With four-star running back Justin Williams decommitting from West Virginia Wednesday night, not only did WVU lose a top-ranked recruit in its recruiting class, but now there’s not a single half back committed to the current class.
Now, there are options out there for replacing Williams with a recruit before Early Signing Day in December or National Signing Day in February, but the odds of finding a recruit of his level — coming off the level of season he just produced — aren’t exactly high. So, let’s take a look at the running backs that WVU has offered that are still uncommitted.
Jovantae Barnes – Four-Star RB from Desert Pines in Las Vegas, Nevada
I can see it now. Jovantae Barnes spurns interest from Oklahoma and Alabama to commit to WVU in a shocking transfer of power in the Big 12.
Okay, okay. I’ll jump back to reality. There’s virtually no chance that WVU lands a commitment from Barnes, but he’s the highest-ranked running back WVU has offered that has yet to commit.
As the 112th-ranked recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports, he’s a Top 10 running back and the third-ranked recruit from Nevada. He’s projected to Oklahoma. We’ll just leave it at that.
Anthony Hankerson – Three-Star RB from St. Thomas Aquinas in Boynton Beach, Florida
Hankerson is a more realistic recruit for WVU to land, but it still doesn’t appear likely.
Hankerson (a 5-foot-8, 186-pound bruiser) has picked offers from a variety of Power Five schools, and it appears that Arizona has taken the next step in his recruiting process. WVU offered Hankerson in January of 2020,
247Sports rates him as the 638th-ranked recruit in the class, 52nd-ranked running back and 92nd-ranked recruit from Florida. Rivals is a bit higher on him, slotting him as the 29th-ranked running back and 56th-ranked recruit from Florida.
He hasn’t been projected, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a relationship with WVU either.
Yann Ulrich Longa – Three-Star RB from Miami International Academy in Miami, Florida
Longa, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Canada, is a recruit that would fit WVU’s recent trend of bringing in players that hail from areas outside of the United States.
Longa (6-foot-0, 225 pounds) received his WVU offer in May of 2020, but it doesn’t appear that the relationship has progressed too much since then. He’s been recruited by local Florida teams, such as Florida International, Florida Atlantic and Florida State, but he’s also received Power Five interest from the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
According to 247Sports, Longa is rated as the 1,262nd-ranked recruit in the class, 93rd-ranked running back and 162nd-ranked recruit from Florida. Rivals rates him as the 46th-ranked running back in the class.
Neither 247Sports nor Rivals has projected his commitment to this point.
James Smiley Jr – Three-Star RB from Armwood in Tampa, Florida
Smiley is a running back recruit that, upon first glance, doesn’t appear to have much of a relationship with WVU.
He’s a 6-foot-0, 195-pound running back that’s flashed signs of being a dual-threat half back at the next level, but it doesn’t appear he’s advanced a January 2020 offer into much of a relationship.
With an offer sheet that includes Arizona State, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Penn State, Pitt, Toledo and WVU, among others, he hasn’t made any move to give his interest at a potential commitment.
247Sports rates him as the 1,384th-ranked recruit in the class, 104th-ranked running back and 187th-ranked recruit from Florida. Rivals is a bit higher on him, continuing a trend with these running backs, rating him as the 39th-ranked running back and 92nd-ranked recruit from Florida.
Kanye Udoh – Three-Star RB from St. Augustine Prep in Richland, New Jersey
Udoh has one of the best stories of the season thus far, highlighted for his habit of hugging his mom and dad after touchdowns this season. Of course, he’s more than a good story.
— Overtime (@overtime) November 16, 2021
A 6-foot-0, 200-pound running back with good size and power, he scored 13 touchdowns this season. He led St. Augustine with 1,216 rushing yards on 167 carries, flashing his ability to rack up yards.
While he also doesn’t appear to be too in-depth in his relationship with WVU, he’s been busy on the recruiting trail this fall. He’s made visits to Clemson, South Carolina and Pittsburgh this season, while boasting offers from Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers, Syracuse and WVU at the Power Five level.
247Sports rates Udoh as the 1,601st-ranked recruit in the class, 123rd-ranked running back and 37th-ranked recruit from New Jersey. Rivals rates him as the 20th-ranked recruit in New Jersey.
WVU’s RB Future
While WVU doesn’t have too many options in landing a 2022 running back commit, and Brown could always offer more recruits, time is running out for the 2022 class.
WIth star Leddie Brown having the option to come back for another season, it’s unlikely he returns for another season. So, what are the other options on WVU’s current roster?
Redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis and freshman Justin Johnson Jr. have seen the field this season, with redshirt freshman Markquan Rucker, redshirt sophomore Owen Chafin and freshman Jaylen Anderson in reserve roles, but it’s been the Leddie Brown Show in Morgantown over the past two seasons.
Garrett Greene, the backup quarterback, is WVU’s second-leading rusher this season. Which only highlights the struggles at running back this season, even with Brown shouldering a heavy load.
Mathis only has 32 carries, Johnson Jr. only has 19 and Rucker, Johnson and Chafin have a combined two carries.
So, with Brown likely testing his luck in the NFL Draft at the end of the season, WVU’s running back prospects without him don’t appear to be very promising. Johnson Jr. was a four-star recruit out of Illinois, and there’s potential in his rise, but he’s still unproven, too.