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2021 Syracuse Football Positional Preview: Running Backs

Sean Tucker carries the ball in a game against Duke
Sean Tucker carries the ball in a game against Duke

Heading into the 2020 college football season, the Syracuse backfield was a serious question mark. The team’s 2019 leading rusher had graduated, and the two backs expected to replace his production both opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Who would step up and handle the bulk of the carries for the Orange?

Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz filled those shoes, and in an otherwise stagnant offense, the running back group showed flashes during the season. SU rushed for 150 yards against Clemson and 229 yards against Notre Dame, their two toughest games of the year. Overall, the unit ranked 122nd out of 128 teams last season, averaging a meager 92 yards per game. There’s room for improvement, but moments throughout last year showed the promise that the group holds.

The word that comes to mind with this year's group is depth. The Orange’s top producers from 2020 are back, the opt-outs are making their return, and there are some fresh faces as well. Head coach Dino Babers expressed his excitement at the ACC Kickoff event in July, saying, “I'm telling you right now you can throw some of those guys in a hat and mix them up, they're all about the same. There are some special ones in there, but I think we can win with every name that you mentioned at that position. They're a really, really talented group.”

With all of that said, let’s meet the 2021 Syracuse running backs.

Sean Tucker, Freshman

The aforementioned Tucker might not have envisioned being the feature back in year one when he committed to play for Syracuse, but he shouldered the workload in 2020, en route to one of the best freshman seasons in program history. He totaled 626 yards along with 4 touchdowns, and it’s hard not to be excited to see what he can do in his second season as the starter. Tucker has the solid frame to run it between the tackles and the speed and elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open field. He was named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List, which honors the best college running back at the end of the season.

Cooper Lutz, Redshirt Sophomore

After starting his career at Syracuse as a slot receiver, Lutz made the switch to running back ahead of the 2020 season. He wasn’t expected to have a big role, but was given chances and took advantage of them. He ended up with the second-most rushing yards on the team with 246 and an impressive 5.7 yards-per-carry. Lutz made some big plays, including an 80-yard touchdown against Notre Dame and multiple catches against Wake Forest and Boston College. His diverse skill set could be put to use this season both running and catching the ball.

Jarveon Howard, Junior

One of the two opt-outs from the 2020 season, Howard will make his return for his third season at SU. He hasn’t seen high volume throughout his Syracuse career, only handling 10+ carries 5 times in 23 games, but is a major threat in short-yardage situations. Howard’s 212 lb pound frame is tough to bring down at the goal line; 8 of his 10 career touchdowns have come within the 5-yard line. Expect the Orange to go his way when they need someone to power their way in for 6.

Abdul Adams, Redshirt Senior

The other opt-out from last year, Adams has yet to find his footing in the college football landscape. After spending two seasons at Oklahoma, Adams played his first full season for Syracuse in 2019. He and Jarveon Howard put up almost identical stat lines that year, 337 and 336 yards respectively, and were expected to lead as a tandem in 2020 before their opt-outs. Fast forward to this season, and Adams’ role is less defined due to his absence last year as well as the emergence of Sean Tucker.

Josh Hough, Freshman

The lone running back recruit from Syracuse’s 2021 class, Hough has several upperclassmen to compete with, but has the physical tools to be a major contributor should he be given the opportunity. The 3-star recruit from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, ran all over his high school competition, rushing for 2,048 yards and 29 touchdowns, and averaging 16 yards-per-carry. Hough stands a massive 6’3”, 240 lbs, a frame very comparable to Tennessee Titans superstar RB Derrick Henry.

Ja’Tarie Washington, Freshman

Originally a 3-star running back in the 2019 recruiting class, Washington suffered a knee injury that saw multiple Power 5 offers fade away. After more than a year of rehab that included surgery and training to get back into football shape, Washington signed as a walk-on for the 2021 season. At 5’10”, 188 lbs, he uses his speed and athleticism to get past defenders, a style that could give the offense a different look compared to the power of other SU backs.

David Obeng-Agyapong, Freshman

Obeng-Agyapong joined the Orange during last year’s spring practice as a walk-on and is largely unknown from the Bronx, NY. An unrated player coming out of high school, he displays athleticism and quickness to bounce run plays to the outside. With a thinner frame of 182 lbs, that agility is a key part of his game.