The running back position heading into the 2016 season for the Miami Hurricanes was viewed as a position of strength with the depth of talent recruited on the roster. 5'9 207 lbs. junior running back, Joseph Yearby looked poised for another productive season touting the rock. His 1,002 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns with 4.9 yards per carry average amassed in his sophomore season illustrated how two-headed attack in the run game would benefit the offense. However, after being considered a co-starter in 2015, then slated as the backup heading into the season, Yearby fell a spot lower than his actually jersey number as the third back behind Walton and Gus Edwards who returned from injury a season ago.
It's humbling to go from a 1,000 yard rusher one season to an backup the next. During that incredible sophomore season, Yearby only had a single game with less than 10 carries for the entire season. Pro Football Focus named him the best returning player for Miami before the season based on his ability to break tackles, which he accomplished 48 times in the 2015 season.
Yearby played the early portion of the season as if it were simply a continuation of the season prior. He finished this season tied for 14th in the ACC in rushing plays of more than 10 yards. In comparison Mark Walton finished 7th with 30 rush plays of 10+ yards. Even in a diminished role, Yearby helped Miami improve the team's yards per attempt from 3.68 in 2015, to 4.54 in 2016.
This past season he received just 3 games with 10+ carries, a season high 20 carries for 121 yards against Florida Atlantic in the second game of the year. 2016 seen Joe's attempts dwindle to 102 attempts from the 205 he posted a year earlier. His numbers in the passing game also went down over the season with a modest 10 receptions for 65 yards, down from the 23 receptions for 273 yards of 2015.
However, if we're just looking at Joe's season from a statistical standpoint he did improve both his yards per carry (6.0) adding a career high 7 rushing TDs this season. The numbers can be deceiving since his attempts were essentially cut in half from 2015.
Having committed to The U from Miami Central, a institution that has produced notable alums such as Najeh Davenport and Willis McGahee, Yearby was poised to be the next Central Rocket to transition into being a great Miami Hurricane. A common theme among Yeaby's career has been that he's shared the rock with some of the best backs at the collegiate level. From his freshman season fighting for scraps behind Duke Johnson, to this past season playing second fiddle to Mark Walton.
While Miami finished 2016 strong with 5 straight victories, Joe's season concluded with a whimper. Posting 2 carries against NC State, 1 carry against Duke @ home, and 3 touches the Russell Athletic Bowl in what would be Miami's first bowl victory in over a decade. Losing touches is one thing, yet then to be supplanted by Gus Edwards on the depth chart has to provide further frustration in the situation. It's for that reason why 2016 is considered a frustrating and disappointing season for Joe. So it was not all that surprising that the 2,119 career yard rusher announced he was making a change.
Even though his numbers took a tumble as he fell down the totem pole at running back, Joe looked to cut his loses in an intriguing manner. It was a decent surprise to learn that Joe Yearby would declare for the draft in a social media post before former HS teammate Dalvin Cook would announce his intentions.
We just didn't expect that it would be to announce his intention on entering the 2017 NFL Draft. With plenty of ground to be made up between now and the draft this spring, Joe has stayed mum on whether to follow through with his since deleted announcement to go pro, or have a change of heart to stick around for another year. The draft market is bullish on Joe Yearby stock, the highest projection we could find for him was as a 6th round pick according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Another publication pegged him as the 26th ranked running back, slotting him in the 7th round to undrafted free agent territory. No position in football gets used up and tossed aside quicker than a running back, so it's understandable that while he has plenty of tread left, Yearby would look further his career as well as be a provider for his 2 young children.
Viewing the situation from the team standpoint, it just makes sense that Walton became the workhorse moving forward for the team given his intangibles and skill set. While pass protection has been comically treacherous at various points in the season, Joe simply was a liability in pass pro, and there aren't many backs at the college level that excel in that area of the game. Given the play of the offensive line at points in the season, you have to put as many good blockers on the field in passing situations as possible.
Projection for 2017
A man of his word, Yearby stuck to his early announcement to forgo his senior year by declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft. It's a murky future to being to project how he will fair in the pro game. Given how top heavy the RB position is on the road to draft night, it could be a while before "With the ____th selection, the _________ select Joseph Yearby, running back, from the University of Miami." That said, will Yearby show out at the NFL Combine (hopefully he gets an invite), absolutely. Will he bring it on Pro Day, no doubt. With his athleticism, good tape from his sophomore season, and pedigree there is potential for Yearby to succeed in the NFL. For a guy whose had share carries, be patient with his play time and block set up, he's going to need to harness that once more before he breaks out onto the NFL landscape.