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Cox's Corner: Running Back Preview

Four returning rotation backs, two freshman recruits and a flashy grad-transfer. Who will get the start?

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

With spring practice just three weeks away and signing day two weeks in the rear view mirror, it's time to look at the Oklahoma State roster and how some of the different position groups may shake out.

Important dates:

March 7 - Spring Practice Starts

April 16 - Spring Game

The position with the most questions (or at least the most intrigue) heading into 2016 is undoubtedly running back. Running back play was pretty underwhelming for most of 2015. The lack of production in the run game (partially due to poor o-line play) hamstrung the Cowboy offense that had to lean on a pass-heavy attack and some creative play calling to try to sustain drives.

If the Pokes can get some semblance of a ground game while they still have Rudolph and some depth at receiver behind Washington and Ateman, they could be almost unstoppable on offense.

So, let's get started.

Who they lost: No one. Not a single running back on the roster who carried the ball is gone from last year. That's a good thing, right?

Who returns: Everyone. Well, almost. (That whole thing I just said about all the running backs coming back, it is technically true.) But the best running back on the roster was the Pokes' backup QB. Of the 25 rushing touchdowns OSU scored, 13 of them were Walsh's. The Cowboys ranked ninth in the Big-12 in rushing last season (and they won't have Walsh to buoy the run game next year).

Chris Carson - Senior

Last year's rushing numbers:

Carson was lauded as the SEC style back stolen from Georgia that was going to be the next big rusher for the Pokes. He certainly looked the part at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds. But, unfortunately, it never really translated into the production Gundy or OSU fans were hoping for.

He's coming into his senior year and spring practice will be big for Carson if he wants to keep his starting spot from early last year. Carson failed to eclipse 100 yards in multiple games, with his sole triple-digit game coming against UTSA.

To his defense, Carson was injured in the Texas game and never really seemed to get back into rhythm. With Gundy's attitude on injuries, it's unclear how healthy the junior was (even by the end of the season).

Too bad you don't get points for jumping over defenders.

Rennie Childs - Senior

Last year's rushing numbers:

Childs first saw the field in 2013, playing behind Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. In 2014, he once again played backup but added 294 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an encouraging 7.8 yards per carry.

He has at times shown the ability to break loose for a big play, But, like Carson, poor run blocking and an inability to consistently make plays out of the backfield hurt his production in 2015.

Raymond Taylor - R-Senior

Last year's rushing numbers:

The walk-on back saw an increased role last season and gave Cowboy fans reason for optimism. Taylor showed good vision and his low center gravity makes him hard to take down. Though the sample size wasn't huge, his 6.32 yards per carry average in 2015 was by far the best on the team.

Taylor has a chance to continue to contribute and may push for first team reps.

Jeff Carr - Sophomore

Last year's rushing numbers:

The true freshman speedster was given kickoff return duties in the Cowboys' season opener. He was okay, not great. Yurcich did his best to get Carr involved in a variety of ways.

We never really got to see the elusiveness that Gundy witnessed on YouTube. But Carr has time to improve and could still be a big time play maker at OSU. He still needs to bulk up some.

Who they got:

Barry J. Sanders - Senior

Last year's rushing numbers:

The most dramatic pickup this off season may be the starter come September. But if he is, he will have to earn it in the fall as Sanders is set to graduate from Stanford and won't join the team until before fall camp.

Everyone knows his story. A stud at Heritage Hall (Oklahoma City, OK) who picked Stanford over Oklahoma State. He never became a feature back for the Cardinal and with the emergence of Christian McCaffrey, likely would be stuck as option No. 2 at best.

Watching film, Sanders does have some talent. He can make defenders miss and if they do, he has enough speed to make plays.

He averaged 6.18 yards per carry last season. Actually, his numbers are very comparable to Raymond Taylor's were last year. Taylor was following a much worse offensive line.

Sanders could be really good, but he's not going to be his dad. At best, he could be a 1,000-yard back if the line improves. At worst, he adds depth to the running back stable.

Justice Hill - Freshman

Senior year rushing:

Hill was the first commit for the 2016 class, promising to ink with the Cowboys right after signing day last year. At 5-foot-9.5, 180 pounds he may be able to contribute early.

Over his junior and senior years, Hill racked up 3,200+ yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground. He also showed he could catch the ball if needed, exceeding 100 yards receiving both years.

I can see Hill turning out as more of a traditional back but would fit well in the spread. He (like most freshman) would benefit from a redshirt season.

La'Darren Brown - Freshman

Senior year rushing:

The track star from DeSoto, TX is one of the more overlooked players of the recruiting class, but has some real upside. First off, he's fast. He clocked a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash on his trip to Stillwater.

Brown missed practically his entire junior season with an elbow injury which may account for his lack of offers and may make him just the type of guy Gundy has been know to hit on.

He was mentioned as one of the most ESPN's Underrated Big 12 Recruits of this class.

"One of the fastest guys in Texas. He has that Tavon Austin type of speed and he has really good ball skills."

Well, that sounds promising.

At this point, I would say running back is an open competition starting this spring. All of the guys on this list will get a chance to earn reps. It's hard to say how it all shakes out but if you want my "way-too-early" prediction, I say Sanders starts and the No. 2 spot could be filled by any of the four returning backs, I say give "RayTay" a shot.

Being able to redshirt the two freshman is always desirable, but we know Gundy is not too shy to pull the trigger on a young kid if needed.

With the recruiting emphasis on the offensive line and increased competition in that department, you have to assume run blocking will improve. How much and how quickly? Again, we will just have to wait and see. But if Oklahoma State can find a couple of backs that can make plays, the offense could get a big time shot in the arm.