Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams is headed to the NFL after two excellent seasons for the Fighting Irish. Replacing a player like Williams won’t be easy, but Notre Dame returns a very talented backfield and more help is on the way.
WHAT WAS LOST
Williams was arguably Notre Dame’s best offensive weapon the last two seasons, during which he posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
During his two seasons as the starting back Williams racked up 2,127 rushing yards (5.1 YPC) and 27 touchdowns. Williams also hauled in 77 passes for 672 yards and four more scores.
Williams brought great energy to the game and he was a team captain this past season. His vision, patience, toughness and pass game ability allowed him to rack up 1,361 yards of offense despite playing behind an average to below average offensive line all season.
There is no doubt that Williams was the emotional leader for the Notre Dame offense this season, and his performances against USC (138 yards) and North Carolina (202 yards) were two of the better performances from an Irish back in the last decade.
With Williams deciding to not play in the Fiesta Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State the Irish will get a chance to get an early look at their 2022 running back rotation.
Williams was an excellent player but Notre Dame returns a very talented depth chart that puts the offense in position to keep things rolling offensively.
Here’s an early look at the 2022 depth chart, with 2022 eligibility.
Notre Dame’s returning depth chart doesn’t have 1,000 career yards, but you can expect that to change following the bowl game.
When looking ahead to next season the Irish might not have a back that gets the 20+ touches that Williams had the last two seasons. The Irish backfield returns a very diverse, complementary backfield that offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and running backs coach Lance Taylor should be able to have a lot of fun with.
Getting current sophomore Chris Tyree a more consistent role in the offense is a must for Rees and Taylor. It seemed the staff inserted Tyree into the game to either try and emulate the work Williams did, or they put him in the slot or in a position to get some sort of reverse or jet.
The latter is perfect, those are certainly good ways to get Tyree the football in the run game and pass game, but the staff needs to rethink and change how it uses Tyree in the backfield.
Tyree is a different type of runner than Williams. He’s more of a one-cut player with elite speed. We need to see Rees figure out what Tyree does best and then put him in the game to use those traits more, and Tyree needs to learn to be more patient with the football in his hands.
If both of those things happen we could see Tyree explode next season and get back to being the explosive home run hitter we saw in 2020. Getting him more touches in the pass game is something I expect the staff to do based on their attempt to get him going in that area late in 2021.
Tyree isn’t a traditional every down back, so his focus needs to be about how to best use him for at least 8-10 touches per game, which should be the minimum target each game.
A back that does have every down talent is current freshman/rising sophomore Logan Diggs. Tyree absolutely needs to be a big part of the game plan in the bowl game and in 2022, but don’t be surprised if its Diggs that is the “lead back” in the bowl game and next season.
Diggs didn’t get a single snap until game six, but he made his presence felt immediately. His combination of size, balance, vision and swagger is outstanding. Diggs can hammer the defense between the tackles, he can make defenders miss in space and he’s a legitimate weapon in the pass game.
With a full offseason in the weight room he should play with more power, be even more effective in pass protection and he’ll be better equipped to carry more of a full load.
Diggs will get his first chance to grab onto the main role in the bowl game. It will be interesting to see how the run game is built around him. Will Notre Dame continue running what we saw for much of the second half of the season, or will we see some wrinkles that perhaps are more geared towards the strengths of Diggs.
If the staff is willing to tailor the run game to fit Tyree when he’s in the game and if Diggs continues to grow his game that one-two punch could be absolutely outstanding in 2022.
Of course, Tyree and Diggs aren’t the only talented backs on the roster. We only saw Audric Estime for six carries this season, but the freshman (rising sophomore) impressed on those limited carries.
Despite his great size (228 pounds) and power, Estime also possesses impressive agility and balance. In a backfield with less talent and depth than what the Irish had in 2021 he would have received a lot more playing time.
I don’t know if Estime will get a shot to get more snaps against Oklahoma State, but the offseason will give him a great opportunity to push his way into the rotation.
You can’t blame Notre Dame fas for being excited about what the backfield will look like in 2022 with a healthy Tyree and a more experienced Diggs and Estime.
I do not expect C’Bo Flemister to return in 2022, but that decision has not been decided based on my latest sources.
Notre Dame landed another talented running back in the 2022 class when it earned a commitment from Denison (Texas) High School back Jadarian Price.
Price rushed for over 5,000 yards during his career and he has the all-around game Notre Dame clearly covets. Price has an impressive burst and he can hit home runs, but what I love about his game is his vision, agility and complementary pass game skills.
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