|Georgia running back Todd Gurley is a top threat as a runner and receiver.|
New Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game this season, which seems like sound strategy. After all, more touches for Peterson means more headaches for opposing defenses.
That got us to thinking: Which college teams need to get their star tailbacks more involved in the passing game this season? We came up with seven.
We also found five stud runners who already are proven receivers. We'll look at those guys first, then talk about the seven who need to show pro scouts they can be effective receivers.
One thing to think about: Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams were highly productive rushers last fall (a combined 3,993 yards), but while they combined for 672 touches, they caught just 12 passes between them (all by Mason). Mason went 75th overall and Williams 113th. Conversely, West Virginia's Charles Sims rushed for 1,095 yards but also had 45 receptions and went 69th overall.
Receiving ability certainly is not the be-all, end-all for running backs, but there's no question running backs who can catch have extra value.
Backs with proven receiving skills
Ameer Abdullah, NebraskaParticulars: 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, senior.
Key receiving stats: 50 catches, 410 yards, four TDs in past two seasons.
Buzz: Abdullah is one of the better receiving backs in the Big Ten, which has a few of them (most notably, Illinois' Josh Ferguson). Abdullah showed an ability to be a bit more dangerous as a receiver last season, and Nebraska coaches would be smart to rely on him even more as a receiver this fall.
Mike Davis, South CarolinaParticulars: 5-9, 216, junior.
Key receiving stats: 34 catches, 352 yards, no TDs last season.
Buzz: Steve Spurrier never has been shy about throwing to his backs -- Fred Taylor and Errict Rhett were dangerous receivers at Florida -- and Davis was the Gamecocks' second-leading receiver last season. His shiftiness and explosiveness in the open field should be used even more in the passing attack this fall.
Todd Gurley, GeorgiaParticulars: 6-1, 232, junior.
Key receiving stats: 53 catches, 558 yards, six TDs in the past two seasons.
Buzz: Gurley is the best dual-threat (runner/receiver) running back in the nation. He can take a screen and go the distance, and he also has enough receiving ability to occasionally get down the seam and beat safeties. He should become an even bigger part of the Bulldogs' offense this fall, and coordinator Mike Bobo should make it a priority to get Gurley at least four touches as a receiver per game.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan StateParticulars: 6-0, 205, senior.
Key receiving stats: 28 catches, 157 yards, one TD last season.
Buzz: Langford is known as a power back, but he caught a surprising number of passes last season. Still, that yards-per-catch average (5.6) shows he was nothing more than a safety-valve guy. It certainly would be interesting to see what he could do as the feature receiver on some plays; give this guy a lead blocker and a head of steam, and he will run folks over, especially folks in the secondary.
Kevin Parks, VirginiaParticulars: 5-8, 205, senior
Key receiving stats: 73 catches, 600 yards, two TDs in past three seasons.
Buzz: Parks basically has toiled in anonymity throughout his career, but he is a tough runner (he was a 1,000-yard rusher last fall) and a solid receiver. He is the Cavs' leading returning receiver this season (he had 38 receptions last season), and he needs a big campaign if Virginia is to go bowling. Parks has six games with at least four receptions in the past two seasons, and he figures to be a key guy in the passing attack again this fall.
They have something to prove
Malcolm Brown, TexasParticulars: 6-0, 228, senior.
Key receiving stats: 35 catches, 324 yards, three TDs in his career.
Buzz: Brown hasn't lived up to his immense high school hype, but maybe this will be the season. He has talent, but he hasn't always shown it. Louisville threw to its backs often, and look for new coach Charlie Strong to continue that style of play at Texas. Will Brown benefit, or will it be another tailback who gets the bulk of the receptions?
David Cobb, MinnesotaParticulars: 5-11, 225, senior.
Key receiving stats: 18 catches, 177 yards, zero TDs in past two seasons.
Buzz: Cobb emerged as a 1,000-yard rusher last season and is a tough, physical runner. He's never going to be a dangerous receiver, but he can be a useful safety-valve guy. Expect him to get into the 20s in receptions this fall.
Telvin Coleman, IndianaParticulars: 6-1, 210, junior.
Key receiving stats: 29 catches, 264 yards, zero TDs in past two seasons.
Buzz: Coleman has good size and excellent speed, and is one of the best big-play guys in the nation; last season, he had five rushes of at least 50 yards (tied for second-most nationally) and eight of at least 40 yards (tied for the most). He needs to be a bigger part of the passing attack, though. He had 19 catches last season but more than a third of them (and almost a fourth of his career total) came in one game, when he had seven receptions against Penn State. Indeed, 15 of his catches came in three games last fall. IU needs to be more consistent with how it uses Coleman as a receiver.
Melvin Gordon, WisconsinParticulars: 6-1, 207 junior.
Key receiving stats: Three catches, 75 yards, one TD in past two seasons.
Buzz: Gordon might be the best pure runner in the nation, but his receiving ability and blocking are giant question marks. RB James White was Wisconsin's second-leading receiver last season with 39 receptions, and while Gordon isn't going to have 39 catches, you'd think he could finish with around 20 this season. Gordon's explosiveness is a huge selling point, and getting him in one-on-one matchups with any defender usually ends up with a favorable result for the Badgers.
Duke Johnson, MiamiParticulars: 5-9, 211, junior.
Key receiving stats: Four catches, 77 yards, zero TDs last season.
Buzz: Johnson actually was quite effective as a receiver as a true freshman in 2012 (27 receptions), so was last season an aberration -- or was '12 the outlier season? Miami's quarterback situation looks to be a mess, so Johnson definitely will be the focal point of the offense. How often he is thrown to will be something to watch this fall. You would think UM coaches would be salivating at the thought of getting him in open space against a linebacker or safety, then letting him go to work.
Byron Marshall, OregonParticulars: 5-10, 201, junior.
Key receiving stats: 14 catches, 169 yards, zero TDs in past two seasons.
Buzz: Oregon didn't throw all that often to its backs last season, but Marshall's ability in the open field is something you'd think Ducks coaches would want to exploit. He's not a tough runner, but he does have good speed and agility, and he'd be a handful for a linebacker or safety on a pass pattern.
Karlos Williams, FSUParticulars: 6-1, 219, senior.
Key receiving stats: Eight catches, 63 yards, zero TDs last season.
Buzz: Williams moved to tailback from safety after the first week of last season, and one reason he was moved was because he lacked safety instincts. Devonta Freeman was FSU's top tailback last season and he had 22 catches, so Williams should get the opportunity to show he can catch this fall. If he isn't thrown to, that will say something about his receiving ability (or lack thereof).
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.