It’s spring in Columbus, Ohio and a number of reporters are crowded around one man at the Ohio State Buckeyes training facility. At 5’10, JK Dobbins can barely be seen above the scrum of journalists. The Buckeyes haven’t even finished their spring practices but all eyes are already on the 2019 College Football season.
“I feel better, I feel like I’m on my freshman form. I feel great” says a smiling Dobbins.
That “freshman form” put JK Dobbins in to the Ohio State football record books. With 1403 rushing yards off 194 carries, he set the record for Buckeyes rushing yards as a freshman. The enormity of that record comes sharply in to focus when you consider the running back pedigree of Ohio State. Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Ezekiel Elliott are names that adorn the Buckeyes record books. With just two seasons to his name, Dobbins is already in the top 20 Ohio State running backs by rushing yards alone.
There are huge expectations on the shoulders of JK Dobbins in 2019.
The high powered offence that carried Ohio State to the Big Ten Championship in 2018 has been largely disbanded. Dwayne Haskins, Terry Mclaurin, Parris Campbell and Mike Weber have all headed to the NFL this spring. Although the Buckeyes have transferred in former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields, you can expect JK Dobbins to be the focus of the offence.
It’s a role that he’s relishing. After bursting on to the scene in 2017, he describes 2018 as a “down year for me”. If his sophomore season was a down year then the opposition in the Big Ten conference better get ready. With 1035 rushing yards, he became the first Buckeye running back to have 1000 yard seasons from his first two years. This was despite splitting reps with Mike Weber, the more senior back. Although each player saw a large number of reps, the disruption of having a running back rotation can’t be understated.
That shouldn’t be a problem for JK Dobbins this season.
He’s the de facto number one back in the room. In Justin Fields, the Buckeyes have a dual threat quarterback which will lend itself to opening up more opportunities in the running game. Where Fields represents a dual threat from the quarterback, Dobbins is a dual threat from the backfield. In his first two seasons at Ohio State he’s tallied 398 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns to add to his impressive rushing resume.
So, what are you going to see when you watch JK Dobbins in 2019? What does a return to his “freshman form” look like on the field, away from the stat sheet?
“Making guys miss, super bad! Making them fall over, stuff like that” he tells the assembled journalists at spring training.
He’s an incredible athlete who uses a combination of speed, body control and balance to slip away from contact or make men miss entirely. Making tacklers miss is the hallmark of his game. With extremely quick feet, he can cut, juke, and stutter step his way through the defence. He also has the explosive speed at the line of scrimmage to burst through the hole, but also has the long speed to leave the defence in his wake on the way to the end zone. If he gets in to space, it’s good night for the opposition.
These are the things that make JK Dobbins an incredibly exciting running back.
Then you consider what he can do as a pass catcher. Although he’s not been asked to run a particularly large number of routes at Ohio State, those that he has run he can execute to perfection. Dobbins has a solid, consistent pair of hands with very few drops. He even has the one handed catch in his repertoire. When you consider his rushing skills and pass catching prowess, he’s truly one of the best all round college running backs.
No other running back in the Ohio State top 20 got in there on the back of two seasons alone. If JK Dobbins tops 1000 yards for the 2019 season, he will become the first Ohio State running back since Archie Griffin to have three 1000 yard seasons. Griffin stands alone at the head of the list of great Buckeye backs, with 5589 yards. That target is a little out of reach for Dobbins but 1507 yards would take him past Ezekiel Elliott for second all time.
1507 yards. Now, that would be freshman form.
Photo Credit: Jack Westerheide
Statistics from www.espn.co.uk and www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com.