Croot Loops: RB Markel Smith

St. Louis running back might be the best of Iowa's class

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Markel Smith enjoyed a spectacularly productive career at St. John Vianney in St. Louis. He finished as Missouri's No. 2 career rusher with 7,144 yards to go along with 79 touchdowns.

With Smith's signing, Iowa's running back checking account is overflowing. With Smith and Hilliard signing on, the Hawkeyes will have nine scholarship running backs in camp this August. That is, of course, if everyone sticks around, and so far, everyone is sticking around.

The obvious question is where Smith fits in. He'll arguably have the best prep pedigree of the backs next fall. You can read whatever you want into a player's offer sheet, but Smith had Missouri and Mississippi. The primary competitors for the rest of Iowa's backs were Indiana, Iowa State, Tulsa, South Dakota, Boston College, Temple, UConn and Air Force.

Smith is smart enough to know none of that means a thing.

"If they think I can fill the spot next year, I won't back down from any challenge," Smith said. "I'll put the work in to start, of course, but if it doesn't work out, I'm going to have to work harder. I'm just training and working hard on everything for Iowa."

Smith fits Iowa's profile. He's 5-10, 210 pounds. He said he runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Forget the speed element. Look at the 210 pounds and you know Smith is built to run outside zone plays into the short side of the field. (Like it or not, "making space" is likely Iowa's strong suit, at least on paper, going into 2014.)

"It's going to be hard for one person to bring me down," Smith said. "I work very hard at what I do. I'm not slow (laughs). They [recruiting websites] haven't updated my times. They have me at 4.6. I ran a 4.4 my last 40. I guess a lot of people judge a book by its cover.

"I'm kind of a big guy, a Montee Ball-style running back with good speed. I'm not slow, so if you think you're catching me, you might have to work a little harder than you think you might have to."

So far, Smith and Iowa sound like a match.

Basics: St. John Vianney High School (St. Louis, Mo.), 5-10, 210, running back

Dent the depth chart in ’14? — Hey, it's running back. Nothing is out of the question. But . . . Iowa is pretty well set with a top three running backs. Senior Mark Weisman isn't going anyway. He fell just short of 1,000 yards last season and is a good bet to gain at least something any given carry. That, as much as anything, is what Iowa's offense fears the most, a nothing play. But . . . It's hard to compare numbers because Weisman carried 226 to Jordan Canzeri's 74, but 11.4 percent of Weisman's carries went for negative yards compared to just 4 percent of Canzeri's. This is another post, another time (very soon, pre-spring). Senior Damon Bullock is something in this. Iowa has to explore more Canzeri. After that trio? Sophomore LeShun Daniels needs more carries, but Iowa is running out of carries to distribute. Barkley Hill and Michael Malloy have fallen off the map, but remain on the roster. Redshirt freshmen Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker are smallish, fast-ish backs who might do well in space or attacking the edge. That’s nine scholarship running backs next fall.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison — Shonn Greene (Check his profile -- 5-11, 210.) scouting snippet — This player has the size and playing strength to be a productive inside runner at the BCS level. Possesses strength in his lower body and it appears his upper frame is capable of supporting additional bulk over time. Good speed for his size and style but not a game-breaker. . . . We see a running back with the balance and power needed to be a carry-the-load ball carrier. Displays the playing strength needed to shed tackles for excellent after contact yardage. Shows an effective straight arm in space. We see a strong and durable inside runner. . . . Smith a tough customer capable of shortening the game in the fourth quarter. Improved blocking along with an expanded route running repertoire will advance his opportunities to stay on the field in long-yardage situations. Smith does not appear to be an immediate starter at the BCS level of competition, rather a prospect needing some time and perhaps a redshirt year to polish his skills.

What Iowa said . . .

Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson, who recruits the St. Louis area and was lead on Smith, on how Iowa landed him (Smith initially committed to Missouri): “We had a good relationship with the coach and just hung in there with the kid. Those relationships go a long way. We were fortunate. The production . . . He was going up against good numbers, Montee Ball, all that kind of stuff.”

On running style: “A very similar style to Montee Ball.”

Started his career as a right guard?: He's a bigger kid and when you get into pee-wee football they slot you based on your weight."

Johnson had to fend off a few late-comers for Smith. He also credited Vianney coach Paul Day for follow-through. Running backs are hot commodities. It's an all-hands-on-deck proposition.

What said . . .

Midwest recruiting coordinator Josh Helmholdt: “We saw him at the Rivals camp in St. Louis. That was a great group of running backs, but he was the top guy. For his size, he cuts on a dime, he changes direction and gets to top speed in an instant. On top of that, he's obviously a guy who can run between the tackles. He puts his shoulder down and wears down defenses.”

How soon with Smith? Maybe earlier than you think: "Running back is one position where a player can see the field early. We've seen a lot of running backs see the field early. As long as they can pick up the playbook and handle the finer points like blocking [they can play early]. Can they be trusted to be a blocker on passing downs? Running backs pretty much are what they are when they step on campus. A few guys develop and become more. That speed, explosiveness, vision, a guy either has it or he doesn't. That's why you see a lot of running backs get on the field early."

What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .

Smith is mostly a downhill back, meaning he runs straight ahead and that's what most coaches want. That said, he can make more than one cut. He can bounce and once he's out in space a defender will have to fight to get his head across Smith's body and down to the ground. He makes a few plays on this YouTube that are the kind of plays that differentiate Canzeri from Weisman. Weisman runs to a spot and lets his pads do the talking. Canzeri can take a step into a hole and bounce quickly to the weakside. Smith shows that here. He also showed he can let his pads do the talking. Also, going off this video package, Smith's speed looks real. How many break-away runs do you need to see? Excellent vision. Smith might be the premier pickup in this class.

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