In the second installment of our Most Underrated Player by Position series, Go Joe Bruin takes a look at the running back position for the UCLA Football team.
Last week we discussed a player on the UCLA Football team who most didn’t have on their radar in Mike Fafaul. This time around the player we discuss isn’t necessarily under the radar but would fit the bill as a player that might be taken for granted.
Given all the young, talented depth the Bruins are stockpiling in their backfield, this veteran player still offers plenty of production and won’t be surpassed easily.
Nate Starks – Running Back
UCLA’s running game has been stellar the past two years under now New York Giant Paul Perkins but with him being drafted, there are a number of questions surrounding the ground game.
Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo lead what should be a deep, exciting, NFL producing backfield for the next few years but before they truly take over, they’ll have to battle it out with Nate Starks. After coming to UCLA, Starks red-shirted as a freshman but had to play behind aforementioned Perkins.
Here’s why Starks is my underrated running back and is vital to the success of the 2016 season. Despite never receiving a heavy workload in either 2014 or 2015, Starks has averaged almost six yards per carry and racked up eight total touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t anything to write home about. In fact, Jamabo had 66 carries as a freshman while Starks only ran the ball 50 times.
The number that should stand out though is Starks’ 6.4 yards per carry in 2015. The other piece that should be noted is the difference in running styles between Jamabo, Starks and Bolu. Jamabo is a slasher with game breaking ability, Bolu is a bowling ball of a runner with surprising speed but has struggled to stay healthy.
The number that should stand out though is Starks’ 6.4 yards per carry in 2015.
While both offer a ton in the running game but fans have to remember the Bruins will be replacing three starters on the offensive line. They will also be shifting towards a more power centered running game instead of the wide-split, spread game they had previously operated.
Replacing three starters at any position isn’t easily overcome but it carries even more weight when you have to replace your lead ball carrier as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jamabo and Bolu will become bigger studs than they already are for the UCLA Football team but as everyone gets adjusted to the new line, I believe the coaches will rely on Starks to help settle the offense down. He has been with the team for three years now and even though he was once in Jim Mora’s doghouse, he’s regained the trust of his coaches.
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Starks lacks the lateral cutting ability of Perkins, the game breaking ability of Jamabo and the bowl you over style of Bolu but Starks has the juice. He will find the hole and get what he can while being tough to bring down.
When he needs to, he will bounce it outside and has the vision and enough speed to do so. Perhaps most importantly, Starks will pass block and keep his young quarterback upright even if the rebuilt offensive line struggles to do so.
After fall practice last year in San Bernardino, I had Starks quoted as saying “I’m gonna be the next guy up so I wanna be ready when my time comes” in reference to the 2016 season. I’m not guaranteeing that Starks will be the starter all season. I’m not expecting him to have 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns.
What I am expecting him to be is a leader of this unit. Sometimes a leader has to step back and accept their limitations and put the best interest of the team ahead of their own. That is the kind of guy that Starks is and that’s the kind of guy you want in a leadership role especially in a unit with so many young, talented players.
Next week we will take a look at an underrated receiver as we continue our list of underrated players at each position. If you missed our first post in the series make sure you see it here. As always leave comments or thoughts on our series and take a stab on who will be featured next week.