According to cfbstats.com, no freshman running back in the Football Bowl Subdivision averaged more yards per game last season than Missouri’s Damarea Crockett.
He finished with 153 carries for 1,062 yards — a healthy 96.6-yard average per game — and 10 touchdowns in his debut with the Tigers.
Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill averaged 87.9 rushing yards per game, second-most for a freshman running back behind Crockett, who finished 25th nationally with 6.9 yards per carry.
It was easily the best freshman season for any running back in Mizzou history, but Crockett is confident that even better days are ahead.
“I wasn’t completely comfortable with the offense until after the (Sept. 24) Delaware State game,” Crockett said. “That’s when I really started to feel comfortable. But even after I started learning the offense, I didn’t get all the way comfortable until week seven or eight.”
Crockett only had two carries for 4 yards in the season opener against West Virginia and didn’t get more than 12 carries in any game until the sixth game at Florida on Oct. 15.
By November, he was shocking himself with his production.
“To be completely honest with you, in all seriousness, I didn’t think I’d be a 1,000-yard back,” Crockett said. “Simply because, I wasn’t sure how playing time and things like that would go in the first couple of games. I didn’t think I would accomplish that, but the fact that I did maybe put my goals even higher for the second year.”
Now, Crockett is shooting for the moon in setting goals for his sophomore season.
“I want my goals to seem unreachable, so that I have to work harder to get there,” he said. “I want to have 10-plus touchdowns, I would love to improve my pass blocking tremendously, and I’d like to rush for over 1,800 yards.”
With senior running back Ish Witter expected to split carries again — Witter finished with 162 carries for 750 yards and six touchdowns last season — Crockett may not get enough touches to reach that stratosphere.
Only three running backs — San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, and Wyoming’s Brian Hill — topped 1,800 yards and each had at least 323 carries.
Then again, maybe it’s reachable.
Crockett averaged eight carries for 49 yards and scored three touchdowns in his first five games last season.
During the last six games he played, Crockett, who was suspended for the season finale against Arkansas, totaled 113 carries for 817 yards and seven touchdowns — producing robust averages of 18.8 carries and 136.2 yards.
Those numbers might have been even more impressive were it not for his arrest in the early-morning hours of Nov. 20 on suspicion of marijuana possession, an incident he doesn’t shy away from addressing.
“That was a lesson learned,” he said. “I had no choice but to learn from it. I learned to be smarter and make better decisions.”
Crockett wants to put himself in the All-American conversation, but he’s eyeing something even more important than that next fall.
“I’m hoping to see a much more improved team,” Crockett said. “I had a great year last year, but it’s hard to pay attention to it. I’m a team guy and we didn’t win very many games. I’d rather have my team win.”
RUNNING BACKS (6)
Project depth (string): 1. Damarea Crockett, sophomore; 2. Ish Witter; senior; 3. Isaiah Miller, freshman; 4. Nate Strong, junior; 5. Dawson Downing, redshirt freshman (walk-on).
Potential impact additions: Larry Rountree III, freshman.
Analysis: Crockett and Witter teamed up for 315 carries, 1,812 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. That’s really good, in case you were wondering, and the Tigers have no issues atop the depth chart entering 2017.
Mizzou fans keep waiting for Strong to cash in the promise that made him a four-star talent at East St. Louis (Ill.) High, but it didn’t happen during the spring. He was suspended for the first five weeks instead.
In fact, Bishop Miege graduate Downing, who teammates have nicknamed “The Ghost” for his ability to disappear behind blocking, started the spring game and early enrollee Isaiah Miller, who officially signed with MU in February, led the team in rushing during the intrasquad scrimmage.
Rountree might be in line to redshirt, for a jump on learning the offense, and there appear to be enough bodies ahead of him to shoulder the workload next fall.
Overall grade: B. Witter is an underappreciated player and Crockett had arguably the best season for any true freshman running back in the country last season. That’s a solid one-two punch, but the depth is untested.