2021 NFL Draft: The 2020 Ohio State Buckeyes’ running back battle

J.K. Dobbins is off to the NFL and it will be up to the duo of Trey Sermon and Master Teague to replace him in 2020. But which Ohio State running back has the edge?

The Ohio State Buckeyes’ running backs did a remarkable job during the 2019-2020 college football season. As a team, they averaged the third-most yards on the ground in the entire country, behind only Navy and Air Force. A big reason for their success was new transfer quarterback Justin Fields. Fields rushed for nearly 500 yards in the same backfield as Ravens’ 2020 second-rounder J.K Dobbins and redshirt-freshman, Master Teague.

Dobbins is off to the NFL, but Teague and Fields are joined by another transfer this season in former Oklahoma tailback, Trey Sermon. The former Oklahoma starter decided to transfer after losing carries to Kennedy Brooks, and he could be a real sleeper in this Buckeyes’ backfield in 2020.

The biggest question now is which running back is the bigger sleeper and better prospect between Teague and Sermon? Please take a look below as I compare the two talented runners and see who may have the edge this fall.

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The Starter – Master Teague

Even in a part-time and backup role last season, Teague managed the seventh-most rushing yards in the entire Big Ten. He rushed for 789 yards and four touchdowns as the next in a long-line of ultra-talented Ohio State running backs.

As the expected starter, Teague has a better understanding of the offense and a standing rapport with the quarterback, Fields. Teague has the perfect size for the position at 5’11”, 225lbs, and he runs with fantastic strength, balance, and acceleration. His strength and low center of gravity lead to some powerful runs, which has led to at least one comparison to former Buckeyes’ great Maurice Clarett.

Teague’s experience in the Buckeyes’ offense the past two seasons gives him an instant edge at the top of the depth chart over the newcomer Sermon. The expected starter looks like a potential third-rounder at this stage in the process. However, with another year and continued growth in this offense, Teague could be looking at an early day two selection. Even though running back Sermon is new to Ohio State, Teague is a new starter and will have to prove himself as an every-down back in 2020.

Teague will also need to show he is healthy enough to open the season. He is currently suffering from an undisclosed injury, which has sidelined him from all of the spring practices and could threaten his availability to start the 2020 campaign.

When Teague returns, he is talented enough to hold off Sermon for the starting duties. If he capitalizes on this new opportunity and his potential, he can cement his place among the past Buckeye greats at running back.

The Challenger – Trey Sermon

Sermon is another big, skilled tailback that earned his name as a sophomore at Oklahoma when he replaced the injured starter, Rodney Anderson, in 2018. He made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns, and seemed primed for a more significant role with Anderson declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. However, Sermon only lost carries during the 2019 season to Brooks and starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts.

Looking for a new challenge and opportunity, we received confirmation in March via Sermon’s Twitter page that he would be transferring to Ohio State.

PFN’s own Bill Riccette previously discussed the big transfer news and what it would mean for Sermon in 2020. A former four-star recruit, Sermon is a graduate transfer from the Sooners and will be eligible to play right away for the Buckeyes.

Sermon’s upright running style is reminiscent of former Oklahoma running backs Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray. Sermon also has tremendous cutting ability and a nasty stiff-arm, just like his predecessor Peterson. He is rarely brought down by the first defender and uses that stiff-arm to pick up extra yardage consistently after initial contact. He and Teague will be a load for Big Ten opponents to bring down this season.

While I don’t necessarily see the upside of a Peterson or Murray with Sermon, he is a tremendous player in his own right. Sermon has earned the nickname “Preacherman,” based on his last name. However, he could be the answer to the Buckeyes’ prayers this season as he teams with Teague to form arguably the best backfield duo in college football. Sermon has the higher ceiling of the two and could force an exact timeshare for Ohio State this season.

Who has the final edge?

Replacing Dobbins in this Ohio State offense will be a tough task for running backs coach Tony Alford, and it will take more than one guy to do so effectively in 2020. Sermon will have a great chance to steal starting duties early in the season if Teague comes back at any less than 100 percent. He was a game-breaking threat every time he touched the ball and was also a powerful runner for his size.

Sermon is just as talented as Teague and maybe even a bit more versatile, catching the ball out of the backfield. However, I believe Teague has the edge over the course of the season as Ohio State navigates a grueling Big Ten schedule. In the end, the two should have comparable seasons and hear their names called on day two of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.

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