards after contact. He has reportedly been offered by Nevada and Texas State. The 247Sports Composite shows him with a low three-star grade, though Rivals and ESPN have yet to grade him. For what it's worth, the website SigningDay.com ranks Henderson as the #51 player in the state. I wouldn't go that far, but I'd definitely put him among the most underrated running backs in the state.
Tre'von Jackson (Sanger)
5'11" 200 pounds
2013 stats: 270 carries, 1,812 yards (6.7 yards/carry), 29 TDs; 27 receptions, 286 yards, 2 TDs
Quite simply the most underrated running back in the state. He transferred from Denton to Sanger before his junior year, and his efforts last season earned him all-area Offensive Player of the Year honors from the Denton Record-Chronicle. Inexplicably, only Scout has a recruit profile on him and he still has no offers. And can someone explain how his Hudl highlights have only 179 views? He has ideal size for the position, runs hard with good speed, acceleration, and power, and he can make guys miss when he gets to the second level. When he gets into a one-on-one situation with a safety or linebacker, the defender trying to stop him sometimes looks as helpless as a soccer goalie defending a penalty kick. Former Horns Digest publisher Kevin Flaherty (who now writes for The Shiver, Kansas's 247Sports affiliate) has declared himself a fan, and says Jackson "kind of reminds me of James Sims coming out of Irving MacArthur". A guy could do a lot worse than be compared with an All-Big 12 running back. My own list of the top state's top running backs has Jackson just a few spots outside of the top ten. So either I'm overrating him a bit, or everybody else is vastly underrating him. Jackson says Arkansas State is the school he's heard the most from. If they end up signing him it will be one of the biggest 2015 recruiting steals in the state.
Marcalas Johnson (Arp)
5'10" 181 pounds
2013 stats: 234 carries, 1,838 yards (7.9 yards/carry), 25 TDs
Johnson is a small-ish running back from a small school, but he's a big-time athlete who produces big numbers on game nights. A varsity player since his freshman year, he goes into his senior season with nearly 3,500 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns in his high school career. At June's East Texas Sports Network Combine, he measured 5'9.5" and 181 pounds, ran a 4.44-second 40 yard dash, did 20 bench press reps of 205 pounds, and recorded a 35.7" vertical jump and a 9'7" broad jump. On the football field, he runs with a power that belies his frame, shows good vision when running between the tackles or outside on sweeps, changes speeds well, and has a good feel for when to cut back and when to accelerate. Colorado State offered him in the spring and other schools have reportedly shown interest. Rivals gives him a two-star grade but the other services haven't rated him yet. Arp is a small town some 15 miles southeast of Tyler and its high school will compete at the 3A level starting this fall. I'm guessing Johnson would have more offers if he went to a bigger school, such as nearby Whitehouse or one of the Tyler schools.
Jordan Martinez (Grandview)
5'10" 190 pounds
2013 stats: 215 carries, 1,917 yards (8.9 yards/carry), 24 TDs; 17 receptions, 230 yards, 2 TDs
He's another Class 3A athlete who has played for his school's varsity team since he was a freshman. Martinez is a bit bigger than Marcalas Johnson but I think not as fast. He plays fast and runs low behind his pads, which leads to him escaping a lot of tackles and not giving defenders a big target to aim for. He catches enough passes to be a factor in the passing game (his team's QB is 2016 Baylor commit Zach Smith) and he cuts and changes direction well. I think Martinez compares favorably to former Birdville running back Xavier Turner, who led the Dallas-Fort Worth area in rushing yards last year and signed with Incarnate Word this spring. Martinez isn't as big as Turner but I think he's quicker in space and has a similar running style. I talked with Grandview head coach Casey Walraven about Martinez a few months ago, and when I made the Turner comp he said he was familiar with him and thought the comparison was apt. So far only ESPN has a recruit profile for Martinez, but their evaluators have not graded him.
Strait was an honorable mention Class 4A all-state honoree as a junior and should be on some D1 watch lists this fall. He appears to have a good frame to build on and has good speed and exceptional acceleration. When I first watched his highlights I wrote in my notes that he didn't really stand out that much compared some other running backs I'd seen. I must have been sleepy and barely paying attention at that time, because I re-watched them later and thought there was little doubt he's one of the state's top 50 running backs for 2015. He has pretty good hips and is a fluid runner with some moves in the open field, and he shifts into another gear when he gets to the second level. None of the services have a recruit profile on Strait, and I've seen nothing written about him elsewhere. Travis head coach Armando Jacinto says Strait "has all the tools to play D-1 football." Jacinto was an assistant at Waco University earlier in his career, and while there he coached future NFL players LaDanian Tomlinson and Perrish Cox. In comparing Strait to the former of those two, Coach Jacinto says, "Eric at this time in his high school career has just as much talent as LT going into his senior year in high school." I've certainly talked with coaches who went rather heavy on the hyperbole in selling their players, but any time an athlete is compared to a future NFL Hall-of-Famer by someone who coached that future HoF-er, he should get a serious look. Coach Jacinto says some schools watched Strait in the spring, but only Tulsa and Houston Baptist showed significant interest. We'll see if that changes this fall.